Sunday, February 26, 2006

Couldn’t Keep Up!

by Steve Ray on February 26, 2006

I had very good intentions. I was determined to post a daily blog to describe our pilgrimage here in Israel. Janet and I are guiding a very small and intimate group through the Holy Land and I wanted to give a daily update of our journeys, but after long arduous days of walking and walking, talking and talking by the time night rolls around — crash! Plus, internet connections are not always available.

We are with a marvelous group of Catholics who love the Lord and want to see the Holy Land. Many of them were afraid to come but now they are amazed at how safe and delightful it is here in Israel They will no longer allow CNN to shape the view of the world — especially the Holy Land. There are tens of thousands of Christians visiting the Holy Land and all perfectly safe and enjoying their pilgrimages. We have two priests, a sister, a deacon, John Hale our travel agent, Teresa Tomeo of Ave Maria and EWTN radio, Mary Elkins (mamager for Jim Caveziel) and other wonderful folks. I have too little time to mention them all and their delightful attributes. But they have ALL endeared themselves to us.

We arrived in Jerusalem and spent the exciting day seeing everything in Bethlehem. I introduced the pilgrims to my friends and with great emotion toured the Church of the Nativity where Our Lord was born. Then to Shepherd’s Field where the angels sang “Glory in the highest!” We visited a Christian shop where we purchased olive wood products and antiquities and then ate lunch at St. George’s Restaurant in Manger Square in the heart of Bethlehem. Everyone had their pictures taken with Palestinian policeman. It was a great morning.

Then on to Ein Kerem where John the Baptist was born and where Mary visited Elizabeth. We had Mass in the Church of the Visitation.

On Thursday we had Mass on Golgotha in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the very place where Jesus was nailed to the cross and crucified. Then we went to Mount Scopus to look out over the Jordan Valley to the mountains of Jordan on the other side. I gave a 15 minute overview of the Bible from Adam to the early Church.

Then on to the Mount of Olives to visit the very spot Jesus ascended into heaven — the Chapel of the Ascension. After everyone rode the camel I specially arranged, we visit the Church of Pater Noster where Jesus taught the disciple to pray the “Our Father” after which we visited Dominus Flavit where Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Then to the Garden of Gethsemane.

After a wonderful lunch (every one is eating way too much and enjoying all the Middle Eastern food) we went to Mount Zion to visit the Upper Room, the Tomb of David, the Church of the Dormition (where we talked a long time about Mary and her Assumption into heaven from that very place). The Church of Gallicantu was next where Peter denied Christ and where Jesus was tried by Caiaphas and imprisoned over Holy Thursday.

Friday took us to Mass at the birthplace of Mary at the Church of St. Ann. Our two priests — Fr. Fraser and Fr. Burr — are marvelous young men from Taylor and Dearborn parishes. Deacon Egan from Atlanta is not only a tremendous blessing, but he is an absolute riot! These are marvelous men to make us all proud of our Catholic faith — and what a blessing to lead them through the Holy Land. I love these guys! I also love Sister Margaret who has been a joyful and fun addition to this pilgrimage.

But I got off track — After Mass we visited Bethsaida where Jesus healed the crippled man in John 5. What can be more emotional and wrenching that walking the Via Dolorosa carrying the cross along the path where Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha. With tears and joy we prayed our way through the crowded streets, tripping over trash and small children, praying amidst the hustle and bustle of Old Jerusalem and singing over the cry of merchants and tractors and other street noises. But, this was JUST what it was like the day Jesus struggled through these streets.

We ended up in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where I took everyone on a tour of the major sites inside this Church which is my favorite church in the world (yes, even St. Peters in Rome). Then we ate a delicious lunch in the Old City near the Jaffa Gate.

Once on the bus we headed through the Judean Wilderness for a wonderful swim — no, I mean “float“ — in the Dead Sea. Our drive through the Jordan Valley up to Galilee took about 2 hours and then we renewed our baptism in the Jordan River right next to a small fishing boat that just came in off the sea. We watched them unload all their fish.

We stayed in the gorgeous Pilgerhaus Hotel on the shore of Galilee and went to a ritzy Arabic restaurant compliments of my agent in Israel — Raji Khoury and his wife and daughter. Here we all laughed as most of the pilgrims smoked away on the water pipe and ate more delicious food than you could believe.

The next day found us at the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount before heading up to the Lebanese border to the farthest point in Israel to visit Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13-20). On the bus ride I gave my talk “Peter: the Rock, the Keys and the Chair” before showing it all to the pilgrims LIVE.

We drove through the Golan Heights looking out of Lebanon and Syria. We talked a bit of politics along the way and arrived for a time of prayer and exploration at the Primacy of Peter where Jesus appointed Peter as the shepherd of his sheep (Jn 21:15-17) and then to Tabgha where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. Then we visited the 1st century boat recently discovered on the shores near Capernaum and then took a real boat for a 45 minute ride on the Sea of Galilee — what fun!

Then Mass at St. Peter’ House in Capernaum where Jesus lived during his three-year ministry and then I explained all about Capernaum and discussed the Eucharist in the very synagogue Jesus told us to “eat his flesh“ and “drink his blood.“ We stayed at the Scot’s Hotel in Tiberius and ate at Janet and my favorite restaurant in Israel — Aberge Shulamit.

Now I am caught up to today. We arrived in Nazareth. Then Fr. Burr led us in a Mass in front of the Grotto of the Annunciation. We visited all the sites in Nazareth including the Church of St. Joseph over the home of the Holy Family and the ancient synagogue where Jesus worshiped as a child and where he revealed who he was in Luke 5 while reading from the scroll of Isaiah.

The married couples all renewed their wedding vows in Cana before lunch on the mountain overlooking Nazareth. Then to another mountain — Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured. I gave a talk on the parallels between Mount Tabor and Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law. We visited the Diamond Factory and then back to the Scot’s Hotel for a few hours free for shopping or napping before a delicious dinner! It is at this time that I am writing this entry on by blog.

Tomorrow we go to the Jordan River again so everyone can collect bottles of Jordan River water to bring home and then to the ancient archaeological site of Tel Megiddo — from which we get the word Armageddon. It is here that King Solomon fortified the walls and built the huge gates which we will see tomorrow.

Then on to Caesarea where Peter baptized the Roman Centurion Cornelius and where Paul embarked in chains on this journey as a prisoner to Rome. It was the great Roman sea port on the Mediterranean Sea which gave the access to Judea. We will then have Mass in Joppa (old city in Tel Aviv) and see where Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner and where Jonah set sail for Ninevah. After dinner and a few hours of sleep we will fly out of Tel Aviv for home.

Whew! There! I finally caught up. But there are so many other interesting things to post and so much I had to leave out. There is never a shortage of things to blog about and I can’t wait to get caught us this week when I get home.

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