Monthly Archives: December 2018

Holy Land Pilgrimage – By the Numbers

NT Map

We are safely home now after an amazing trip.  Our flight from Tel Aviv was long and crowded.  The 787 must have blown a tire on take-off as we landed on a flat tire and they held us on the tarmac in Toronto for 2 hrs. while they changed it out.  So we were a total of 14.5 hrs in the plane coming home.  The other side of this is that is we were sitting with Bishop Lavoie the whole way so we got to know each other more.

By all accounts this was a trip of a life time, very different in tone and tenor from a pilgrimage we took to Poland a few years back.  Here there was much more laughter, light heartedness and joking.  Bishop Sylvain and Fr. Susai were constantly joking with us and each other.  Our daily Masses were chances to snap multiple pictures and for joyful singing led by Dan and Joanne.  Virtually everyone got to read or otherwise participate in the Eucharist celebrations.


In front of the Tomb of Jesus, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

The highlight for Marie and I was receiving the Eucharist in the inner Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  This was a once in lifetime experience and we felt so blessed and appreciative for this gift.  It was a timing thing and we happened to be invited into the inner tomb with Fr. Susai and Bishop Sylvain just as they started to distribute the Host.  (There is only room for about 4 people at a time in the inner tomb.)  Having a Mass there (in the outer tomb) at 5h30 was a real coup and Maria Drueco our tour organizer deserves much credit for this and her excellent overall organization and care of us: Marianatha Tours.


Fr Susai and Bishop Sylvain in the Inner Tomb of Jesus



We place our hands on the slab where they laid Jesus body

There was virtually no complaining about anything – perhaps a few raised eyebrows when certain things happened, but that was it.  Contrast this with the very vocal complaining one often hears on any major trip like this and the sense of entitlement some display if they have to line up, don’t like the food, etc..  The group bonded very well and we all helped each other whenever necessary.  Furthermore, we felt totally safe at all times and saw no security threats.  It’s fair to say that the Israelis have state of the art security systems in place and that one is likely as safe here as anywhere.


After Renewal of Wedding Vows and Mass at Cana in Nazareth


Several years of militia service is compulsory for young Israeli women like these

It was great that our friends from Arnprior, John and Christine came on this pilgrimage too.  Plus we made many new friends, some of them Oblate Associates like us.


With Christine and John at the Wailing Wall


At the Jaffa Street Market in Jerusalem with friends

Should every Christian feel they should make this pilgrimage once in their life?  No, it’s not necessary in our view.  One good reason is the profound lack of religious unity and homogeneity one experiences here.  When we were in Poland, 95% were Catholic and over 80% of these were actively practicing their faith.  We felt at home.  In the Holy Land, Christianity is a very small minority, so a Christian is surrounded here by much otherness.  While the sites are the most holy and meaningful in Christendom and everyone is nice, one cannot escape feeling a sense of sadness at the reality of the Holy Land today – walls up, restrictions on travel, security concerns, intolerance, land grabs, poverty, litter, identity politics, violence etc.  Nothing has changed since Jesus time except there is perhaps even more division now it seems.  So  we are left with an even greater appreciation of St Paul for bringing the message of Jesus to the world – to us!


On the Sea of Galilee

Uplifting were the faces of thousands of other pilgrims like us eager to visit each sacred site and extend their faith in this dimension.  A pilgrimage to the Holy Land can indeed be transformative and for many including us, it is.  In the days to come we hope to unpack this a little more.

By the numbers:

  • 13 days, 2 countries, 28 pilgrims
  • average age say 68, 9 men, 19 women
  • 20,000 kms flown, 7 time zones
  • about 1000 km bussed
  • 6 hotels (2-5*, 2-4*, 2-3*), 12 buffet dinners, 1 served
  • food varied from excellent to run of the mill (lot’s of stews)
  • lots of sauces and spices, fruit sometimes hard to find, no coffee at dinner
  • prices generally expensive and appreciation to be shown by tipping
  • photos taken 610, 6  bottles of wine
  • 25 sites visited, likely same number of churches
  • rain 2 – 3 days, rest sunny, ave high temp 22
  • 12 Masses held in the most amazing places
  • Overall rating 8.5/10


Thanks be to God for this safe holy trip and to you for travelling with us.  God bless.





