Monthly Archives: November 2018

Holy Land – Day 11

We cross into Jordan for 3 days at the Allenby crossing, a short bridge over the Jordan River at the top of the Dead Sea. British General Allenby liberated the Holy Land from the Ottoman Turks in 1917.‎ Dave thinks of his Yemenese friend Nassr who teaches in Riyadh now. Our tour bus transfer is a bit delayed – this is the first hiccup on this pilgrimage.

We head for the ‎Jordanian hills. It is sunny, 23•C and very dry. We see some greener spaces but it’s a desert. Houses in communities are simple cinder block or concrete structures with flat roofs.. Our new guide is Joseph and he is very knowledgeable of scripture too. We climb and climb. Women are dressed in long black robes with a white head scarf. Men are dressed like us. We see 2 dromedaries (single hump camels).

We drive by Mt. Nebo, 1130m above the Dead Sea and reach Madaba: City of Mosaics. About 10% of Jordanians are Christian, but religion does not divide here – we are all Jordanians says Joseph. There are 9.5 million, 3 million of which are immigrants including 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

The St George Greek Orthodox Church is filled with beautiful mosaic images including the first geographic biblical map of the Middle East. We go to the Memorial Church of Moses on Mt Nebo. ‎It is filled with beautidully preserved floor mosaics. Outside, Joseph points out the Dead Sea, the Jordan and the Promised Land as we gaze east. It is hazy so we cannot see Jerusalem today. We stop for lunch at a handicraft centre. We see a demonstration of how mosaic artwork is made. Then it’s a 3 hr drive south to our hotel in Petra.

It soon gets dark, We are on a semi-divided highway and it is bumpy. There are speed bumps seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The speed limit is 60 km. From time to time there are pretty green, red and blue lights. There ‎are many crude oil tankers slowing things down further. It is authentic. There are further delays – bathroom breaks, ATM machine stops.

We finally arrive at our hotel at 8 PM. The Old Village Resort is beautiful. We have a delicious dinner of lamb, arab salads and fancy desserts. The journey continues tomorrow. Our prayers go out to you all.

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Holy Land – Day 10

As we pray at the 7th Station of the Cross, ‎we hear the call to worship from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the 3rd most holiest Muslim mosque in the world. It is 4h30 in the morning and we are praying the Stations in the Old City. We are on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was laid in the tomb. We sing Jesus Remember Me.

We enter the church and there is the 15th Station the Resurrection. We approach the tomb building inside with reverence. We go into it and there is a small second chamber where Jesus body was laid. Marie reads at Mass. Then I am invited in too and we receive the Eucharist inside the tomb chamber. It is an amazing moment and Fr Susai snaps pictures of us kissing the Jesus tomb.

We leave and hike up the stairs to Cavalry. This is the actual place where Jesus was nailed to the cross. We visit Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. He was Jesus benefactor who offered one of his family’s tombs for Jesus with Pontius Pilate’s permission. We kneel and touch the spot. Then we head out the Jaffa Gate and there is our bus. It’s now 7h10 – what a well organized outing.

After breakfast we head to the Bethesda pools, the place of healing. John 5. ‎Jesus heals the sick man on the Sabbath and then explains that he is equal to God the Father. He warns the healed man not to sin again as there will be judgement. Another pilgrim group from Brazil appears as we sit in front of the Basilica of St Anne – there have been many. We snap pictures of the original now dry baths and visit the Virgin Mary’s birthplace beneath the church.

Then on to the Wailing Wall via the Dung Gate. On Mondays and Thursdays (today) there are a lot of barmitzvahs and activity. The Jews come here to cry over the destruction of their two Temples (384 BC by Babylonians, 70 CE by Romans)‎. Muslims arrive in 638 CE and take over Jerusalem. As non-Muslims we can approach the wall and take photos but are not allowed up on the Temple Mount itself located above, where the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque are.

We descend inti the arcalogical park at the SW corner. We see huge blocks put in place by Herod the Great in 20 BC Also the Roman road with big stones throughn down during the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE!!!‎ We gaze at the teaching steps where Jesus taoght the Disciples. Then we hear the call to worship below the mosque along with the barmyzvah bands.. It is truly erie – this crossroads between 3 major religions!!!

