Thursday, October 03, 2013

News from the Holy Land

This latest update - Friday, October 11th, 2013 - from the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias

Il semble que je devrai attendre a mon retour au pays pour ecrire mon journal de pelerinage en francais; car les hotels en Israel ne permettent que l'anglais et l'hebreux. Je trouve ca trop difficile d'ecrire en francais sans accents.... Peut-etre que ce sera different en Grece, ou sur le bateau, ou a Rome. Sinon, des mon retour je plongerai dans mon journal....

I am editing this text already published to "In the Breaking of the Bread" and am attempting to upload my homilies.... We'll see whether my attempts will be successful.... You can attempt to listen to my recorded homilies by clicking on the hot links in the body of the text... hopefully you won't be asked to give a password.... If left clicking doesn't work, try right clicking and see your options in the drop down menu.... If you have trouble, please let me know by sending me an email at ministry@fathergilles.net  Good luck and enjoy.... Peace be with you, fellow pilgrim... and all glory to the Lord....

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Hello from the Ritz Hotel, Jerusalem...

Finally! I have been able to connect to the Internet... in Bethlehem for some reason I couldn't get into my account - neither email nor blogger - then I didn't have the time. When our original guide took ill, she found replacements. We had a wonderful guide in Joseph and today he is off to a previous engagement - a large pilgrimage from the US, some 180, 4 buses with a bishop - and we meet our new guide tomorrow morning. So in addition to being the spiritual animator I have also been pilgrimage leader, a role complementary to the roles of the guide and bus driver but which our planned guide would have done herself.

Initially it was a challenge as well as very interesting for me to perform the extra function. One result in the weeks of preparation and during the pilgrimage was that I had little time for myself or even to post news for the folks back at St Luke. I am grateful that this past week I've been able to catch up on my pilgrimage journal for the benefit of all those interested.

I'm also grateful for St Luke Parish's 50th Anniversary, without which I would not have engaged in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at this time. In the last few years I had begun to think about the possibility of returning after my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land while at St Thomas a Becket Parish during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which was a life changing experience for all who participated in it as pilgrims....

Then, a year and a half ago, this pilgrimage was presented as a possibility and it quickly came into being as a good way to launch the Parish's 50th anniversary year. While I may have agreed to respond to an invitation to go on pilgrimage "In the footsteps of St Paul" - which I am currently experiencing - it is unlikely that I would have walked "In the footsteps of Jesus" as well.

I look forward to some follow up with my fellow pilgrims, perhaps a reunion, and certainly some way to share photos, and we'll see how they all feel about their experience upon having returned home.... That being said, it seems to have been a wonderful pilgrimage... and in the final days it seemed that all 33 of us found ourselves in a spirit of gratitude before the Lord for his grace.

DAY ONE - Wednesday, September 25 - flight from Dorval to Zurich, then Zurich to Tel-Aviv....

Three or more of our pilgrims, for one reason or another, made separate travel arrangements; so when we met at PET Airport in Dorval, we were not 33 but more like 28 or so.... Thea met us and brought travel bags for those who live far from Montreal and had not been able to come to the "pre-departure meeting" a few weeks earlier. We could tell Thea very much regretted not coming with us, having prepared our pilgrimage for us.... The adventure was on and I shared with everyone a word about already having entered into pilgrimage. An essential quality or condition for a pilgrimage is an attitude of acceptance, a willingness to leave behind all that is familiar and to go into the unfamiliar and unknown, a readiness to be pulled beyond one's comfort zone, and to be disturbed by others, to be open to fellow pilgrims and allow ourselves to be touched by them, notice their needs as well as our own, and to do what we can to serve them, to assist and encourage; as well as to be helped by others.

DAY TWO - Thursday, September 26 - arrival in Tel-Aviv and transfer to Bethlehem...

We arrived at the Shepherd Hotel in Bethlehem today, Thursday. We lost some time at the airport and could not go to the Shepherds' Fields, and frankly, I think we made an error in our planning, because there is no way we could have had time - given our flight arrival time - to make it to the Shepherds' Field for a visit, let alone to celebrate Mass before the usual shrine closing time of 4 or 5 pm. However, we arrived in time to settle into our rooms at the hotel and to gather for our first celebration of the Holy Eucharist, followed by supper together. So as the Lord's providence would have it, we celebrated our first Mass at the hotel before supper and were then able to get some rest at the beginning of our journey. Some - including me - went for a walk in the neighborhood.... My sleep wasn't terrific that first night because the pillow was a little too thick for my neck, but then I remembered this was a pilgrimage and not a vacation.... Still, everything else about the hotel was fine... the food was good, the rooms comfortable, and whenever any of us had a problem the staff were eager to help us find satisfaction. We had a good start.