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Holy Land – Day 13

Our hotel last night in Amman was the Harrar Palace. There is a security machine you must go thru on entry. The room was small but the bed was big.‎ Nothing worked too well – the safe, the shower – but we were comfortable sleeping nonetheless. In the morning, Marie’s shower is cold. Dave asks where is the swimming pool? Straight faced the desk attendant says it is closed. I ask him when will it open? “In the spring” he says!! (I had assumed they had an indoor pool…)

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (HKJ) gained it’s independence from British rule in 1946. Prince Abdullah became King Addulla and the country’s name changed from Trans-Jordan.‎ 4 million people live in “The white city” – all of the buildings are made of white stone. ‎The streets are lined with coniferous and palm trees and some cactus. It’s a big traffic crowded city. It’s another sunny day and we are headed north to Jarash‎, the ancient Greco/Roman city.

Hadrian built up this city in 135 CE. We walk down streets lined with columns and arches. We see the theatre, amazingly well maintained. The Temple of Artemis (Diana). Italians and French are working here to expose more of the ancient ruins. ‎Their are squill plants growing among the rocky fields. We finish our walking tour and Dave buys 2 keffi‎yeh, the distinctive Jordainian red checkered headress with black ring as gifts.

We head for the Israel border north crossing. We are nearsing the end of this pilgrimage. At the border, everything on the bus with us has to be scanned. Then a departure tax has to be paid HKJ and we go thru an iris scan and database check before our passports are stamped for departure. After we cross the Jordan River, we get off the bus again with all our baggage. Once again everything including us is scanned. They ask Dave if anyone in Jordan gave him something to deliver in Israel. Then passports are scanned again and we are issued a tourist visa card. ‎By the time we leave for Jericho with Sammy again, almost 2 hours have elapsed.

We spent our last night in a truly 5 star hotel after Mass at the local Catholic Church ministered by Franciscans. There are 324 Catholics here out of a population of 30,000. We are done, thanks be to God for this great pilgrimage trip.

See you at home soon.

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Holy Land – Day 12 Petra

Petra is an ancient city dating from the third century BC. After a short but restful night, we are anxious to see this World Heritage Site and one of the declared New Seven Wonders of the World. The Nabateans prospered in the trade of frankensense, myrhh and spices. This was their capital. They had advanced and ingenious water systems which enabled them to move around the dessert area and control access to water for caravans. They also extracted bitumen and salt from the Dead Sea and exported it to Egypt for mummification.

You have seen Petra in the Indiana Jones movies like the Last Crusade in 1989. We walk down a slowly descending gravel path. There are mountains in view. The way narrows and we enter a canyon. There are horse drawn buggies speeding by. Some people ride horses or donkies. The cobble stones give way to a smoother Roman like road. The steep rock walls becomes pink in colur. We snap pic after pic and suddenly there it – the Tomb of King Aretas IV. King Aretas is mentioned in 2 Cor‎ 11:13. He ruled a large empire between Egypt and Persia just skirting the east and southern end of the Dead sea.

They were annexed by the Roman Empire in 106 CE. In 324 they become part of the Byzantine Empire. In 363‎ a major earthquake crumbles some of their greatest buildings. Another earthquake in 551 knocks out their civilization for good.

We hear snipets of conversations. Ancient eartquakes opened up fissures here. Water gushed down over millions of years ago. It carved out the deep canyon more than 200 feet deep. We continue and climb many stairs to the Urn Tomb. We can see the top of the 8000 seat ampitheatre. We turn back.‎ We get back to the bus after a 3 hr hike.

Today, phosphate and potash are mined and exported. Jordan has great leadership I King Abdulla II tries to keep Jordan as neutral as possible. They set a very good example in this turbulent area – live and let live. It is a beautiful country – Yosef our guide was right. We have seen and learned a lot here.
‎We get to our hotel in Amman at 7:30. There is a large wedding party going on in the lobby. The contrast with Petra could not be greater.

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