‎We’ve had it. It’s noon and time to go back to our hotel to chill before checking out tomorrow for Jordan. Only 3 days left, you may be happy to know!

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Holy Land – Day 9

We are over halfway thru our pilgrimage‎. We are falling in love again with the Bible. Now that we have visited so many Holy places, we want to read about it again. Yesterday Bishop Sylvain pointed out an institute here where people come to study the Holy Lands and scripture for 6 weeks. Never say never. Everyone here is taking hundreds of pictures and videos. There are dozens of tour busses wherever we go. Thousands upon thousands are connecting with their faith here. The Faith is alive.

We go to Mt of Olives, the place of Ascension of Jesus to heaven. There is a small Byzantine era shrine marking the spot enclosing a Crusaders era shrine with some bedrock where Jesus stood. This is also the place of the‎ second coming. Mark 11: Queen Helena builds a church right next door. It is where Jesus taught the Disciples the Lord’s Prayer. There are inscriptions of the Lord’s Prayer in all the world’s languages. Fr Susal sings it in Tamil, his native language. Others of our group chant in Ojibway, Cree, Tagalog, French, Spanish. It sounds like speaking in tongues!

We descend and enter the Garden of Gethsemanie below the east wall of the Old City. We read the relevant passages and talk about Jesus sorrow here. He accepts God’s will to suffer and die. He will not resist his arrest. ‎But it will be his human body that is crucified, not his divinity as God. It is here that his humanity is suffering, not his divinity. Luke 22 tells the story. Accepting suffering is radical discipleship. It is the deepest love God reveals to us thru allowing his Son to die on the cross for us. We learn all this agin as we celebrate Mass in the Basilica of the Agony.

We ascend the east side of the Old City and stop at the house of Caiphas the Chief priest.‎ Jesus tells Caiphas you will see (me) the Son of Man coming (Dan 7:13). Caiphus is enraged at this prohphetic reference from Jesus and tears his priestly chord. We descend narrow stairs to the scourging beam and pillars where Jesus is tortured. We descend further to the prison below where Jesus was imprisoned awaiting crucifixion. Psalm 88 is read. It is here where we all experience a tearful moment.

After lunch we head back to the Mt of Olives for the panoramic view. Then we walk down the Palm Sunday route to the bottom of the valley. It is steep but worth it as the views are stunning. Eight of us are dropped off at the Lions Gate entry to the old city. We strole through the narrow streets lined with vendors down to the Wailing Wall.

This is the west wall of the Temple Mount and is the closest wall to where the Tabernacle was located when the Temple was here. It is crowded with devout Jews and tourists like us. Marie goes up to the women’s section of the wall and Dave the men’s. It is an incredible experience to see such expression of the Jewish faith with hundreds reading and bobbing their head forward and back. A man singing haleluah is escorted out. I am asked to hide my cross.

We head back to the hotel. There is a disturbance at a nearby tram station – women apparently are protesting mandatory military service but we are not sure. We call it a night.

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Holy Land – Day 8

We posted too early yesterday. Later, 8 of us took the tram to Jaffa Street market. It is a pedestrian area filled with clothing, wine stores, sweet shops and restaurants. At one point Dave unknowingly dropped ‎his cell phone and a young man ran up handing it to him. We found some food for dinner and took a group selfie (on the other camera). As you can see in the pic attached, the tram we took is very modern. It was a fun end to a long day.

In the morning, we celebrate Mass in the study room of St Jerome where he translated the Bible into Latin from Greek for the first time.‎ His tomb is here but his remains were moved to Rome. It is located beneath the Church of the Nativity, built by Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in 324 CE. Prior Hadrian built a Pagan Temple here in 125 CE to cover over the birthplace of Christ so we know this is truly the right location.

We descend stairs to the Grotto of the Nativity. Micah 5:2 predicts the Saviour will be born in Bethlehem. ‎We see the spot where Jesus was born (star in floor) and where he lay in the manger. The actual manger is now in Rome. Then to the Shepherd Fields Luke 2:8. Dave takes another selfie.