Friday, September 27, 2013 

DAY THREE - Friday, September 27, 2013

I got to sleep late after putting order in my things and preparing material for today... however, apart from the imperfect pillow (for my body's preferences) I slept well and entered into the day with enthusiasm. Joseph is an interesting guide and a very kind man, a family man recently married and a father. Our pilgrims immediately took to him, and it wasn't too long before he had worked out a good process for satisfying us in both languages.....

Well, here we are on the second night of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.... We had been "on the journey" for about 12 hours with a transfer in Zurich, and after a good night's sleep, we began our first full day after breakfast today with our tour of the "Shepherds's Fields". We got a good glimpse there of the kind of grottoes shepherds used for shelter and what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph to take shelter in one. We also visited ruins of an early Orthodox monastery and finished with a visit to the Church commemorating the Annunciation by Angels to the Shepherds, a lovely, simple chapel with touching frescoes showing the same shepherds in fear before the Angels' announcement, in awe before the Holy Family at the Manger scene, and in exultation after leaving the Nativity scene. We took photos and stopped to pray and ponder in our hearts as Mary did....

Then we went by bus not too far away to the center of Bethlehem where we celebrated our second Mass in both languages in the Chapel of St Helen, which is situated to the left of the main entrance to the Nativity Church and in the section housing the Parish Offices. Whether one enters the Nativity Church through the main entrance or through the side entrance from the office area, one must stoop through a very low and narrow doorway designed a millennium or more ago to protect the church from the rapid entrance of invaders on horseback.

Just outside the St Helen Chapel there is enclosed in a life size glass case a life like statue of St George on horseback quelling the dragon Satan with his spear... quite a sight.... Our Mass had been reserved and all we needed was there, and at this our second Liturgy more pilgrims were becoming comfortable with participating.... I was also trying to work out a bilingual formula that would be satisfying for all and manageable for me. We allowed ourselves some moments of silence and prayer; then we visited the Catholic Chapel connected to the site and queued up to visit the Grotto of the Nativity, the key attraction of this Church of the Nativity, which I think I heard our Guide say is the oldest functioning church in the world or certainly in the Holy Land.

The Nativity Grotto resembles nothing like a grotto anymore, being filled with the ornate decor of an Orthodox chapel with many oil lamps burning, tapestries and icons all over, a 14-pointed star over the site of the Lord's Birth with a hole in the middle allowing human hands to reach in and touch the rock beneath. The tradition is that this grotto was revered by early Christians as the site of the Nativity even though being a practicing Christian carried the death penalty for the first three centuries after Christ; so that when that sanction was lifted and St Helen scoured the Holy Land to secure the "holy sites" she found sufficient evidence to mark this spot and a chapel was erected and over it a church. Here as in most of the holy sites various Christian churches share custody and care for the sites, having their respective altars or shrines within the overall structure: Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, and others....

While we were scheduled the previous afternoon to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy in a grotto in the Shepherds' Fields much like the one where Jesus was born... nevertheless in the end we were all touched to actually stand in the Shepherds' Fields where the shepherds received the apparition and message of angels about Jesus' Birth... realizing also how humble was that birth... and we were equally moved to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries in the side chapel of St Helen within the premises of the Church of the Nativity.

The Shepherds' Field Chapel had beautiful frescoes portraying the different scenes of that first Christmas night... and remembering them from earlier that morning, we sang familiar Christmas hymns at our Liturgy this morning and the next day and many found that these hymns have now received a completely new set of images, thoughts, and feelings by association....

When I gave the homily and we celebrated the Liturgy in the St Helen Chapel within the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem itself... it was like stepping back in time almost two millennia... we saw in the main church mosaic floors from the very first church erected by the Byzantines, the Eastern Christians during the time of Constantine, the Eastern Emperor who ruled from Constantinople and whose wife St Helen busied herself with expeditions to uncover the places Jesus had walked, preached, and worked miracles in order to preserve them and erect churches there for the use of pilgrims.

After Mass we went as a group to the central gift shop supplied with wonderful artifacts by some 50 Christian Palestinian families... we all found lovely treasures to bring home... while at the same time supporting these wonderfully courageous Christians who remain here with their families despite the troubles they have experienced over the last few generations. As spiritual leader of the group I was favored by the shop keepers with a gift so I decided to return the favor and bought lovely wooden Jerusalem Cross pins for each of our pilgrims and said a prayer of blessing among them and distributed them to each pilgrim at the beginning of our lunch period. This took place in the Shepherds' Fields at Shepherds Valley Village Tent Restaurant "under the tent" Bedouin style, a tradition preserved and much valued by Palestinians today, giving us a real glimpse and taste of the world in which Jesus was born. That was a delightful moment of fraternity and midday rest.

