Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 9

Good morning everyone,

Yes we are home safe, sound, and in high spirits from the pilgrimage of a lifetime. The trip home was grueling but everyone made it in one piece. The hardest part of the day was saying goodbye to our Boston pilgrims when we parted in Boston.

Our last day in Israel was a memorable one and began with a very moving visit to the national museum dedicated to the horrific story of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, which translated means, never forget, is both an indoor and outdoor museum. The entire experience of the museum is to educate the people and world that what happened during the Nazi Regime must never happen again to the human race. The museum put faces and lives to the statistics of the holocaust. The most moving part of the experience for me was the building dedicated to the many beautiful and innocent children that lost their lives. May the voices of those children remain always in our hearts.

Our next stop was to the hillside town of Ein Karem where John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah (Lk 1:5-25). We read Scripture and visited the Church dedicated to the great prophet who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah. The ancient Church that was funded by Queen Isabella of Spain was very beautiful. The Spanish tiles and Spanish influence were very obvious. As we descended the narrow streets of Ein Karem - Issac pointed out the next Church we would be visiting. It was a bit of a climb, 120 steps, but most of our pilgrims opted to climb the big hill in order to see where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. We were rewarded by the beautiful Church that awaited us at the top. It was here we read about the visitation in St. Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:39-56). The site was a beautiful oasis of gardens and worship.

On the way down we visited Mary’s pools and reflected on our Lady walking throughout this lovely mountain town.

We loaded the bus and headed to the town of Abu Gosh, or as it was once called, Emmaus. Here we stopped for lunch and then took the bus to a Church built by the Crusaders. Very few of these Churches remain standing today because of subsequent conquerors that seemed to enjoy destroying every building of their conquered. The amazing Church, which was saved because of its perfect acoustics, is now home to the Dominicans. It was here that we prayed, sang and read the post Resurrection story of Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35)

We then travelled to Our Lady of the Ark Church to celebrate our last Mass of the Pilgrimage. It too was a beautiful Church. The feast day of our Lady and here we were in a Church dedicated to her. At the start of the pilgrimage we entrusted our care to Mary and it was so perfect that we ended on her feast day. She took very good care of us.

One more Church to visit, which makes the total 30! This Church was in the beautiful coastal town of Joppa. We hear of Joppa in Acts chapter ten where Peter has a vision from God about the Gentile community. It was in this town that we gathered for our last supper. It was, of course, delicious.

The pilgrimage was an amazing experience for all of us. It is hard to put into words what we saw, heard, touched and felt. It was a gift from God and it is now the time for us to reflect on the many things we experienced. I wish to thank Brian Kenny for doing such a beautiful job compiling the blog every evening when the only thing any of us wanted to do was crash! He did a beautiful job. I also thank Peter LaPlaca who took most of the pictures you saw on the blog. He has a few more to share since he took 1400 of them. And finally I thank God for this experience in my life as one of his priest. May God bless all of you for journeying with us to the Holy Land.

With Peace,

Fr. Rick

Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Museum, one of the 1,500,000 Jewish children killed in the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, memorial containing ashes of victims for each death camp, where relatives can come to mourn their families killed in the Holocaust.

The Canticle of Zechariah at the birthplace of St. John the Baptist

Church donated by Queen Isabella of Spain with birthplace of St. John the Baptist in a crypt below.

Ein Karem, where Mary journeys to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Stunning mosaic of Mary visiting Elizabeth.

Resting before descending the 120 steps down.

Mass at Our Lady of the Ark, Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Our Lady of the Ark-Mary stands atop the Ark holding the Bible and baby Jesus while baby Jesus holds the Eucharist.

Sunset over Tel Aviv

Isaac shares final stories of life in Joppa during Biblical times and ancient Greek mythology.

Our farewell dinner in Joppa with 23 different items, fabulous!

Final farewell to Isaac, the best Tour Guide in Israel, and Osahma, the best driver in Israel.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 8

Good Evening Friends,

This morning we started our day off quite early so that we could walk the Way of the Cross with few vendors and general public around to distract us from the powerful journey. The last five stations were located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which contains the sites of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. What an amazing and moving experience to not only see these holy sites but to also touch the spot of the crucifixion and walk into the tomb where Christ was placed after his death. We had the opportunity to celebrate the Mass in the holiest place for the Christian community.

