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Rina & Bill Carmona
HOLY LAND PILGRIMAGE III
“In the footsteps of Christ”
March 24 – April 4, 2008
Father Augustine Anda
This was our third trip to the Holy Land, Praise God! I really never expected to travel to these holy places again. We had been there in with the Franciscan Fathers of Steubenville in 1991 and again with Father Merry of Blessed Sacrament Church of Bridgeport in the Holy Year of 2000. My brother Max and my sister in-law Ana (Tati) have been our travel partners to many countries in the past but we have never gone on pilgrimage together. They wanted to go and we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to share our faith and we took it as a sign from God that we go with them. Alicia, Bill’s sister also joined us, as well as Lucila and Federico Gil, a couple friend from Florida, who actually were the ones who told Ana and Max about the pilgrimage.
We were all searching and praying that the trip would bring us to a deeper conversion to our faith. These reflections come from the heart and are a testimony to the miracles we saw happening during our pilgrimage. We went expecting miracles and we did.
It was an exciting and blessed adventure which resulted into a family affair and by the end of the pilgrimage that was exactly how we all felt. We all had special and awe-filled spiritual moments that we will cherish forever. I personally felt that Jesus was accompanying us as we travelledto so many holy sites and joined our new found family of 35 pilgrims.
The trip organized by Father Agustin Anda of St. Columbkille Church in Brighton, Mass. departed from Logan Airport (Boston.) Although the St. Columbkille was originally an Irish-American parish, most of the pilgrims were Hispanics. There were three Irish-descent young women that fitted beautifully into the culture and mirth of the Hispanics. Father Agustin included their participation in all the services and the rest of us lovingly embraced them. Father Agustin is a Mexican priest ministering to the English and Hispanic community of St. Columbkille Parish. Fr. Augustine put together a well organized and spiritually enriching pilgrimage.
We arrived at Logan around 3:30 pm on the 24thand left our car in the long term parking. After meeting the local tour guide, we checked in and waited till boarding time at 6:15 PM (There is a time difference of 7 hours.) We would fly ALITALIA and change plane in Milan for our flight to Tel Aviv.
March 25 – Tuesday
We arrived in Tel Aviv at 3:30 PM local time. The processing went very smoothly, not like in the previous two trips. We met Rashid, the owner of our Tour company, and the local tour guide, Anton, and the driver Adnar. All of them are Arab Christians. Anton is a very interesting 70 year old intellectual, historian, and retired professor. I anticipated a rich learning experience not only rich in scripture and Catholic history but the present Israeli-Palestine-Arab/Christian/Jewish/Muslin conflict. The trip to our hotel in Tiberias, Galilee, would take approximately 2-l/2 hours. Throughout the trip Anton instructed us about the history and the places we would see. We saw the beautiful countryside and as well as a military post at top of a mountain. The tension between the Israeli, the Arabs, and Palestinian and, within those groups, the Jewish, Muslims and Christians is very evident. However, throughout our trip we all felt safe and protected. Later on we would see the “wall of shame” around the Arab section of Jerusalem. Despite the strong police presence and the uneasy political situation, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world converge in the area daily. At no time did we feel threatened of afraid. After all, Jesus was travelling with us.
When we got to the hotel we were very tired. Soon after settling in our rooms we had a very plentiful buffet-style delicious dinner. Our hotel, the Ron Beach Hotel, overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the view from our room is breathtaking. We will have an 8 AM departure with a wake up call at 7.
March 26 - Wednesday
After a wonderful breakfast, we were in the bus promptly at 8 AM. We have a long day today as we would go to Nazareth to visit the sites there and along the way. We traveled by bus around the Sea of Galilee, making our first stop was at Tabgha. This is the place Jesus manifested in His power and glory with the miracle of the multiplication of 2 fish and 5 loaves feeding 5000 . It is also where Our Lord used to withdraw frequently. The first thing we saw as we entered was a very large Baptismal font in he form of a cross. During the first five centuries a large community of Christians of Jewish descent lived in this area. They kept alive the memory of Jesus’ presence at Tabgha by passing their traditions to future generations.
In Tabgha we also visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter and we had time to enter and say a prayer. We saw that the floor has actually original mosaics from the time of Jesus. The site is right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We took pictures and admired the sculpture on the garden entitled ”Feed my Sheep.” The sculpture is of Peter with his staff kneeling and Jesus blessing him. We also said a prayer and heeded Jesus’ question: “Simon, son of John, Do you Love Me?” And Peter’s answer: Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” John 21:17. Scripture tell us that this area is recognized as “Jesus’ clinic.” Here He would often get in a boat and teach and heal the people. We continued on to Bethsaida, a fishing village, means “House of the Fisherman.” It was here where the blind man was cured just outside the village. The area around the Sea of Galilee was very important because seven of Jesus’ disciples where from this area: Peter, Andrew, John, James, Philip, James the son of Alpheus and Taddeus. Three of the major apostles were from Bethsaida: Peter, Andrew and Philip. Jesus, however condemned the city for their lack of belief stating: “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida!” Later on the day we also visited the site of Chorazin. In Kursi we visited the ruins of the Byzantine Monastery, where two men possessed by demons were cured by Jesus. The monastery was built in the 6th century probably to commemorate the miracle.
We got to Cana by noon and immediately went to the church built to commemorate Jesus first miracle, the Wedding Feast where water became wine. After a moment of prayer and recollection Father Agustin asked for the married couples to come up to renew their wedding vows. There were six couples that came up including us (54 years in July) and Max and Tati (45 in October). Father’s prayers and blessing made it a very special and beautiful moment. For me, memories of so long ago ran swiftly through my mind picking out the beautiful events of our life together -- the sharing of our faith and our three children … the wonderful moments and the sad moments … We renewed our vows and again prayed to Jesus that he would continue to bless our marriage until we see Him face to face.
We learned that Nathaniel and Simon the Zealot were born in Cana. Nathaniel was the apostle that was selected to replace Judas Iscariot.
We then headed for Nazareth as we had to arrive on time to celebrate the daily Mass at the Church of the Annunciation. According to tradition The Church of the Annunciation is built at the site of the home of St. Joseph, Mary and Jesus during his childhood years. What an awesome blessed moment for all of us to have prayed “where the Word became flesh!” Father’s homily underlined Mary’s fidelity and obedience , a young girl 15-16 years of age to take on such awesome responsibility with joy.