We head to Jericho, the oldest city in the world, 3000 to 4000 BC! Jesus came through here on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. It’s in the Judean desert, the Florida of Israel. We gaze at the Mount of Temptation where Satan tried to tempt Jesus. We sample some delicious medjuul dates and buy some.

Then it is off to the Dead Sea for a “float”. It is 440m below sea level! It is‎ saturated with salt and there is elemental salt as you wade in that feels like rock. We get thru the muddy part and float out on our backs over a Sandy bottom. It is hot and sunny. Ahh, home at last.

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Holy Land – Day 7

We start with Mass in a Franciscan chapel built on the site of the Last Supper. Then Dormition Abbey where the Virgin Mary is said to have died – the eternal sleep and her Ascension. Hagia Sion remains of St Peter, built in the Byzantine period.‎ Jesus reappears to the Disciples here after his Resurrection and Mary is with them. Also Acts 15, the Apostles hold their first council appointing James, brother of Jesus as Bishop. This is the New Zion. End of the temple practice and start of the 2nd Covenant Church. We visit the Upper Room built by the Crusaders. It is retained by Israel since 1948. We are standing in this Holy Christian Place in awe!!!

Below we enter the Tomb of David according to Medieval tradition and see the Sephardic Synagogue of Mt. Zion established in 1948 during the War of Independence. There are extremist (orthodox) Jews living and praying here. ‎There is a large group of young Israeli militia. All is calm and respectful.

We drive to Samaria north of Jerusalem. We visit the Old Testament site of Shilo (pronounced Sheelo), the first capital of the 12 tribes of Israel. We are in Ephram. A battle occurred here between the Israelites and Cananites. The Ark of the Covenant was here for 369 years. We see a hologram describing the ancient tabernacle – a portable temple that contained the Ark. Inside the Ark were the broken and unbroken stone tablets with the Law of Moses inscribed. The Ark was lost to the Philestines in a later war who likely destroyed it.

We are in the ‘C’ section of the West Bank which is under Israeli control. Sections A and B are under Palestinian Authority control. These territories are not contiguous and are all mixed together. There are quite a number of Jewish settlements in between Palestinian towns. Our guide who is packing a pistol, says both communities are thriving here thanks to Israeli management. The UN has declared Israeli settlements like this to be illegal. There are a lot of restrictions on people movement.

We see a movie about Hanah’s prayer to Eli the High Priest, for a child. The concept of prayer is born. Samuel was born to her who helped reunite the 12 tribes.‎

We drive to the large Palestinian city of Nablus. ‎We visit Jacob’s well where the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus. A Greek Orthodox Church is built over it. It is the real well and we buy water samples. As we sit outside we hear the Muslim call to worship as a feral cat walks by. As we drive out, everything is under construction, the buildings, the street, the statehood. This is all part of the Holy Land!

‎We stop for a treat – Palestinian Knaphel – a flat honeyed cake topped with pistachio pieces and that has a doughy texture. Yum! We are the only tour bus in Nablus, a special treat as Sammy is not a Jew and can go everywhere freely.

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Holy Land – Day 6

Jerusalem is a strange place. Covering a series of high hills, there are very deep uninhabited valleys in-between. It must have been very difficult walking in Jesus time from town to town. Now too, there is a 20 foot high concrete wall between the Palestinian quarter and the rest of the city. There are checkpoints on the roads that allow Arab-Israelis to enter freely into the Palestinian areas but restrict Palestinian plated cars from leaving their quarter‎ to enter Israel. And the Israelis keep putting up new walls to enclose more and more territory. Very strange and sad.

The fact Trump moved the US embassy here from Tel Aviv signifies he personally does not support the 2 State solution for Israel and Palestine. All this being said, we have not felt unsafe in the least here and only seen a few armed soldiers at the checkpoints or border with Jordan. Then you have all the ancient Bibilical sites in the middle of a modern city with traffic jams. It is surreal here, like nothing we have experienced before.