We left the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to visit the holiest place for the Jewish community: The Western or Wailing Wall. We had the opportunity to visit the wall and pray at this holy site. We also witnessed two Bar Mitzvas. Our next stop was to the Muslim's third most holiest place: The Dome of the Rock which is a shrine honoring Mohamed.

We then gathered together to travel through the busy narrow streets to the Pool of Bathesda (Jn 5:1-15) and the Church of St. Ann. It was a very emotional and full day. We all feel blessed. One day left of our pilgrimage.

Note that this will be our last Blog post from Israel. We leave early tomorrow for a full day, followed by our departure from Tel Aviv at 11:15 PM Israel time, then overnight home, arriving back home to Rockville around noon Connecticut time on December 9th. We will post our final day with photos after we return home.

Tomorrow, we will visit Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Museum, then Ein Karem where John the Baptist was born and Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth to utter the words of the Magnificat (Lk. 1:39-80). Then we travel to Abu Gosh to walk the road to Emmaus where Jesus appeared on the first Easter Sunday, followed by Mass at Our Lady of the Ark Church overlooking Jerusalem and our farewell dinner.

Fr. Rick

Early morning walk on the Via Dolorosa praying the Stations of the Cross. The Via Dolorosa is the path where Jesus carried his cross to Calvary.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the marble slab on which the body of Jesus was anointed with scented burial oil. Pilgrims traditionally place their rosary into the oil on the marble.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Station Twelve, Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Dan LeBlanc leaves the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb of Jesus. He also celebrated his birthday today.

Mass at Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we begin by singing "Were You There", a very powerful spiritual experience for all of us.

Fr. Rick prays at the Wailing Wall, the most sacred place in Judaism.

Also known as the Western Wall, the wall is the western side of the Second Temple.

The Dome of the Rock, the third most sacred place for Muslims

Lunch at Pizzeria Basti--the best pizza place in Jerusalem--excellent!

The Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralytic.

Fr. Rick reads Jn. 5:1-15 at the Pool of Bethesda

Singing "Immaculate Mary" and "Come to the Water" at the Church of St. Ann, honoring Mary's mother and the birthplace of Mary. The Church of St. Ann is famous for its acoustics and pilgrims traditionally sing here.

Statue of the Virgin Mary with her mother, St. Ann.

The crypt below the Church of St. Ann, marking the place of Mary's birth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 7

Good Evening Friends,

Today we began our day on Mount Zion where we had Mass at the beautiful Franciscan Church honoring the upper room where Christ had his Last Supper with his apostles and where the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. (Mt. 26: 26-29 & Jn. 20: 19-29) After Mass, we traveled to Jericho (Jos. 5:13-6:23) where we stopped at the location where Christ met Zacchaeus. (Lk. 19:1-10) We also were able to see the Mount of Temptation where Christ was tempted by Satan (Mt 4: 1-11) at the end of his 40 days in the desert.

Our next stop was to the mountaintop fortress of King Herod. We ascended the mountain via a cable car which gave us an incredible view of the Dead Sea and the surrounding area. This was the mountaintop fortress of King Herod where from 70-73 AD the Zealots made their last stand against Rome. While in the area, we also toured the excavations at Qumram, the home of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. St. John the Baptist was, at one time, a member of this community. This was an incredible site with a fascinating history,

Late in the day, we visited the Dead Sea. The salinity concentration of the sea is at least ten times more than any ocean or sea. The density of the water makes everything vey buoyant, and even those of us who can’t normally float did it with ease.

We ended our day as we began it with prayer and contemplation of all we have been blessed to experience.

Morning Mass at Church of the Cenacle next to the upper room.

Jericho sycamore tree similar to the one Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.

Qumram cave where the first 7 Dead Sea Scrolls were found by a Bedouin boy in 1948. In the following 42 years, 800 additional scrolls were found.

Qumram, in the room where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Essenes.

The cable car at Masada taking us to the top.

At the north wall of Masada overlooking the Roman camp below.

Isaac teaches us about the Zealots at Masada as we sit at the site of the oldest known Synagogue in existence.

View on Masada from King Herod's Palace overlooking the Dead Sea.

Penny cools off in the Dead Sea!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 6

Good Evening Friends,

Near the top of the Mount of Olives we began our day celebrating Mass followed by Eucharistic Adoration at the Church of Agony located at the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46, Mk. 14:32-42). Leaving the Church, we viewed the thick, gnarled trunks of the ancient Olive Trees in the garden and were humbled knowing we were actually standing where Jesus had suffered his agony.