From there we went to Mary’s well in Archangel Gabriel’s Church. The church is a Greek Orthodox Church. According to the Orthodox Church Mary’s Annunciation was at this well when Mary was drawing water to take to her home.
I know we had lunch at some point but food was not uppermost in our minds. We were being fed spiritually and frankly, for myself savoring spiritual food filled me. There were many highlights this day. All the holy sites that were only known to me thru scriptures have now become alive. I think the highlights for me were the Church of the Annunciation and the Renewal of our Wedding Vows in Cana. We would come back to Nazareth later on in the week to visit where it is believed St. Joseph is buried.
March 27 - Thursday
After breakfast we had a full day of sightseeing centered on the Ministry of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Gennesaret. Among the many sites we would visit today are Caesarea Philippi , Capernaum, and board a boat that will take us across the Sea of Galilee to visit other sites there.
Anton was not with us today but a student of his would accompany on the day. His name was Mourad (which means “inspiration” in Arabic. He was also very knowledgeable and it was obvious that he had learned well from his professor.
As we travelled to Ceasarea Philippi Mourad’s talks kept my attention focused on the how this whole area looked in Jesus time and the manner of man Jesus was. Mourad spoke about many of the things I had read and experienced while studying scripture. However, hearing it in Jesus land somehow became alive and more meaningful. Using scriptures to affirm his statements, Mourad told us that Jesus was a reformer, He was calm, quiet and gave deep thought to His pronouncements. Born in Galilee, Jesus was a man of meditation whose quiet manner attracted his followers. At the time, there were many sects (Zealots, Essenes Sadduces, Pharisees) who claimed they were the true Jewish law followers, many of whom wanted to revolt. Jesus, however, was a pacifist and that precisely got him into trouble. He was discriminated against because He was from Nazareth (Can anything good come from Nazaret?). I believe he had a PhD in Psychology even before the degree was invented. It is my feeling that He knew human nature and had a tremendous charisma. With 12 men that followed Him over 2000 years ago, He formed a church that spread throughout the world – the only church that can claim universality. Quite a feat!
On the way to Caesarea we stopped in a Muslim village, originally a Christian Village. We stopped at a church, which is no longer a church, the only vestige of the Catholic faith in that town. The church is being taken care of by a Muslim family who receive donations from the Christian visitors who come to see the paintings and admire the architecture of the church. Taking care of this abandoned church is their only source of income. Although the church is very, very old, and they claim the church is from Jesus’ time, I was not quite certain. The women that we met who take care of the church had many children. I had taken a bag of chocolates with me and the children were very happy to accept the candy.
From there we continue across the Golan Heights to Caesarea Philippi at the foot of Mt. Hermon. One of the principle sources of the River Jordan flows from a large spring there. It is sad, however, that the Israeli government, in need of water for Jerusalem, has built a damn nearby that has reduced considerably the water that flows to the Sea of Galilee to provide the needed water to the farms around the Sea of Galilee.
Caesarea Philippi a place which is mentioned in scriptures not only because of Peter’s confession of Jesus as God “Who do you say that I am?”, but it was also the site where Jesus met the woman from Sidon (Lebanon) who asked for something to eat. “I don’t give bread to gentiles,” said Jesus, and she responded “even dogs have a right to scraps that fall on the floor from the Master’s table.”
From there we travelled to Capernaum where Mass would be celebrated. Capernaum is located about four kms. from the Sea of Galilee, close to where the Jordan River empties into the Sea of Galilee. It was the most important of all cities in Tiberias in Jesus’ time. In 1905 two German archeologists started studying in the area but they left after a few years. The foundation that owned the site ceded the area to the Franciscan Monks some time later. The Franciscan Monks are highly regarded in Israel by everyone. By 1926 Franciscans archeologists had researched the area and continued the study. Their work was recognized by independent historical authorities and archeologists. Many artifacts have been found including a large olive press. The olive tree has always been considered the source of life in the area and it is still used as a source of light in many homes.
After leaving Nazareth Jesus settled in Capernaum. We arrived there all the while listening to Mourad’s excellent narrative about the various miracles Jesus performed in the area. Capernaum is the place for one of Jesus greatest miracles, the curing of Peter’s Mother in Law. He entered the house of Peter and when He saw her He touched her and the fever left her. It was also there where he cured the Centurion’s servant. “Lord, I am not worthy that enter under my roof; only say the word, and he will be healed.” And when Jesus heard this he sad: “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” It was here also here where he drove out spirits and cured many possessed by demons by praying over them. The narrative was rich with reference to Jesus many miracles, too many to relate in this reflexion.
Mass was celebrated; Bill assisted in the Mass and I did the reading in Spanish … It was very special. The Church was built in the area where it is believed stood Peter’s home. After Mass we gathered outside church to wait for Father Agustin to join us to see the other sites in the area. We first went to the synagogue where Jesus taught. The synagogue is the most significant archeological site in Capernanum discovered in the early 1920’s by Franciscans archeologists. The site has been meticulously researched and confirmed by many other archeologists besides the Franciscans.
We left Capernaum and continued on to The Mount of Beatitudes and a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee. This is the place where Jesus gave the famous Sermon on the Mount... “When He saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down is disciples came to him. He began to teach them ….” And thus he taught his disciples what was expected of them and all his followers, including us.
We went into the Church and had time for reflexion. I remembered Father Augustine Anda’s inspiring sermon about the place when he celebrated Mass here the first time we visited the Holy Land. In remembering I quietly prayed for that very holy priest. We were a little rushed to get out of the church because we got there just before closing time and it was very crowded. Nevertheless, we had time to visit the grounds and the beautiful gardens and admire the fine italian architecture and the exquisite paintings. Another very peaceful experience. There is no doubt that we were following on the footsteps of Jesus.
After visiting the Mount of Beatitudes we stopped at Chorazin. It was the only place where we had to pay to visit. Apparently, the archeologists are still researching the site and the admission is used as fund raising. We learned the city of Chorazin was infuenced by the Greeks and the Romans and that their inhabitants were great builders.
It was now time to go to lunch and Mourad had arranged our lunch at St. Peter’s Fish & Grill near the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Generet) near Capernaum. We had the traditional Galileean lunch: a very tasty fried fish with salad and the most delicious hommus. We all loved it!
