Pilgrimage to the Holy Land - Jordan, Israel, Palestine

Tripoto
23rd May 2011
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Blue pottery at Jordan
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Nazareth at nightfall
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Local Balcony
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St. Peters Fish
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Indian Israel Flags
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Bank in Bethlehem
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Bylanes of Bethlehem
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The UN Wall between Palestine and Israel
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Floating in the Dead Sea
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Local in Jerusalem
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Burial ground at Jerusalem
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Haifa
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Coffee shop at EIm Karim
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Dome of the Rock
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The Wailing Wall
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Jewish praying at the Wailing Wall
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Security in Jerusalem
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Half Time at Hiafa
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Russian Orthodox church in Jerusalem
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Way to Tel Aviv
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Way of the Cross
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Local market
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Resting
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Church of Beatitude
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Towards Dead Sea
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Panoramic view of the Dome of the Rock
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Prayer request at the Wailing Wall
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Mosaic at Madaba
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Sea of Galilee
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Entrance to Church Nativity
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Old Jerusalem

Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands-Jordan, Israel and Palestine

Plenty of people dream of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at some point in their life and it was a dream come true for me on the 23rd of May 2011. I was one of the fortunate who was walking on the footsteps of our Lord for the second time along with my mother.

After a 6 hr flight we reached the Queen Alia Airport of Jordan and immediately headed to Israel. After completing the immigration formalities we started our pilgrimage with Jericho, the smallest city in the world. We met our guide, Fredy, who is an expert on the Holy Land. The tour bus driver is Iyad, who just got sparkling Mercedes Benz bus for the occasion. Both are Christians. Arab Christians are only two per cent of the population in the Holy Land.

Jericho is a small city surrounded by olive and date palm trees. Our first site was the Sycamore tree where Zacchaeus described as a short man, climbed up the sycamore fig tree so that he might be able to see Jesus. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for he intended to visit his house.

Jericho holds an important place in the life of Jesus since tradition holds that it was on this mountain that Jesus fasted for forty days and nights before beginning his public ministry. There are still many caves which dot the face of the mountain and a Greek Monastery was built here over the cave that Jesus was said to have used. At the very top of the mountain there are remains of an attempt to build a church on top of the mountain in the 19th century. No devil was there, but we drove down the mountain to the "Temptation Restaurant" where we were all tempted to leave our diets for the best lunch of the whole pilgrimage followed by a brief visit to Elijah’s spring. We headed to Nazareth for the night stay at Hotel Rimonia.

The second day was an early rise and breakfast, we left our hotel at 7.30 a.m. for Capernaum and our first stop was Mount of Beatitude which commemorates Jesus Sermon on the Mount. We offered our first mass amidst the beautiful colonnade providing a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee. The beautiful gardens are a delightful place to spend some moments in contemplation or prayer. It was a powerful experience to re-live the Master Teacher telling his disciples what matters in life, how to be happy. This was a very moving experience for the group.

From there we went to Tabgha, the place where the miracle the multiplication of the loaves and fishes took place. You can still see an early mosaic of the fishes and four loaves of bread (below). The fifth loaf was the one offered on the altar. Then we visited the place along the Sea where Peter was given primacy of the Church: the one who is prime was to be the servant of all. He would be the one to hold his Church together in unity. The catch of fish described in the Gospel just before Peter comes ashore totalled 153, the number of species of fish in the Sea and the number of nations in the world. Again, the message that all belong to Church. There are Twelve Thrones placed along the shore to commemorate the Twelve Apostles.

Finally we visited Capharnaum, a former trading centre where the taxes were collected from the caravans. Here in this busy place Jesus spoke in the Synagogue and amazed the crowds who began to spread His fame as a preacher and healer all along the trade route. The former bustling city is now just a ruin with remnants of the Synagogue still standing, as well as some structures from the house of Peter's mother-in-law where Christ healed her. The Bible truly comes alive outside of Capharnaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as we saw the place where Jesus established His church. To see and touch the rock at that location certainly was a moving experience for all of us.