We continued walking to the Church of the Pater Noster where we sang the “Our Father” and viewed over 200 plaques depicting various languages of this prayer surrounding the enclosed walls.

Our walk then took us to the top of the Mount of Olives (Mt. 21:1-11) to the Dominus Flevit Chapel where Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk. 19:41-44). There, the panoramic view of Jerusalem allowed our guide, Isaac, to point out the important Christian sites of the last days before the crucifixion of Jesus.

Catching our bus at the bottom of the Mount of Olives we proceeded to Mt. Zion, stopping at St. Peter in Gallicantu (The Cock Crows) where - Peter denied Jesus three times (Mt. 26:31-75), Jesus was accused by the Sanhedrin, and where Jesus was held in the house of the High Priest Caiaphas (Jn. 18:12-28). We were deeply moved by the place of his confinement after he was sentenced by Pilate and by the knowledge that the steps were the very steps that Jesus walked carrying his cross – an undisputed historic fact according to Isaac.

Our day ended with our visit to the Church of Dormition dedicated to Mary where we prayed the rosary and then went to the Upper Room where the Last Supper took place and where we will return tomorrow for Mass.

Overall, it was a very deeply moving day for all.

The Garden of Gethsemane with its ancient Olive Trees.

Altar at the Church of Agony over the rock where Jesus suffered his agony.

Mass at the Church of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

At the Church of the Pater Noster, where Jesus gave his disciples the Lord's Prayer.

Jerusalem from Dominus Flavit Chapel.

Dominus Flavit Chapel, commemorating the spot where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Walking on the steps where Jesus walked, we walk down to the Kidron Valley.

We pray in the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 5

Leaving Tiberias for Jerusalem

Good Evening friends,

Today, Friday, is the Sabbath for the Jewish community and, therefore, no one in our Jerusalem hotel is allowed to purchase time to use the internet until the Sabbath ends Saturday night at 6:00 pm! Sorry if we worried you when you didn’t see the blog message – but we didn’t disappear – we’re just a day late for your viewing.

Beginning our Friday early with beautiful weather, we moved out of our hotel in Tiberias and headed towards the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Traveling on the same road that Jesus took from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem, we moved from a fertile landscape of vegetables and fruit trees, to acres of fig producing palm trees, and finally through the Judean desert where we could see the Bedouin Shepherds tending their sheep. Leaving the desert we climbed 4,000 feet in altitude as we continued on our way towards the holiest city for the Christian and Jewish community and the third holiest city for the Muslims. Overlooking the city, we participated in the Jewish welcoming ritual of blessing Jerusalem by sharing bread dipped in salt with wine. (Mt. 21:1-11)

Our next stop was to the birthplace of our Lord, Bethlehem. The first stop was at the site of the Shepherd’s Cave. (Lk. 2:1-20). In the cave we read scripture and sang “Joy to the World" above the cave there is a very nice chapel called the Shepherd’s Chapel where we admired its stunning mosaics depicting the angels asking the shepherds to welcome the Christ Child. We were moved to sing “Angels We have Heard On High.”

On to the city of Bethlehem, we were brought to a Christian Gift Shop where we purchased the famous olive wood carvings and rosary beads, Jerusalem crosses, and many more personal gifts for the folks back home.

The highlight of the day’s adventure, of course, was to visit the Church of the Nativity where we descended below into the Grotto of the Nativity. There we touched and kissed the Silver Star that marked the site where Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. (Mt. 2:1-16, Jn. 7:42)

We then celebrated a Christmas Mass at the complex in the beautiful church of St. Catherine. We were all overwhelmed with the opportunity that God granted us. There is no longer a quiet “Little Town of Bethlehem” – but the holiness of the place was palpable.

Entering the Judean Desert near Jericho

Taking a break for some great cappuccino!

Chatting with some Israeli soldiers heading home for weekend leave.

Father Rick giving his blessing with the Mount of Olives behind him on his right, Jerusalem to his left as Isaac welcomes us to Jerusalem with a traditional Jewish greeting of bread and salt with wine.

Bethlehem, inside the Shepherd's Cave.

Bethlehem, Church of the Shepherds: "The angel of the Lord appeared to them...."

"So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger."

"..they made known the message..."

Pilgrims at the entrance to the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus.

Fr. Rick touches the place where Jesus was born marked by a silver star.

Christmas Mass at St. Catherine