After lunch we drove a short way to get the boat and experienced the Sea of Galilee as the disciples did! We had a wonderful sight of the whole area but the most uplifting time came when Father read from the Gospel of John, “Jesus Walks on Water.” After a time of reflexion, the people who run the boat delighted us with Israeli folklore, dancing the hora, a folkloric dance. Many of our pilgrims joined them and it was a good time for all of us, including the not so young. The people that work on the boats are students who work in Kibbutz and other places of employment in the area.
We met our bus on the other side of the lake and in checking my carry-on I was missing my camera -- I had left it on the boat, I though. Immediately Mourad phoned the boat company but they did not find it. Needless to say, I was upset. We continued on the bus and the group was invited to go to a store that sells diamonds. We were very tired and the five of us preferred to stay downtown and buy some local beer and return to the hotel walking. The downtown is not far from the hotel. The rest of the group went and some came back with some very nice pieces of jewelry.
Some of the women in the group wanted to go for a massage and we thought of going tomorrow. I was in charge of making the arrangements but it was not to be, as tomorrow our last day here, is Friday, and Jews start their Sabbath around 6 in the afternoon and everything is closed by 4PM, way before we would return to the hotel tomorrow. Perhaps we will do it on another day.
When we got to the hotel, I looked into every pocket of my carry-on and I found my camera in one of the pockets! Praise the Lord! At dinner time, I told everyone about finding the camera and they rejoiced with me.
March 28 - Friday
Today again we will have another long day. It seems that every day is a long day. On schedule will be traveling across the Golan Heights and visit several holy sites along the way. Anton gave us a historical review of the occupation by Israel of the Golan Heights, once Syrian territory. One of the reasons of the occupation and the war was the need of water for Jerusalem. The Jordan River is the source of 60% of the water for the country. Before 1969 the water went down to the Dead Sea and the Israeli built a dam to control the flow of the water.
Anton is a walking encyclopedia. He spoke at great length about the Israeli education system. While the Arabs believe in having large families, the Israeli believe in educating their people. The Hebrew religion is very important but as in Christianity there have been divisions and today there are several other breakaway Hebrew sects. The main ones, however, are the Hassidic, adhering strictly to the law, and the Reformed. Anton praised very highly the Israeli educational system, which has always been excellent. Education has always been part of the Jewish culture. Anton also gave the Arab version of the 1967 War and the 1973 Six Day War of October and the U.S. Government involvement (Nixon’s Presidency). He spoke at length about the natural resources, the agriculture and farming in the area. He pointed out the various borders – Syria, Damascus, Lebanon and made reference to the worship of PAN in the area (Bashan ) in the time of Jesus. It was wonderful to hear Anton speak about the natural resources of the area, the flowers, bees and honey, fish farms, cotton and all kinds of fruit as well as the mines -- a very rich area which is no longer Arab land.
We also saw many Israeli army camps and tanks along the Golan Heights.
We stopped for lunch to eat a falafel in a place famous for it, before continuing on to Mt. Carmel for Mass. Falafel is an Arab sandwich (lamb or chicken meat on pita bread) eaten with salad and a soft drink. After lunch Anton continued his teaching on the history of Mt. Carmel. Mt. Carmel is a range of mountains running from the Bay of Haifa Southeast along the Mediterranean Sea. We visited the Carmelite Monastery of Stella Maris. Mt. Carmel is mentioned in the Bible and hailed because of the beauty of the land (Is. 35:11-2, Song of Songs 7:6. Mt. Carmel, however is most famous because of the Profet Elijah who lived there serving Yaweh. Mt. Carmel is very appropriate for contemplative orders and many Christian hermits lived there. Around 1300 AD the Carmelite order was founded. Many monks suffered martydom. That is why the Mount is also known as the Valley of the Martyrs (Wadi es-Seah). The Carmelite were forced to abandon the Holy Land in 1291 but were able to return in 1631 and built a monatery near the place where according to tradition the Prophet Elias lived.
I became very curious about Carmel and will review the whole story of Elijah (800 BC) and the false prophets as described in I King 18. All the false prophets were consumed by fire but Elijah remained.
We arrived at Mt. Carmel in early afternoon and spent a good portion of the afternoon there. The view from atop the monastery there was breathtaking. They also had a very nice store and we picked up some things to bring back home.
Mass was celebrated outdoors in a garden. In his homily, Father Agustin referred to O.L. of Mt. Carmel’s scapular and the promise that by wearing it Our Lady assures us that when we die, she would take us from purgatory the Saturday after we die. Once we are purified in purgatory we will be taken to heaven with all the saints to forever live in the presence of God and His Mother. This promise filled us with hope.
We then returned to Nazareth as we had been unable to visit an archeological site that we couldn’t see earlier in the week. It is believed it is St. Joseph’s burial site. The site was gifted to the Sisters of Nazareth for a convent. Soon after, they found that the Convent was atop another structure. When the evidence was researched by there wassolid evidence that the structure they were researching was indeed St. Joseph’s house and his burial place. We went down to view the site, which is still being studied.. I do not know how it happen but Alicia was missing when we all came up. I panicked! We looked upstairs, the courtyard, the bathrooms and no Alicia. I went down to the site to make sure she hadn’t stayed behind and she was not there. Was she still underground, perhaps deeper in the dig? No … she had decided to wait outside with others for the rest of the group! After this episode, Alicia stayed close to me.
It was time to return to the hotel. It was our last night in Galilee and we had an early start. Along the way we were given some instruction about tomorrow. Luggage outside the room by 7am, breakfast and check out and leave by 8. It will be a very full day and travelling to several holy sites to reach the Dead Sea in the evening.
March 29 -- Friday
After breakfast, we were on the road by 8 am. The food at the Ron Beach Hotel was excellent and hopefully it will be like that the rest of the pilgrimage.