After this we spent an hour on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, a tranquil and beautiful lake on which Jesus walked and fished with his disciples. The Indian flag was unfurled on the boat with all of us proudly singing our national anthem. Many of the stories in the gospel have this area as their geographical location, and it was from around the lake that Jesus chose his disciples. The sea is known by various names: Tiberias, Kinnereth (since its shape is like a Jewish harp) or Gennesareth, the region in which it sits. Soon it was lunch time and we were delighted to be served the St. Peter’s fish alongside the Sea of Galilee. After the sumptuous meal we moved towards Yardenit – Jordan River on the Israel side. The Jordan River is a river in Southwest Asia which flows into the Dead Sea. It originates approximately 200 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, Israel. It is in this river John the Baptist descended Jesus and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a white pigeon. This was one of the most exciting events of their journey in the Holy Land. Just sitting beside the holiest river, touching the water which was once touched by Jesus himself was an un-explainable feeling in itself.

Our last visit for the day was Mount Tabor above the Jezreel Valley in the region of Galilee.-Church of the Transfiguration where Jesus transfigured along with the prophets Elijah and Moses to his dear disciples. In the quiet of the mountain top, we heard the Gospel account of the Transfiguration. It is amazing to realize that you are standing in the place where this event happened. Day three was dedicated completely to Our lady. We started with The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the place of the Angel's visitation to Mary and the home town of Jesus. It is a modern Catholic church built over the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches. It incorporates the cave in which the Virgin Mary received the news from Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus. We prayed for our mothers, living and deceased, remembering how important Mary of Nazareth was in raising and caring for her son as a child. The interior is filled with mosaics and other art depicting the Mother of God from various traditions.

Right beside it is St. Joseph’s church which is built on the reputed house of St Joseph .The crypt leads to a cave which is said to have been his workshop; the stained glass windows in the crypt show the marriage of Mary and Joseph and a depiction of Joseph’s death.Then we went to Cana of Galilee, place of Christ's first miracle of changing water into wine.

Next we drove to visit Mount Carmel place where Elijah encountered the 450 prophets of Baal challenging their god and asserting his faith in the one true God. We offered mass for the Carmelite communities and visited Stella Maris, Church over the cave where Elijah hid before the mission God had given him, to challenge Baal and bring people back to the one true God. This prophet is patron of women wanting a child and of the sick who are in need of God's healing grace. It is also the place where Mary gave the scapular to Simon stock. This was followed by Haifa-observation point. A beautiful garden built by the Bahai community overlooking a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean sea and port destination. We were transferred to Palestine by evening.

Our new day began with the visit to the Mount of Olives from where Jesus ascended into heaven; his footprints are still to be seen on the floor of the church. Then we visited the Church of Pater Noster further down the hill. There, the garden and Church are surrounded by plaques depicting the Our Father in hundreds of different languages. We recited the prayer together in English, and Hindi. Then further on first seeing the striking image of the city of Jerusalem laid out before us. You see the beautiful image of the gold domed Dome of the Rock and the less vivid dome of the Holy Sepulchre. You see the Golden Gate, also referred to as the Beautiful Gate, closed awaiting the entrance of the Messiah to the Holy City. Our pilgrim group was snapping photos constantly, trying to capture this marvellous view.

Further down the hill we celebrated Mass at the Church of all nations –garden of Gethsemane. The church is surrounded by magnificent olive trees, some as old, perhaps, as 2,000 years. If only they could talk and bring us back in time when the Lord suffered alone with His apostle’s asleep. At the end of the Mass, each person knelt before the stone where Jesus experienced His agony. As each person touched the stone, you could see vividly their faith and their desire to understand just a little better all that Christ did for us out of love. After the mass we headed towards the Wailing Wall the most sacred site for the Jews , a place of high emotion and prayer. After lunch we visited the Church of the Birth of John the Baptist at Ein Karem (Vinyard Spring) .Our final stop was the Church of the Visitation. Mary walked all the way from Nazareth -- about 90 miles -- to be with Elizabeth. That distance gives us an inkling of Mary's charity and concern for others. My prayer is that we can each have a share of Mary's love in our love for others. We concluded our visit to the church by praying the Angelus.

Day five started with visiting Bethany village. This village was the home of Jesus’ friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus and is situated on the far side of the Mount of Olives. We celebrated mass t the chapel and prayed to be always faithful to Christ just as his friends were to him. We then climbed down to Lazarus’ Tomb there were steep steps leading down to the rock chamber and it gives a good idea of what a tomb of the time would have looked like.

Next was the Dead Sea, where some of us took a dip. The water surprised me: it has no smell and feels like mineral oil. It is used in many cosmetic products. After a great time in the Dead Sea we headed to Bethlehem. Our first stop was the Milk Grotto Chapel. It is a serene grotto considered sacred because tradition has it that the Holy Family took refuge here during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. Tradition has it that while Mary was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. It is believed that scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility.