Today we visited the Church of the Birthplace of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was the last prophet and links the Old to the New Testament. We visited the Church of the Visitation. ‎Elizabeth, 6 months pregnant with John the Baptist, is visited by Mary, pregnant with Jesus. John jumps in the womb.

We visited the Museum of Jerusalem. There is a huge outdoor model of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. We started our day at the tomb of Lazarus where he was raised from the dead. This infuriated the Pharisees because Lazarus had been dead for 4 days and had started to decay.

When we read of these stories again in the Bible, they will have new meaning for us.‎

It rains off and on and we are happy to come to the end of another great experience and day.

D and M

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Holy Land – Day 5

What is really going on here? We are searching for safety from the storm, for comfort from the pain and for ‎love for the journey. This pilgrimage is a ‎cry for salvation. We realize we are in great need of sanctification and salvation.

Our Christian Israeli guide, Sammy, is a scripture freek. He constantly refers to passages in the Gospels and Old Testament by chapter and verse as we visit each holy site. If you have not read your Bible deeply, it is too late to do it now to try to keep up with him.

We head first to Mount Tabor – the site of Jesus transfiguration with Peter and James witnessing. It is a high domed hill a few km from Nazareth. At the top is a church built on the spot and we celebrate Mass. I take a selfie photo afterwards and the top of my head is lit up eerily.

Next we head south for the spot Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. We wade in and Fr Susai reads from the Bible. Then we baptize each other in the muddy water. There are a few hundred others doing the same thing as a couple of soldiers look on from each side of the border. The river is maybe 50 feet across and Jordan is on the other bank. Bishop Sylvain and Dave splash each other.

Lunch in Bethlehem followed by some religious article shopping. They have great olive wood carvings and Dave finds a St Joseph with Mary and Jesus. Marie finds some nice things. We check into the Dan Jerusalem Hotel – a large hotel that has a huge terraced lobby. Somewhat dated, it has a large spa complex and dining room. The beds are particularly comfortable.

We say goodnight after a nightcap with John and Christine.


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Holy Land – Day 4

We go to Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle – turning water into wine at a wedding. It must have been a family wedding as outsiders would not normally have interfered in a wedding celebration. We walk up some narrow alleys and come upon a small church. We enter the chapel. Marie and I renew our wedding vows with 5 other couples in a ceremony led by Bishop Sylvain and Fr Susai. It is a magical experience and we feel renewed and very grateful.

As we head back to the bus, there is visible litter in the gutters and on vacant properties. We feel somewhat deflated as our concept of Jewish and Muslim culture is one of purity and cleanliness. Hey, this is the realty of city life almost everywhere these days.

We drive up a ridge to Sephoris – it is a Roman town that was the capital of Galilee in Jesus time. Strangely, it is not mentioned in the Bible, but Jesus must have been here as it is next to Nazareth. A monastery is built here in honour of the Virgin Mary who some believe was from here.

We walk down the main street of the town to see the remains of houses, some with beautiful mosaic floors.‎ It is raining lightly. We tour a 2nd century CE Roman mansion. Also a beautiful 4th century Roman/Byzantine period synagogue.

In the PM we go to Nazareth Village. It is an authentically restored village as Jesus would have lived in. We meet a shepherd, a carpenter, a weaver, an olive press operator and others as we are led thru the outdoor village. Our tour guide is very entertaining and we learn a lot about what it was like to live in Nazareth at Jesus time.

We finish with Mass at the Basilica of Nazareth that is built over the house of Mary where the visitation occurred. There are large panels from each country depicting their dedication to the Virgin Mary, including Canada. We also visit the Church of St. James where St Joseph is venerated.
As we leave a Polish Mass gets underway.

Buffet dinner follows at our hotel. We are all feeling good, tired but nourished.

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Holy Land – Day 3

After a great sleep, we are ready to go. First stop is the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the sermon on the Mount. Our reader reads the relevant bible passages as we stand in front of the church built here. It is a stunning sensation to be in this sacred place filled with flowers and singing birds.