We have been very blessed. The weather continues to smile at us … it has been sunny every day but not hot. Again we enjoyed an excellent buffet breakfast at the hotel. Before departing from Tiberias, we went to the Jordan River for the renewal of our Baptismal Vows. I couldn’t help but notice how polluted the area was in comparison to our first trip here. I remember that even eight years ago (our second trip) we were able to wade in the river while renewing our vows. Nevertheless it was a blessing to be here once more and I thanked the Lord for this gift. Father Agustin read the promises made when we were baptized, so very long ago, and we renewed them. I prayed again for the priests, including Father Agustin, with whom we had renewed our vows previously. From there we went to Mt. Tabor feasting along the way on the beauty and topography of the land… Cotton farms, almond trees and many flowers. As we were nearing Mt.Tabor Father read from Matt.17 the Transfiguration narrative. We arrived at the site where there were taxis and vans to take us up to the Mount. The Mount dominates with its height of over 2000 feet the area southwest of Tiberias.Mt. Tabor has always been a sacred area for the Jews as well as Christians. There are references in the Jewish Bible (Judges 5:31) relating the story of Deborah, the prophetess. For Christians Mt. Tabor tells of the great glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration. “His body was radiant like the sun and even His garments were shining with the splendor of God” (Luke 9:26-36.) Father Agustin was blessed as we all were in celebrating Mass at the Basilica of the Transfiguration main altar. It is a massive structure with many side altars. There were many groups celebrating Mass and, in fact, I stopped to speak with a rather large group from Mexico. Father’s homily, as usual gave us much food for thought. He asked us, as Jesus had asked Peter, John and James …”Could you not watch one hour with me?” This was particularly touching for Bill’s and my involvement in the coordination of the Eucharistic Chapel at our parish. It was an affirmation to continue to “watch ” without counting the minutes or hours we spend with Him in adoration. Father asked: “Will we preach the gospel with our lives … a question that invited the pilgrims to transform our lives so as to love more deeply and help others to find Jesus in their lives.
From Mt. Tabor we travelled on to Naim a short distance from there on the Hill of Moreh, in the Valley of Jezreel. This is were Jesus met a funeral procession. It was the only son of a widow who had died. Jesus took pity on the widow and raised her son from the dead. He took pity because at the time, the future life of a widow without children would be a hard and lonely one.
Along the way Anton continued teaching us. He taught us the Orthodox greeting. When you meet they say: “The Lord is Risen” and one replies, “He has risen indeed and He showed himself to Peter.” He also brought us a gift. Anton’s wife baked some very delicious cookies to give to us. The cookie is called the Crown of Thorns and it is round simulating the crown of our Lord. It is a very light crumbling dough kind of cookie filled with dates and nuts. We all enjoyed it. They are very much like the Mexican “polvorones”; hopefully some day I’ll bake some and think of Anton and his teachings.
It was about noon and we still had a number of stops. We continued on passing by many other sites where we did not stop but saw from the bus. The topography in this part of the ride became very dry and abandoned. From time to time we saw sheep and goats and camels. Now and again we also saw a spring of water nearby and couldn’t help but think of the Lord providing water for the sheep and the bushes … “The Lillies of the Field.”
Along the way Anton reviewed for us the Temptation of Jesus narrative. Tradition says that after His baptism in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. (Luke 4, 1-13).
Anton also instructed us about the Battle of Jericho and how the people stormed the city. Jericho was the first city where the Israeli Tribes led by Joshua encamped after crossing Jordan River (Joshua 5, 6) We arrived Jericho where we had lunch in the Temptation Restaurant. After lunch we bought a few souvenirs at the stores there. Some of the pilgrims, including Father, had camel rides and shortly thereafter we boarded the cable car to the Quarantal Monastery. On our first trip (we didn’t come to Jericho on our second trip) we only saw the monastery from afar … there was no cable car then. The cable car allowed us to have the most magnificent view of the Jordan Valley. This gift made me appreciate the depth of the Mount of Temptation as I vividly imagined Jesus and His courage and strength knowing what awaited Him in Jerusalem. He fasted to do His Father’s will. After returning from the monastery we quickly got on the bus – we still had a long way ahead till the Dead Sea, our final destination.
While travelling in the center of Jericho we passed by Zaccheus Tree where because of his short stature Zaccheus climbed a Sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passed by. We all remember the story of Zaccheus, who had cheated and robbed his own people as tax collector for the Romans. For this reason Zaccheus was really hated by his own people. The story of Zaccheus is a powerful example of God’s love seeking out the ostracized. Zaccheous had just about everything our world tells us that we need to have to be happy and successful but he had nothing that really mattered to God. He was a short man, short in stature, but also sort on faith. Zaccheus‘ life was transformed at the sight of Jesus, he no longer cheated and became a follower of Christ.
As we rode on, Anton continued lecturing on the history of the Dead Sea and its recent deterioration because of the lack of water. Until some 15/20 years ago, the Jordan River used to empty into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is around 300 sq. miles and it is the lowest point in all the world. It is actually 430 meters below sea level with great medicinal value because of the concentration of salt and other minerals. .
We continued driving south through the Jordan Valley and we saw Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls area from afar. Tomorrow we will see these areas. We finally arrived at Novotel Thalassa Resort Hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea in the early evening.
After check-in some of us went to the health spa. I was very tired from all the activity of the past days, so I had a mud massage which was very relaxing. Afterwards, we had dinner and to bed. The hotel, on the shore of the Sea, is very nice but the meal was not that great. Hopefully, tomorrow’s breakfast will be substantial, as we will again have a very long day.
March 30 -- Sunday
I woke up early to go to the shore of the Dead Sea. Many of the pilgrims were walking down to the beach and I joined them with my bathing suit. On our first trip I had come to the Dead Sea but had only waded on the water – I had not brought a bathing suit. It was a once in a lifetime experience to be floating with no risk of drowning. In fact, it was also difficult to swim.
We returned to the hotel for breakfast, checkout and back on the bus. We began the day with a visit to Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, a school on the shores of the Dead Sea. We saw some children on school trips learning about the history of the area and how to protect the environment. It was here that Saul driven by jealousy was looking for David to kill him. (1 Samuel 17-24). David wrote most of the Psalms while hiding in the caves there. We also a large Acacia tree and other shrubs native to the area.
We continue on but we were unable to go to Qumran and the caves where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. It was terribly hot and it would take more than an hour to make that stop. We stopped on the road for a few minutes and took pictures while Anton shared the Massada story. Massada is a symbol of the courage and heroic spirit of the Israeli. The site was discovered in 1955 and archeological studies confirmed its authenticity of which Josephus had written. The Israeli defended themselves from 70 to 73 AD preferring to kill themselves than live in slavery.