Then our anxious hearts walked towards the birthplace of Christ. We bent low to enter the Church of the Nativity. The door is small (to have prevented horses from entering the Church). But bending low is a sign of reverence entering this holy place. We descended the many stairs leading down to the place of Christ's birth. People knelt and touched the star of Bethlehem that marks the place. We prayed with hearts filled with thanksgivings and some tears were shed. One of the most overwhelming experiences of each one of our lives. We were all glad to be a part of this historic place and we gathered for a quick picture at the Manger’s square. Manger square is a wide open plaza in the middle of the city directly in front of the Church of the Nativity. It is here that crowds gather on Christmas Eve to be close to the traditional site of Christ’s birth and to join in the carols at Midnight Mass. Besides the church of nativity stands the Chapel of St. Catherine which is identified as the burial site of the young victims of Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents. Also the Tomb of St. Jerome is situated here, who translated the Bible into Latin Study of St. Jerome, where Jerome is said to have written and worked on his translation. Our last stop for the day was Shepherd’s field .Many were moved as sang carols in the Shepherd's Field, where the angel called the shepherd to visit the new-born Babe. Every day in Bethlehem is Christmas, so the hymns used were all Christmas carols. After all, this is the place where Christ our Savior was born.

After five days of an overwhelming experience of the life of Christ we were heading towards the Old city of Jerusalem for almost our final and the most important destinations of our journey. The day began with clouds bursting into rains at church of St. Anne’s the birthplace of Mary. This magnificent Crusader church is one of the finest buildings in Jerusalem. This site marks both the birthplace of the Virgin Mary and the pool of Bethesda spoken of in John’s Gospel. One can still view the ruins of the 6th century church and look over the pool where Jesus cured the crippled man. The acoustic in the Church is stunning and many groups who visit cannot help but burst into song. We offered mass for all the three priests accompanying us and reflecting on the lives of St. Anne and St. Joaquim –parents of Mary our Mother. Next we visited the Church of the Dormition, where Mary's body was laid before she was assumed into Heaven. We also visited the site of the Last Supper where Jesus broke the bread with his disciples. There is no Church there, and no one is able to celebrate Mass there. We ended the day at the Church of St. Peter of Galicantu where Christ was beaten and scourged and where Peter denied Him three times. We stood together in the deep cave that marks the spot and viewed the stairs into and out of the Kedron Valley that quite likely were the stairs that Jesus walked.

We went from here to walk the Via Dolorosa. The street was bustling with people, probably not unlike in the time of Christ. However now there are also cars and motorbikes and carts and bicycles weaving their way through the narrow streets. We sang and prayed at each of the stations. For some in our group walking is a difficulty, a real cross, but they stayed the course, a sign of their faith. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Crusader Church at the site of the empty tomb. That empty tomb is the foundation of our faith and the blessed assurance that death does not prevail but is life in the risen Christ. The Sepulchre church is divided into different sections, each directed by one of the Christian faiths.

We all climbed the steep staircase to Golgotha where Christ was crucified with prayer on our lips and faith in our hearts. I was moved to see the faith of our people at Mass in the empty tomb and on Golgotha. The day ended with a very powerful experience of the life of Christ. Each station of the cross passing through the Via Dolorosa was a witness to how much Christ loves us. It is a feeling never to be forgotten in a lifetime.

The week has been very powerful for all of us, seeing and hearing so many things. We have walked the Way with Christ and, hopefully, have grown in our love for all that Christ did for us. The Scriptures will never be the same for us. We have seen what they describe in the scriptures.

It was our last day and as we were leaving the mountain pathways of Jerusalem for Jordan, the Gospels were coming to life as we traveled and learned about the Holy Land. It is truly a blessing to travel the walk of Christ and feel and sense His message to all ages.

Our final visit was a quick visit to Mt.Nebo and Madaba. Mount Nebo is where prophet Moses was given a view of the promised land that God was giving to the Israelites. Moses was buried on this mountain by God Himself, and his final resting place is unknown. Also it is believed that Prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in a cave here. Our journey ended at Madaba which is home to the famous 6th century Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Madaba Map is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The depiction of the mosaic map was the best way to end the pilgrimage as it was a recollection of sorts of all the places we had visited in the past week. We could relate and understand each of the significant pictures in the map. Finally the pilgrimage came to an end as we parted from the Queen Alia airport in Jordan for a six hour flight back to our homes.

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