Monthly Archives: January 2019

Jericho and the Dead Sea

Jericho, Israel, is known as the City of Palm  It is the oldest city in the world dating from 9000 BCE.  This was the Neolithic age when man stopped being primarily a hunter and became a planter.  After the conquest of Bethel and Ai by Joshua’s Israelite forces, Jericho became his next city to conquer from the Canaanites.  It was here that the tax collector Zaccheus, touched by Jesus spirit gave half of his belongings to the poor.  It was also here that Bartemaus was cured of blindness by Jesus.  Jesus walked this way.  We passed through Jericho two times on our recent Holy Land pilgrimage.


The first time was a stop at the lookout to Temptation Mountain where Jesus was tempted by the Devil for 40 days after his baptism in the nearby Jordan River.  We marveled at the rugged desert landscape and gazed at a monastery high up on the mountain, now reachable by tramway.


A somewhat flamboyant Palestinian pilgrim let me take his photo and we bought some delicious dates after trying a sample.  Jericho, we were told is the “Florida” of Israel as the temperature is noticeably warmer here in the valley, than in the Judea hills.  Well-off Israeli and Palestinian families maintain a second home here.  We also saw the famous Tel “El Sultan” (hill) which reflects some 20 civilizations in its past history.

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On our second visit we celebrated Mass in the quaint Church of the Good Shepherd, maintained by the Franciscans.  I remember the pastor telling us that there were only 324 Catholics living in all Jericho out of a total population of 30,000.  Keeping the Church going financially was a real challenge.  Fittingly, as he talked, we could hear the call to worship emanating from the Mosque just down the street.  That night, our last, we stayed in one of the nicest hotels of the whole trip – the 5* Oasis hotel, owned and operated by Palestinians.  We were deep inside the West Bank.

The nearby Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on land in the whole world at 430.5 meters below sea level.  It is also 304 meter deep and has hypersalinity.   It is salt lake fed by the Jordan with no outlet as is too low for water to flow out of.  It is 9.6 times as salty as the oceans.  Plants and animals do not flourish here due to the harsh conditions – hence its name.

We were all keen to go for a “float” in the lake and most of us did.  We must say, other than the novelty of floating freely, it was awful – the water stung your eyes, nose and mouth and the sharp pure crystalline salt rocks cut at your feet on the way in and out.  There is mud everywhere and many people were smearing it on their bodies.  After we got out and showered, we were still itchy for an hour!

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Nevertheless, it remains and has been a popular tourist destination for thousands of years.  It was one of the world’s first health resorts under King Herod the Great.  It offers sunny skies, dry air and pleasant temperatures year round.  Everything from asphalt and potash to ingredients for cosmetics are extracted from its waters.  We enjoyed our visit there and will not soon forget the experience of  putting out into the Dead Sea – on our backs.

(There are 3 more Holy Land sites we intend to explore with you before leaving this extended theme: Jerusalem, Petra and Jerash. However, we are about to embark on our next adventure to Mexico so we will see how disciplined we are about this plan.)

As always, thinking of you.   Thanks for traveling with us.  XOX


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Trekking in Samaria

Samaria is a very ancient land situated north of Jerusalem between Judah and Galilee.  God gave this land to the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh after they had conquered Canaan.  This region later evolved into the Kingdom of Israel.  The ancient city of Samaria itself was known as Oholah meaning “her tent”.  For many years Samaritans and Jews were in conflict with each other here.

samaria 2We had the privilege of visiting ancient Shiloh and Jacob’s Well located in the city of Nablus.  Both of these sites are located in the West Bank Palestinian communities of  Samaria.

We all know the parable of the good Samaritan and Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. These stories were shocking to the Jews because of the ongoing conflict and lack of trust between these two peoples.  Jews travelling from Galilee to Judea would take the longer Jordan River route rather than travel through Samaria.

As we sensed during our recent visit there, not much has changed to resolve these tensions since that time.


The whole congregation of Israel assembled together at Shiloh and set up the tent (or tabernacle) of the congregation there.     (Joshua 18:1).


Shiloh (pronounced “sheelow”) was an interesting place.  We went on a tour there led by a young man who was toting a pistol.  Turns out he was a local Jewish settler who lived with his family nearby.  Upon probing, he stated you never know what might happen around here and the gun is needed for protection. We assumed by this that he was likely  living on “unceded” Palestinian land and hence subject to potential reprisal attacks.  The U.N. has recently condemned Israel for these settlement practices.