While riding back through the Jordan Valley, Anton also spoke about John the Baptist living with the Essenes. He does not believe that John was a member of the Essenes monks as others do. He does think though that he spent time there in meditation. Anton believes that John knew his role and he would not have stayed long in Qumran.
We continued asking questions about many of the things we saw. We asked about what we thought was a Nuclear Plant and Anton assured us that there is no Nuclear Power in Israel. Electricity is provided from hydroelectric plants, wind power, and solar. No mention of oil and we did not see any oil excavations. This is very arid land but from time to time we would see a patch of greenery which indicated a spring nearby.
As we approached Jerusalem, we noticed that although there had always been security checks now they were more frequent.
We were happy when we reached the outskirts of Jerusalem with its traffic and busyness. As we had not attended Mass today, that was our first stop when we got to Jerusalem. As we drove to reach the Dominus Flevit Chapel, where we would have Mass, I was in awe of the view.Jerusalem is very hilly and from afar I could see the Mount of Olives, the Dome of the Rock, many caves, and, of course, the wall that circles Jerusalem... we had finally arrived!
Dominus Flevit, on the slope of the Mount of Olives, is run by the Franciscan Order, as are all the Catholic sites in Israel. Here Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem. Luke 19:37-42). We walked a steep incline to the Chapel Dominus Flevis to prepare for Mass.
One could not help but admire the decor of the altar, which is framed by a large window overlooking the the old city in all its splendor. Each decoration in the chapel reminds us of our faith… the Jerusalem Cross …. In the front of the altar is a mosaic with a hen embracing her chicks, Matt 26:37. It reminded me of the last supper and how Jesus embraced John as He embraces me when I come to Eucharist. I’m sure that I will visualize the mosaic of the hen and the chicks frequently when I come to Eucharist.
After Mass we walked down and took the Palm Sunday Walk and saw the Valley of the Dry Bones – the Mount of Olive Cemetary. On the way back to get back to the bus, we noticed that in the Jewish cemetary nearby, overlooking Jerusalem, there was a funeral going on. Without staring so as not to violate the sacred moment of the family, I noticed that there were stones on top of some of the tombs. When I asked Anton about this, he told us that every time a relative or friend visits the tomb they leave a stone there to indicate that the deceased has people who love him/her and who remember them. I did not ask whether the Jews today believe in life after death …I remember from scripture that the Sadduces didn’t. I will have to look this up.
We were coming to the end of our long day and proceeded to get on the bus one more time and go to our hotel in Jerusalem where we will stay till we go home on the 4th. It’s hard to believe all we have seen and what we are yet to see.
The hotel in Jerusalem is the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. We had heard from a friend who knows that Notre Dame was a very nice place to stay. It is owned by the Vatican as their Pontifical Institute and has very few accommodations for groups. The facility, administered by the Legionaries of Christ, is used for training and retreats of the religious. I learned from a flyer in the hotel that the French Assumptionist Fathers first bought the parcel of land in 1882 to build a French-speaking pilgrim’s center next to the Holy City. The corner stone was laid in June 1885 but it was not until 1904 that the construction was completed. Many changes have taken place during the years and in 1978 it was officially established as a Pontifical Institute and an ecumenical holy place by the Vatican.
It is a beautiful place to stay in because of its proximity to the old city. They provide us private rooms with shower and two meals, breakfast and dinner. They had a beautiful Chapel (larger than many churches) dedicated to Notre Dame where they offered Mass daily. We always had our Masses at the holy sites but most of us visited the Chapel daily for morning and evening prayer. They had many young seminarians visiting for courses and retreats and a cadre of volunteers from many countries working. It was a fine place to come home to every night.
When we arrived at Notre Dame we promptly went to our rooms, washed up and came down for dinner. We were very tired from the hectic day so we turned in soon after. Tomorrow we will again have a full day visiting many sites in Bethlehem and Ein Karem.
March 31st -- Monday
We left Notre Dame after breakfast around 8:30 am. On the program for today is Bethlehem (House of Bread) to visit many holy sites there.
We first visited the Church of the Nativity which commemorates the birth of Christ. As we got to the courtyard of the Basilica we noticed a tiny little door and I thought that the people when the church was built were probably of very short stature. It turned out that it was small door to keep the animals out of the church. The door is named “The Eye of the Needle Gate” and it the only way to enter the Basilica. The scripture passage: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a camel to enter heaven” became alive for me.
The Basilica dates back to 311 A.D. and Constantine the Great at the Council of Milan is credited with its construction at the request of his mother, St. Helena. We walked into the church, a massive structure, very dark. Crowds of pilgrims from many lands were admiring it while walking through. Here, according to the earliest traditions, Jesus was born in a manger upon which this Basilica was built. Before continuing on to the place of the manger, we looked around the Basilica with its four rows of red stone columns divided by five naves. We also saw on the floor some of the original mosaics depicting stories of the birth and other symbols of our faith. These are protected with a wooden frame to avoid the pilgrims walking on them. During the crusades the walls were also covered with mosaics. Today, however, the only fragments that exist besides the ones on the floor, are some mosaics which are visible on the ceiling and the upper part of the transcept.
In time we proceeded downstairs to view the Nativity Grotto. Directly under the central altar of the Basilica a large silver star marks the actual place of the Nativity of Our Lord. Our group took our place in line and after 20 minutes all of us had slowly crouched into the area for a short prayer and to kiss the floor. Oh Come let us adore Him …We worshiped Him and we experienced His love and blessing. It was a very special moment and it was here that I prayed intensely for the conversion of my family and friends that are away from the faith.
While in the Basilica area we visited: The Crusader’s Cloister, The Grotto of St. Jerome The first to translate the bible from Aramaic to Latin (“to know Jesus is to know the Bible). The Church of St. Catherine (where the Christmas Mass is celebrated) We also stopped at the Shepherd’s Fields and saw the caves near where the angels appeared to the Shepherds.
We continued on to visit the Milk Grotto, where Father would celebrate the Mass. In our previous trips to the Holy Land, Bill and I had never been to the Milk Grotto and what a jewel it is! It is a very small grotto in honor of the Blessed Mother. The Virgin of the Milk Grotto intercedes for couples who want to be blessed with children but are unable conceive for medical reason. The story is that when Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt she was nursing. They stopped to feed Jesus in a cave. While she was feeding him a drop of her milk dropped to the floor of the grotto, making a milk rock formation. The rock still exists and is pulverized and given in tiny envelopes with a prayer to the pilgrims who have a need or know of someone who has a need. There are several walls filled with the pictures of the babies born through the parents faith in Mary’s intercession. The pictures are accompanied by the parents testimonies.