Then we stop at another church marking the spot where Jesus feeds the 5000 with 5 loaves and 3 fishes.‎ Then we cruise the Sea of Galilee on a pilgrim boat. We celebrate Mass on board. Then we sing a bit and dance – the Havn Aguila! It is an amazing time. Everyone is smiling in the moment!

Lunch at the Fish Restaurant in Tiberias, the great Roman city King Herod Antipas‎ built in 18 CE. A relatively large modern city now on a hill by the Sea of Galilee. The fish was great – whole white fish, sweet and rich taste. On the way in we run into Fr Tap Kurudeepan, OMI from North Vancouver with another group. Small world.

A note about the currency – New Israeli Shekels ‎- 2.8 to the $CDN. Because of the large tourist trade here the US$ is accepted everywhere. We prefer to use the NIS out of principle. Gasoline is priced here at 6.48 NIS, about $2.30CDN/litre.

We drive by orchards of olive trees, orange and pomegranate, bananas and grapes. This is where the fruit and oil comes from that we have on our table at breakfast, lunch and dinne here. How great is this? ‎ Everything is open air here. There are no bugs or flies.

As we enter and leave these holy places, we see the Face of God‎ in those entering or leaving. There are Asians, Africans, Europeans and Americans. Many are darker in colour. We are all seeking the same Savior!

A note about the tone of this pilgrimage. There is much laughter and singing. Everyone is having a great time. It is not in any way austere or rigid. It is like a family holiday with the extended family. ‎We are silent when we listen to the Gospel and Sammy our tour guide speaks to us. Then the chatter starts up again. Some are on their first trip here like us, others are on their 4th or 5th.

After lunch we go to a church on the banks of the Sea of Galilee at a place called Tabgha. A plaque at the door says Pope JPII was here with Cardinal Dziwitz, who we had met at his residence in Krakow when we were in Poland in 2015. We wander down to the Sea of Galilee and some wade in.

Then the highlight of the day – Capernaum – the town Jesus went to after leaving Nazareth. The foundation of the synagogue he preached in is here. A 4th century Roman church is built on top and we tour the ruins of it. Surrounding it are the excavated stone walls of many houses. We can see the entrance and the individual rooms in each. The house of Peter is also excavated here and now partially covered over with an octanganal shaped church. Jesus was resurrected on the 8th day we learn and that is the significance of the 8 sides.

We wander down to the Sea of Galilee at sunset on a calm afternoon. The birds are singing. Wow, what a spiritual day!

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Holy Land – Days 1-2

We leave Ottawa in a small snow squall. Toronto is clear and we meet our group. We are being accompanied by Archbishop Emeritus Sylvain Lavoie, OMI and Fr Susai Jesu, OMI‎. Our tour provider Maria Drueco is also with us. We are a group of 28 pilgrims. Mostly from Edmonton but some from Sask and Manitoba.

‎A small mishap. John and Christine from Arnprior board an earlier flight to Toronto. When they get to the gate for Tel Aviv, their bags have apparently not made it to this flight. After a tense search everything is resolved. A smooth flight to Tel Aviv on Air Canada in their newest B787 Dreamliner.

Leaving the plane, another mishap. Marie inadvertently leves her wallet on the plane. After another tense wait, they find it and bring it to her. Hey, we are pilgrims and these things happen.

We head for Nazareth with a tall concrete wall on our right separating the Jewish State of Israel from the Palestinian West Bank settlements. There are gaps so it seems artificial and not needed but this is Israel we learn.

Our hotel is comfortable. Nazareth‎ is very hilly and a large city. Much bigger than in Jesus time. The streets are narrow. We stop for a chicken shawarma sandwich lunch, yum.  As we leave the restaurant, the call to Muslim worship sounds. A man looks at me and says to slow down. It’s time to pray. I say we heard this too in Istanbul. He says that is a good place.

That night we celebrate Mass and enjoy awonderful buffet dinner complete with humus, mediteranean style lamb stew, beef, roast chicken and dozens of sauces and spices.
We sleep and sleep at last. Thanks be to God for this pilgrimage and safe journey.

Dave and Marie

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