Shiloh was the major Israelite worship centre before Solomon’s temple was built in Jerusalem, in the mid tenth century BCE.  The Tent Shrine or Tabernacle contained the Ark of the Covenant here for hundreds of years until the region was conquered by the Philistines. The Ark of the Covenant contained two sets of stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.  Moses smashed the first set which God had written, because he was angered over the Children of God worshiping the Golden Calf.  He later rewrote these on the second stone set. Wow, what vivid Biblical history right in our view here!

Continuing on to Nablus, a Palestinian city of 125,000, we went to Jacob’s well.  Yes, it is deemed to be the original Jacob’s Well where Jesus met the Samaritan women and shocked the disciples by conversing with her.  Then, this was in the ancient biblical town of Shechem, also known a Sychar.


Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

The well is remarkably intact and situated in the crypt of a Greek Orthodox Church and small monastery consecrated to St. Photinia the Samaritan.  The depth of the well was measured at 41 meter.  There is a winch, small bucket and a cistern.  We all peered in and imagined Jesus talking with the Samaritan women right here so many years ago.  We marveled at the beauty of the Church above and icons as a worship service was underway.


Water of Life Discourse (A. Kaufmann, 1796)

We made our way back through Nablus where everything seemed to be under construction.  Suddenly our bus pulled over and we were told we were in for a treat.  We entered a Palestinian pastry shop and sampled the world-famous Arabic Kanafeh cheese pastry in a sweet honey sauce.  Yum!  Content, we headed home to our hotel in Jerusalem after another great day, this one in beautiful Samaria.





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As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.         MK 1:16-18

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Sea of Galilee

Jesus spent most of his short ministry on earth in rural Galilee. It was only at the very end of his time that he went to Jerusalem.  Hence it was very fitting that we spent about half of our time (5 days+) touring Galilee visiting the pilgrimage sites associated with Jesus on our recent pilgrimage.

The principal sites we visited were:

  • The Basilica of the Annunciation (in Nazareth which we have already reported on)
  • Sea of Galilee
  • Tabgha (Multiplication of the Loaves)
  • Capernaum (where Jesus lived)
  • Mt. Tabor (His Transfiguration)

ancient_galileeGalilee is a geographical region in north-eastern Israel that has existed since ancient times. It is generally rocky terrain. In Jesus time, there were many small towns and villages encircling the Sea of Galilee.  The lake contained many edible fish and was surrounded by fertile land.  It is a medium-sized by our standards, is the lowest freshwater lake in the world and 2nd lowest lake anywhere after the Dead Sea further south. When we were there in November, the daily temperature was about 20 deg C and the birds were singing.  As of 2006, there were 1.2 million residents in Galilee, 47% of which were Jewish.


We celebrated Mass on the Sea of Galilee in a small covered boat that was larger and more comfortable than the simple open fishing boats of Jesus time.  It was the most unique place we have ever celebrated the Eucharist.  The water was calm as we drifted around among some other boats.   The sun came out after a few light showers.  We could hear others singing on their boats.  I think our chaplains enjoyed themselves too as after Mass we all danced together and sang the Havah Nagilah, (“Let us rejoice”) the traditional folk song at Jewish celebrations.  It was exhilarating and Maria recorded a video of it all – click here (message me if you can’t access)

Heptapegon means Seven Springs in Greek and is shortened to Tabgha in Arabic.  It is identified as the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the thousands.  This area is also associated with the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s resurrection appearance where he rehabilitated Peter (John 21).  Each of these locations has a separate church (clockwise below from upper left):

  • Church of the Multiplication of Loaves
  • Church of the Beatitudes
  • Church of the Primacy of Peter

We enjoyed exploring Capernaum on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.  It served as Jesus base during his Galilean ministry probable because his first disciples lived there.  The remains of a synagogue where Jesus taught and of Peter’s house are all   there.   An octagonal church built over the house represents the 6 days of creation, rest on the 7th and the completion of creation on the 8th day. We could see the inner layout of many ancient houses that have been excavated.  We posed for a group picture.