We also made a stop at a reputable store owned by Arab Catholic Christians. (I think it was earlier in the day) We all wanted to get some souveniers of our trip and Anton brought us here because it is a reputable store and verything you buy here is first class. We did this early in the morning so as to be able to return later in in the week to pick up any item that was not available today. Later on in our trip we confirmed that street vendors in many cases are not as reputable. Both Ana and Alicia got rosaries with decades of nine or eleven beads! Father Augustin asked Ana and Alicia to trade and make the decades of ten beads. We all laughed at the suggestion.
For lunch Anton took us to a Palestinian home to experience Palestinian food and hear the lady of the house give a lecture on the plight of the Palestinians today. It appeared to me that they are upper middle class. She was born in Bethlehem and immigrated to Germany. Palestinian Christians have been imigrating to Germany since the Ottoman Empire and her family has had relatives there for many generations. Her parents sent her to school in Germany but when she was of marrying age, her parents brought her back to arrange her marriage. She was 20 years old. They have an impeccable clean home with lots of books and a beautiful curio closet full of treasures. It was obvious to me that part of how they make their living is preparing food for tourists, mostly German tourists. They are friends of Anton.
We had learned from Anton that the Palestinian women take on the last name of the husband as their first name – interesting cultural difference. She looked older than her years (it is difficult to tell their age, as they dress differently than in the West.) She has been married 32 years and was very proud of her culture … For instance, a married woman is identified as being property of the man she marries. She is the wife of Nicola and she is subject to him. When she first married she didn’t anwer when people called her because she was not told about the tradition as she had been in Germany for many years. She did not love her husband when she married but has learned to love him. She said he is a good man and we believe her, as we saw him scurrying and helping to serve the tables. She said that when you marry you can’t say how many children you would like to have but knows that she must bear children until a boy is born. Also when you marry you live in your mother-in-law’s home. When they have a daughter is not a big deal but when they have a son there’s a big celebration and all the women friend make sounds of glee somewhat like a hen announcing she’s laid an egg.
Nicola’s daughters and the husband prepared the food. The food was a typical Palestinian fare, with the most delicious hommus I have ever had! We also had a very interesting soup and salad.
She asked if we had seen the wall that separates the Arab quarters in Jerusalem, which, of course, we have. She said: “The wall makes depresses us – it’s like an open air jail, we see heaven but we can’t go to Jerusalem.” She continued: “My two sons live in Boston, that being one of the reasons. My daughter Monica wants to join them. There is no future here for our young people and even those that have had schooling cannot find jobs because most jobs are in Jerusalem and we cannot travel there. My sons were able to immigrate to Boston and escaped from what awaited them here. Now they have peace and a future.”
Palestinian have been immigrating to other countries for many years mostly because they are discriminated against in every possible way here. Those that can afford to go to school (middle class) find that when they graduate they cannot find a job. Marriages are arranged for the most part and parents try to marry their daughters early to men that have a future preferably abroad even if it means that they will never see their daughters again.. She mentioned the Arab (Palestinian) population that have left in recent years. They have migrated to the U.S. , Europe and to all the countries in Latin America in great numbers. They have married and have assimilated to their adopted lands. She spoke about non-violence and the need for peace. People are afraid to go out and many innocent people die in Palestine and in Israel daily. Acts of terrorism are frequent and come from both sides. The publicity, however is ignored when the terrorism is committed against the Palestinian.
When 8 Israeli students were killed in Jerusalem recently the Arabs justified it by saying that the mothers of the Israeli should also cry as the Arab mothers do. It is a serious conflict and it takes both sides. We heard the Arab side but I am sure the Israeli also have a side to tell.
While having lunch with the Palestinian family, we realized how the Lord was in charge of our pilgrimage. Susana, a Chilean, was one of our pilgrims who with her friendly and engaging personality had added much to the pilgrimage. When “Nicola’s wife” mentioned that some of her relatives had migrated to Chile, a light bulb turned on in Susana’s head. Well, it turns out that she knows in the Murkarke (her maiden name) in Chile. Susana mentioned the names of some of them and apparently they are business people living very well in Santiago.
But … that’s not all. Earlier in our trip, Susana and I realized that she knows my cousin who lives in Santo Domingo when she asked me where I was from. Susana told me about this very pious Dominican lady that she knows and comes to Boston often. When she told me the lady’s name I was surprised -- it was my cousin. She has had a business relationship with my cousin Kirshis for some years now and has visited her in Santo Domingo several times. A small world and the Lord does all the planning!
After lunch we visited Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John
the Baptizer where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. A church was constructed in the 12th century in remembrance of the event as recounted in St. Luke’s Gospel. The original church can still be seen since it was never totally destroyed. Instead it served as a stable for four centuries until the 1600’s at which time the Franciscans restored it and they were appointed guadians of the site. Evidence from the excavations confirms that the area was inhabited by Jews during the first century.
On the ride back to Notre Dame we saw more of the wall that separates the Arab Section of Jerusalem from the Jewish Sector. It was easy to see why the Arabs are resentful of the treatment. Anton, for instance, is an Israeli Arab, yet he does not have the same rights as an Israeli Jew. We stopped at the checkpoint before entering the city and I noticed that the cars with Israeli license plates get preferential treatment. Our bus has Israeli plates and the soldiers didn’t come inside the bus to inspect it.
What is more sad is that the Catholic Christian population is little by little disappearing. Life is very difficult. Anyone that can get out is getting out. They predict that in twenty years time, there will be no Catholic Christians in the Holy Land. The Franciscans, who take care of the Christian sites are continually struggling to keep them open and many of the sites have been shut down.
April 1 - Tuesday
We had early breakfast at Notre Dame and we were on the road by 8 am. Today was another full day of sightseeing in Jerusalem. We began by visiting the Western (Wailing) Wall. The Western Wall is the most revered site by the Jewish people. It is the only wall that remains after the destruction of the Temple when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. During the Roman period the Jews were not allowed to come to the area but during the Byzantine period, they allowed them to visit the Wall once a year on the anniversary of the destruction of the temple and they would cry over the ruins of the Sacred Temple for the scattered Jewish people. That is the origin of the “Wailing” Wall. For many centuries the Jews would travel from many lands once a year to pray that they would some day return to Jerusalem. From 1948 to 1967 the Jews were again forbidden to visit the Wall as that sector of Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan.
