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Samaria

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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Galilee

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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The Jordan River

The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.                                                                   LK 3:2-3

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The Jordan River flows in to and out of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and separates Israel and Jordan.  It is 251 km long, a rather narrow river that descends steeply at first and then gently as it nears the Dead Sea.  The West Bank refers to the west bank (of the southern section) of the Jordan River within Israel.  The Golan Heights, the territory captured by Israel from Syria, abuts the northern part of the Jordan to the east.

We went to the Jordan at Qasr el Yahud in Israel, about 9 km above the Dead Sea and the site where Jesus was baptized by John.  The actual baptism site is commemorated on the Jordan side which we could see from where we were on the Israeli side.

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St John the Baptist Church is on the Jordan side

Most of us waded into the water and were ceremoniously baptized by Bishop Sylvain or Fr. Susui.  It was another memorable experience that we will never forget.  There were many other pilgrim groups dressed in white doing the same thing.   Many were singing.

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This lady went full immersion

All was calm and peaceful under the watchful eyes of a couple of armed soldiers on each side of the river.  Sad that this is necessary but it is symptomatic of today’s divided world.

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So this is the site where Jesus short ministry was inaugurated.  We could hardly believe that we were in the exact spot.  Thanks be to God.

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The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca c. 1450 (courtesy Wikipedia)

 

 

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Bethlehem

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

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Another long walk and this time Mary is heavy with child.  It had been prophesized in Micah 5:2 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem which was known as Ephrata in the Old Testament:

“But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.”

Joseph was required to register his family in Bethlehem, the town of his origin, to comply with Caesar Augustus census decree.  He was from the house and line of David since Bethlehem was where King David had been born.   Bethlehem at that time was a small agricultural town.  Today it is a Palestinian town of 25,000 in the West Bank.  It’s economy is driven primarily by the millions of pilgrims who come here each year.

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In front of the Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity is the oldest major Christian church in the Holy Land still in use every day.  This church was specifically spaired from destruction during the Persian invasion of 614 CE.  This church along with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are regarded as Status Quo churches – i.e., their custody is shared with other designated Christian religious communities.  This can make change and upkeep difficult as each community must agree.

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Inside the Church of the Nativity

The original church built by Constantine was destroyed in a fire, but Emperor Justinian restored it in 565 CE.  In its crypt under the altar is the Grotto of the Nativity, the place where Jesus is said to have been born and the ultimate pilgrim pitstop in the Holy Land.  It is accessed by a tiny staircase.  A 14 point silver star marks the spot.  Right opposite is the Grotto of the Manger marking the spot where Mary laid Jesus in the manger.  The grotto does not look at all like a stable now as it has been built over.  It was very crowded and we all had to funnel through the small chamber and keep on moving.  Someone collapsed on the way out and we were surprised to see that it was a young man, apparently suffering from dehydration.  We would have liked to spend much more time here but it is simply too popular a site with pilgrims.

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Entrance to the Grotto

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This is the spot where Jesus is said to have been born

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The original manger was laid here but now resides in Rome

Whether or not this is the exact birth location, it is certainly one to the most moving experiences a Christian can have to walk through this grotto to be with the baby Jesus, even if only for a moment.  It is one we will never forget and makes for us the accounts of Jesus birth in Mathew and Luke, really come alive.

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The famous Bethlehem Christmas Tree outside the church

It is at this church that the world-televised “Midnight Mass” on Christmas Eve takes place each year.  That should make it 5 PM EST.  Hopefully it will be easy to find on your TV dial this Christmas.  Don’t forget to watch!

We then drove by the fields where the shepherds were watching their flock by night.  First one angel of the Lord and then a whole multitude appeared and told them of the birth of Jesus.  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger, in swaddling clothes.  And we left Bethlehem with a feeling of joy and much renewed hope for the world.

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Philippe de Champaigne c. 1645 (courtesy Magnificat)

Update Dec 25/18

Did you catch midnight Holy Mass from the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem yesterday?  It was hard to find but I found it live on UTube.  Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority, was the guest of honour.  There were 3 Bishops present but I cannot determine who they were.  The principal celebrant made a short political speech about washing off the thin layer of dirt to find the beauty lying underneath of their local and of the world society in general.  His homily addressed the birth of Jesus and the immense hope for world salvation.  After Mass they all descended to the Grotto of the Nativity and continued with a prayer and song ceremony.  Hard to believe we were in the same spot less than a month ago.  Cheers,  Dave

Bethlehem Group

 

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Ein Karem

 

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

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Screenshot (15)We chuckle a bit about the distance and terrain. Mary was walking from Nazareth to Ein Karem, a distance of 150 km. She would have descended the big hill from Nazareth and crossed the plain, but soon would have encountered the Samarian hills and then the Judean hills. Or perhaps she went the way of the Jordan Valley and then up the steep hills to Judea. It probably took a week even if she was on a fast donkey. Furthermore, as she was 3 months pregnant and it was June, things were likely heated up. An ardent journey for a pregnant woman but perfectly “normal” for the time.

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Mary and Elizabeth greet each other

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia

We visited the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, now in the south-western outskirts of Jerusalem.  Tradition attributes the building of the first church here to Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother.  She had identified the site as the home of John the Baptist’s father Zachariah.  Crusaders later erected a newer church here. Lost again to the Saracens for centuries, it was the Franciscans who eventually built a modern church here in 1937, the one that we visited.  Since a church dedicated to the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth has existed here since Constantine times, it is very likely that this indeed was the site of this very holy meeting.  There was some very lovely artwork in this church including the painting above and those below.