Mount Tabor is a steep conical shaped hill visible for miles around and the site of the Transfiguration.  We celebrated Mass in the Basilica of the Transfiguration and then explored the beautiful gardens.  Dave took a selfie in which he appears to be transfigured (not planned, this is the way it came out).

There is so much more to see in Israel and the Holy Land than Jerusalem.  We felt closer to Jesus spirit while visiting this beautiful quiet natural region of Galilee where Jesus chose to minister, teach and perform many miracles.




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Holy Mount Zion

img_2345Dormition Abbey’s bell tower and the fortification tower on top of Mount Zion

The Hebrew root “siyyon” means castle and may or may not be the source of the word “zion”.  Zion is first named in the bible as a fortress conquered by King David (2 Sam 5:7).  Zionism is the movement that supports the reestablishment of the Jewish presence in the traditional homeland of the Jewish people.  Mount Zion is an actual place in Jerusalem.

The location of Mount Zion has migrated over the years from being the City of David’s lower eastern hill, to become the upper eastern hill or Temple Mount and finally to today’s location – a prominent hill in west Jerusalem just outside the old city walls.  It is famous for many reasons.  This is where Jesus held the Last Supper, where he appeared to the disciples after his ressurection, where the Christian Religion was founded at Pentacost, where Mary’s life on earth ended and where Jews honour King David’s death.  We went there on our 7th day of the pilgrimage.


Bishop Sylvain’s journal captures some information here:

“Centered around a Hagia Sion sign (Mt. Zion) are a Franciscan chapel, a tomb of David (probably not historical), the Church of the Dormition (falling asleep) of Mary, and the Cenacle or Upper Room, built over a large historic basilica. This is just outside the wall of the Old City built by the Ottoman Turks in 1,500 C.E. Acts 2 and Acts 12 suggest the family of John Mark owned a dwelling that became a safe place and center for the followers of Jesus, including Mary. After his release from prison, Peter made his way to the house of John Mark. It is probable the Last Supper, the appearance of Jesus, Pentecost and the assumption of Mary all transpired here. Mosaics on the floor of the Church of the Dormition feature a ship, symbol of the church, and a circle centered on the Trinity, major prophets, minor prophets, and the apostles going out to the whole world.

As the first church in Jerusalem, with its first bishop James, the early Christian community saw this as a new Mt. Zion and a new Jerusalem. Zion itself is further down in the Kidron Valley where the City of David is located. It is ironic the Jews insist on the tomb of David being here under the Upper Room that is under Israeli control, so Christians are allowed to have a prayer service and not a complete mass on Pentecost Sunday only, because they cannot tolerate Christians praying above the supposed Tomb of David. That included Pope JP II who donated a tree of peace to the Cenacle.”

Also known as the Coenaculum or Cenacle (meaning dining room in Latin), the Room of the Last Supper or Upper Room, is located immediately above the Tomb of David on Mount Zion.  It is believed to be the place where Jesus ate the Passover meal which turned into the Eucharistic meal.  It is also where the Pentacost took place – the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples – the official founding of the Christian Church.


It is indeed a large room.  The building, dating from the 4th century CE, has experienced numerous cycles of destruction and reconstruction culminating in the Gothic structure we saw below.  Some arheologists believe the cenacle is built on the ruins of an earlier Holy Zion basilica.



As you can see, this hall does not look at all like the simple room we see in paintings of the last supper.  Some of us had trouble visualizing Jesus sitting down with the disciples or reappearing to them here in such a large ornate hall.  Nevertheless, the room honours the location where all this happened.  We were indeed in awe in imagining Jesus breaking the bread and passing the cup right here.

Below it is the honorary Tomb of King David.  According to scripture, King David was buried on the Mount of Ophel and his body never recovered.  The tradition of honouring King David at this site here dates from the 12th century CE.  It is a holy place where Jews read and pray scripture every day.



The Cenotaph (solid rock) covered by cloth honoring the death of King David


Lastly, the Dormition Abbey is nearby and is celebrated as the place where Mary fell asleep (died).  Unfortunately, the crypt below, where a lying statue in ebony and wood depicts Mary asleep, was closed for renovations.




Yeh! Holy Mount Zion

Holy Mount Zion: 

Jah sitteth in Mount Zion

And rules all creation 

(We’re Jammin, Bob Marley and the Wailers)

We thanked God for our wonderful visit to Mount Zion, a safe spiritual home for all.


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