We all brought little prayers to stick in the small crevices of the wall. The large plaza was full of pilgrims and I noticed that a partition divided the wall. On one side there were only Hassidic Jewish Men, praying as they do their morning prayer swaying their heads against the wall. I did not see any women on that side and I suppose it is part of the Hassidic law. The other side was more mixed, both men and women, and they appeared to be Christians of various persuasions. I took some pictures of the Wall after I leaving my petitions there. As I looked at the crowd, I visualized Jesus turning over the money changes tables in anger: “This is my Father’s House!”
Afterwards part of the group went on a walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It was explained to us that part of the tunnel had water and to dress appropriately and bring a change of clothing. Many of us decided against that and it was agreed that the ones not going to the tunnel would come back for us in an area agreed to in the Kidron Valley. It turned out to be a good idea as those of us that stayed in Kidron Valley had a wonderful relaxed couple of hours. The area had lots of trees and although it was a hot day, we were comfortable. There were about fifteen of us we prayed and exchanged thoughts about what we had seen to pass the time. It was good to just relax and talk for awhile. We noticed there was a school nearby and Haydee, who is an elementary school teacher, was excited about the possibility of visiting the school. Some of us went over and the teacher and the school administration were very welcoming. It was a public school and the children (second or third grade), in school uniforms, appeared to be Arab Muslims as were probably the teachers. They were very happy to practice the English language they were learning with us.
Nearby there was a shepherd and we saw some sheep and goats and I was able to take pictures of them. So all in all we were happy that we got to see part of the Kindron Valley and see more closely the high up caves where nomads lived in Jesus time and as late as in the beginning of the twentieth century. The Hezekiah group came to pick us up as promised and told us about their adventure. They too had a nice time and enjoyed their walk.
We went back to the Western Wall and our group was able to walk through the excavated Western Wall Tunnels. Not everyone, for security reasons, is allowed to visit the underground tunnels so we were very fortunate that we got permission. As we entered the tunnel, to be allowed in, the men had to have their heads covered with a yamekkah and the women could not have low cut blouses or uncovered arms. We all passed the requirement. They had a model of the work that is being done and a reproduction of the area as it used to be before the temple was destroyed. Indeed, a very interesting site, not open to most groups.
We walked back from the temple area to get our tour bus and along the way we saw some Israeli soldiers who looked very young. In Israel young men as well as women are obliged to serve in the armed forces for a year or two. They spoke English and we asked them if we could take some pictures with them and they said yes and we have the pictures to prove it.
From there we went to lunch – it was expensive and the food was not very good. I don’t even remember what we ate … I just put it out of my mind.
After lunch we went to St Peter Gallicantu where Jesus was held in the house of the High Priest Caiphas. From the gardens there is a beautiful view of Jerusalem and although it was rather warm, there was a breeze blowing. I wondered if it was also warm when they arrested Our Lord. St. Peter Gallicantu is the place where Peter denied Our Lord the first time. Father celebrated Mass at the Cave of the Betrayal. In his homily he mentioned that we have been richly blessed as God has given us very good weather. His homily referred to how the devil gets into people’s heart especially the people that are walking with Christ, even Peter. It is true that we have had difficulties to try to disturb the peace and joy that we have experienced in the pilgrimage and mentioned some of the difficulties, Ana’s fall but no broken shoulder, Rhina’s “lost” camera, etc. But, the devil has not prevailed because we have been strong in prayer. Father was glad that we had not allowed the devil to break the harmony that had built between the pilgrims.
We returned to the hotel for dinner. After dinner we were we went to our scheduled Holy Hour at Gethsemane at the Church of All Nations. This is a very special blessing as the Franciscan Fathers normally do not allow Holy Hours at night. We arrived at 9 PM and we were received by an elderly Franciscan Friar who brought us inside the church and our group sat around the Rock of the Agony, which is inside the Church. It was the most beautiful hour of adoration I have spent. Father Agustin exposed the Blessed Sacrament and the usual exposition prayers were said. Then, we just sat and as St. John Vianney said … “He looked at us … and we looked at Him …” There was so much about which to thank Him, praise Him and atone for the lack of love of so many of His children … There were also silent prayers for our friends and family and for all our beloved dead.
After the holy hour the Franciscan monk brought us to the Garden of Gethsemane which by now was dark and closed to the public. He wanted us to see it at night, give us a tour and answer any of our questions. Among the things I learned: The Olive tree is called “the immortal tree of the orient”. The largest of the olive tree in the garden is before the birth of Jesus. The Olive trees never dies; its shoots are always growing.
Gethsemane is the place where Judas came with the Roman soldiers looking for Jesus to arrest him and where Peter and the other disciples scattered every which way in fear. Judas was greedy and betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver. He identified Jesus with a kiss … Later that same evening Judas felt remorse but did not ask forgiveness. Peter did and, not only did He forgive him but made Peter the Head of His Church, the first Pope. At one point all of his disciples missed the mark ... Thomas wanted proof … Andrew wondered if anything good could come from Nazareth, and James and John were were power hungry and asked Jesus to “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus knew that it is human to fall and the devil is always tricking the good people to make them fall.
In one of Father Agustin’s homily he had asked us to think about which of the apostles we most identify with. I thought a lot about the question and I think I identify most with Thomas. Why? Because my faith at times is weak and I am skeptical about things for which I should not have any doubt. Lord increase my faith and my wisdom!
The Franciscan Father spoke at length in the garden about his priesthood and the Holy Land. He has been here over 50 years and has seen many changes of the Catholic Christian population. Today the Catholic Christians are about 1% of the population and the Franciscans have been obliged to close some of the sites for lack of funds and churches that at one time were very active with parishioners now are struggling with few parishioners.
Before going to bed, however, we called Maria, our daughter – it was her birthday today and with the time difference we reached her at work. She is happy that we are having such a wonderful pilgrimage and can’t wait to hear all about it when we return.
We have an early rise tomorrow as we are doing the Stations of the Cross. It was almost midnight by the time we got to bed and we were exhausted but it had been a magnificent day and we thank the Lord for His marvelous gift. Praise the Lord!.