Another church we visited nearby was the Church of John the Baptist.  It was here reputedly where John the Baptist was actually born.  We learned a lot about John the Baptist on this pilgrimage.  He is the last prophet and hence links the Old Testament to the New Testament.   People thought he was the Messiah including his followers so he repeatedly had to deny this and prepare the way for Jesus – the logos made flesh.  One account has Mary and Elizabeth being 1st cousins, so John and Jesus were related.  However this is not known for sure.

We definitely were feeling blessed and privileged to have seen these holy places first hand and to begin to understand the Bible and theology at a deeper personal level.

 

 

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Nazareth

I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head…

                                                                                   The Weight by The Band

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We now embark on a more detailed look at each of the holy sites we recently visited starting with Nazareth.  It was here that the Virgin Mary was betrothed to Joseph and the Angel Gabriel came to say “Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favour with God and will bear a son and his name shall be called Jesus.”

At the time of Jesus, Nazareth was a tiny Galilean village of no more than 300 people.  Today it is a small city of 80,000 as seen in the photo above.  It consists of Upper Nazareth where the majority of Israeli Jews reside and Lower Nazareth where Israeli Christians and Muslims live.  Our modern hotel was in the upper part overlooking the older town.

The first highlight we saw was the Nazareth Village, an outdoor museum that depicts Nazareth daily life in Jesus time.  It consists of houses, fields, vineyards, stables and olive press complete with actors dressed for the part.  We learned a lot about the different trades such as carpenter, weaver, wine maker and shepherd.  The structures and talks were very well done giving one a good idea of what daily life was like there and then.  We were given a small ceramic lamp with wick as a departing gift.

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Jesus was likely raised in a room much like this one

The real highlight here was visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation.  It is a new church built over the Byzantium and Crusader ruins in the lower part of the church.  It was here where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing that she was to be the “Mother of Jesus”.  There are at least three levels: the parish church, the Grotto of the Annunciation on the ground floor and a deeper section where an ancient well is visible.  Apparently, Nazareth also had a synagogue where Jesus unrolled the scrolls and read from Isaaih  “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…(LK 4:16-20).  There is a Christian church there now I think but I don’t recall seeing it.

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The exact spot where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary

The last local highlight was visiting an ancient town 6 km NW of Nazareth called Sepphoris.  It was a large active town in Jesus day and Joseph his father, would likely have worked there.  Strangely, this town is not mentioned in the Bible.  Some pious accounts have Mary being born here to her parents Joachim and Anne, although most believe she was born in Nazareth.  Notable structures here include a Roman theatre, two early Christian churches, a crusader fort and many beautiful mosaics. We walked around the ancient ruins which were made more dreary by the light drizzle that day.  The mosaics were indeed amazing.

 

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One thing that we were starting to notice is how hilly, rocky and dry the land is here and so how difficult it would have been walking from place to place in Jesus time. We were getting tired but we had a tour bus and daily water bottles!

Jesus was raised and then rejected here.  “Can anything good come of Nazareth?” asked the Apostle Nathaniel.  When Jesus read from the scrolls that day the people became infuriated and took him out to the cliff to push him off.  But Jesus stared them down and walked through them and away, LK 4:29-30.  This rejection was for us the start of a profound sadness which was to engulf us during this pilgrimage.

 

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Son of Man

The term, Son of man, is used by Jesus 80 times as a way to refer to himself (32 times in Matthew; 14 times in Mark; 26 times in Luke; and 10 times in a qualitatively different way from the Synoptic Gospels in John).  In all these texts Jesus is the speaker; no one ever addresses him as Son of man.  When we were in the Holy Land, Dave asked Sammy why?

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Sammy’s answer, Daniel 7:13-14:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

In the Aramaic and Hebrew languages “son of man” means a human being or simply a human.  However Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of Man” i.e., using the definite article.  The most plausible explanation I have found goes like this.

Jesus wanted to obscure his divine identity so as to fulfill his ministry on earth.  If he came right out and publicly called himself the Son of God, he would likely have been lynched as a madman by his fellow Israelites.  Instead, he refers to himself mysteriously as the Son of Man e.g., in Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

These references to the Son of Man would have been very alarming to the Pharisees as they no doubt knew the scripture reference in the apocalyptic book of Daniel.  However as Jesus was being obscure, they could not pin anything directly on him.  When Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say I am? it is Peter who says you are the Christ, Son of the living God.  Jesus tells them not to tell anybody.  It is only near the end when Pontius Pilate asks Jesus are you the King of the Jews and Son of God?  “I am” answers Jesus finally.

Nevertheless the term Son of Man remains a mysterious one.  There is no scholarly consensus on just what Jesus meant.  Was he trying to emphasize his humanity in the context of his humble earthly work?  Or, was he referring to his coming suffering, death and resurrection?  Or perhaps his future coming in heavenly glory as Daniel 7 seems to suggest?  What do you think?  This is a one interesting thing I learned about on our Holy Land pilgrimage.

Daniel 1

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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Fr Susai and Bishop Sylvain in the Inner Tomb of Jesus

 

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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.

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After Renewal of Wedding Vows and Mass at Cana in Nazareth

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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.

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With Christine and John at the Wailing Wall

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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!

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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

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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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