April 2 - Wednesday
We left Notre Dame on foot at 5:30 in the morning. It was still dark and, in fact, when we got there the area was really quiet except for the street sweeper truck. The best time to do the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa is very early, before all the busyness of the area begins. Anton got the cross and we quickly gathered at the first station. We all took turns in carrying the cross and there was a photograper taking pictures of the event. In spite of the photographer, it was a very holy moment. The only sound heard was the murmur of the prayers. I’m sure we were all meditating very deeply on Jesus’ passion. The street of Sorrows: I felt Jesus spirit in the air seeing his mother, Simon the Cyrene, Veronica, the Holy Women crying as He passes them, the Falls, the Bruised and Bloody Body of Our Lord It was a very sacred time …
Not all the pilgrims, for health and other reasons, were able to come to the Stations of the cross. So after finishing the Stations we gathered in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to walk back to Notre Dame for breakfast. After breakfast, the whole group boarded the bus to return to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As we entered the church I saw the place where tradition says Jesus was prepared for burial after He was crucified. The marble table had the fragrance of roses that I can still feel. We then went upstairs to Jesus Tomb. We stood in line until our turn to pray at the tomb came. Each one of us crouched inside the little area and kissed the floor. After everyone had a turn, we were directed to a chapel downstairs where Father Agustin celebrated Mass for us. So much to absorb – we were so blessed!
We left the Holy Sepulchre and continued on our journey to other sites. We first visited Pilate’s Judgment Hall where Jesus was tried and we continued on to Lithostrotos, the site of the Crowning with Thorns and the Mocking of Christ. We saw where the flagellation took place in the Antonia Fortress and it was upsetting to see this and think of what Our Lord went through. Mel Gibsons film came to mind … When we get home I will watch the video once more. At each place I prayed and meditated and relived what I had read in scripture, now with a new understanding.
We continued on by bus and visited St. Ann’s Church. According to tradition the church was built in the place that stood the house where Mary was born. In the church there was a very beautiful marble sculpture of Mary as a five or six year old child with her mother Ann. I stopped there to ask St. Ann and the Blessed Mother to protect and guide my children and my grandchildren. Very near the Church we visited the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man who was lame.
From there we went to lunch to a Convent near the Mount of Olives. The food was excellent and plentiful and very reasonable.
After lunch we went to the Church of Pater Noster where the Our Father is written in colorful ceramic tiles in the walls of the Church in every language you can imagine. We recognized many of the languages but there were some languages I never knew existed. I thought about the universality of our Church and how the Our Father and other prayers as well as the scriptures have been translated to other languages. How marvelous it is that the Eucharist is celebrated all over the world in the same way with the same prayers and rituals in the native language of the country.
We next went to the place of the Ascension of Our Lord about a block away from the Church of Pater Noster. I remember Carlos and lit a candle there knowing that he is with our Lord. We ended our visits today with a short visit to the Monastery of the Holy Cross, which according to tradition was founded by St. Helena. It is believed that the wood for the cross in which Jesus was crucified came from a tree in this area.
By now we were quite tired but we had one last place to visit and even though we were tired we looked forward to it. We would have dinner at a typical Arabian Restaurant in Beit Sahour. It was a wonderful evening and a great meal. The hommus continues to be my favorite appetizer. The restaurant was full with young people smoking the traditional hooka pipes. The younger women in our group were coaxed into dressing in Arabian costumes and performed an arabian belly dance for us. Needless to say they did not show their bellies. We all got in the mood and those that didn’t dance took pictures. Also Carmen Salgado, our resident poetess, recited a beautiful poem about Our Lord in Spanish.
April 3 - Thursday
Again we had a very substantial buffet breakfast at Notre Dame. Anton and Father told us that today is going to be a short day. We need to pack and have time for any last minute souvenir shopping. We started the day by travelling to Mt. Zion, outside the city wall, and then walked to the nearby Cenacle area. Father celebrated Mass in a small altar in the first floor of the Cenacle (Upper Room). After the Mass we went up to the Upper Room, the scene of the Last Supper and where Jesus first appeared to his disciples and Our Lady after the crucifixion. Here also, Our Lord told Thomas to put his hand on his side.. Blessed are those who believe … Father led us in prayer there and read the scriptures. I thought about the joy that must have overcome Our Blessed Mother when she saw her Son alive!
Afterwards we continued on foot and visited the Tomb of King David and the Church of Dormition, where according to tradition, Mary is buried.
We returned to the hotel for lunch and to pack. We came down for dinner and relaxed a bit before going upstairs to sleep. We wanted to sleep at least a couple of hours before waking up at midnight to get ready to take the bus to the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for our return flight home.
April 4 - Friday
We left Jerusalem at 1 AM and Anton went along to make sure that we had no problems on the road or at the airport in Tel Aviv. We said our goodbyes to Anton and to Adnar our driver and thanked them for all they did for us. We felt safe with Adnar as our driver and Anton -- I wished he had been my professor in College. What a brilliant teacher and what a gentle man! And, Father Augustine enriched our pilgrimage with the dedication he put into making our trip spiritually rewarding, his wonderful homilies, his reverence when celebrating Mass, and his infectious joy. He is definitely beloved by the Lord and has been added to my daily prayer.
Father Agustin addressed the group with love and expressed his appreciation to all. He mentioned that he is planning another pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009 in February and invited us to come again and to tell our friends and family about it. He then blessed all the religious articles that we were carrying whether in our person or in our luggage.
We stopped at the checkpoints without any incident and our check-in with ALITALIA went very smoothly. Anton waved good-by when we entered the security area but he had prepared us well to answer all the questions that were asked of us. We boarded the plane, making a stop and a change of plane in Rome and then arrived in Boston around noon. It was a wonderful trip to share with my brother Max and his wife Ana and with Bill’s sister Alicia. It was even more enjoyable because we shared the faith in a new and deeper way.
And, we bid Israel
We were home just around 6 pm and had pizza for dinner.
Rhina L. Carmona
June 30, 2009
P.S. There is much that has been left out and the sequence of the holy places we visited is probably not in order. As I said in my opening remarks, this third trip was by far the most rewarding one and we visited many more sites than in the other trips. I tried to keep the essence of what I experienced as best as I could and trust that I have been faithful. And, we had miracles …because we walked with Jesus.