Then we visited the Herodion, one of the fortresses of that nasty King Herod the Great... which gave us a very worldly take on those mysterious and saving events marking the incarnation and the manifestation of God among us, Emmanuel.... What a torrid, scorchingly hot day it was too as we explored this site in the blazing sun and we all had different stories to tell about our experiences.... We climbed up stairs, a lot of stairs, and then came down by descending into the corridors carved in the rock, where at least we found some shade and cooler air. Our older and less mobile pilgrims valiantly trekked along with the rest of us and engaged in the full experience of the day.

Because of the intense heat of the day, we all pretty much felt wiped by the time we got back to our hotel rooms, and we all went about our own occupations until supper time. All in all, we had a pleasant stay at Shepherd Hotel....

DAY FOUR - Saturday, September 28th, 2013

We then spent a day and night in Jericho... the oasis where Elisha purified a water source.... Our visit began as we celebrated Mass at the Parish of the Good Shepherd, a Franciscan church but in the upper room of their school where we had air conditioning.... Franciscan Brother Anthony - from New Jersey - was very kind and accommodating, showing us into the rectory where the three of us priests could vest and helping us set up for Mass. This was a Saturday Mass and the next day we celebrated there our Sunday Mass which was also very meaningful... This was only our third Liturgy, and as I recall it, we all of us began to feel more comfortable with the bilingual routine.

The weather was still very warm, and from there we drove to and took a nature walk in En-Gedi, the mythical, ancient, and famous oasis of legend, where we walked a hiking path to two cascades 5 to 10 meters high.... We found children and young parents wading in the pools and under the cascades cooling off... it was a balmy 33 degrees Celsius... so we had to sip water from our bottles almost constantly... having topped them off at the "trough" from water taps brought in from the upper springs... water so pure and fresh as to feel tasty.... It is really quite unsettling in a refreshing way to be in a world so different from our own.... I believe only two of our whole party of 33 made it all the way up the trail and back down to complete the loop. Most of us only went so far and then turned back.

Then we went by bus to nearby Qumran where in 1947 by accident a shepherd boy found large earthenware pots in which were stored Biblical and other scrolls from before the time of Jesus, both from Jewish Scriptures and writings of the Essene Jewish monastic community. Until then, fervent Jews and rabbis maintained for centuries that chapters 52-53 of Isaiah had been "injected" dishonestly by Christians and the the Jews no longer had access to the full ancient text of the prophet. Now a scroll containing an almost complete text of Isaiah proved this contention totally false because the text of Isaiah from before Jesus is almost entirely word for word identical with current Hebrew Isaiah texts.

We had lunch in a wonderful 'buffet style' restaurant at Qumran and, once refreshed and having shopped a little in the adjoining souvenir shop, we went on to the Dead Sea for a swim - actually it was more of a 'float' since no one can really swim in water containing 37% mineral salts... the water is so heavy that one floats without effort. I literally 'sat down' in the water with my fanny submerged and my shoulders and head above water, along with my feet up in the air... quite strange and wonderful.... There is a state rule and warning not to remain in the water for longer than 20 minutes at a time due to the corrosive effects of the salty water. We had to remove any silver jewelry lest it turn black.

I think I got out after about 15 minutes when my body's natural orifices began to feel the sting of the salty water. There were open air showers nearby to wash off the heavy brine which leave one's skin soft and there's a tradition of mutual help at the showers because the water only flows when someone pulls down on a chain... there were 4 top spouts and one lower one at each of the two stations. On the way down and back up from the water we passed by the "Lowest Bar on Earth" and then went to the upper showers to wash and change....

There was something about the whole day that felt so therapeutic... beginning with Holy Mass, the very hot sun everywhere which we especially felt during our nature walk in En-Gedi and at Qumran... both very memorable, the wholesome lunch, and the healing salty waters of the Dead Sea. The overall effect for many if not all of us was a deep feeling of contentment, as well as a certain tiredness, and an overall sense of well being; while some felt also a sense of challenge, of having gone beyond their comfort zone....

DAY FIVE - Sunday, September 29th, 2013

We began this day, Sunday, by driving to the actual site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. This may sound routine but is unusual because since the Six-Day War in 1967 the site had been closed by the Israeli military for the very good reason that the other side of the Jordan River was the Kingdom of Jordan. Given the political situation of the young State of Israel, keeping that site open was not a very good security move at the time; so it remained closed. Israel changed its policy and opened up the site in 2012, coincidentally, after visits by two reigning popes: John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Before we could decide to go down closer to the water, our Guide welcomed the advances of a photographer, and before we knew it, we were assembling together for a group picture, which many of us later bought. We then made our way down to the water, and while some asked their questions and others wondered whether or not to go into the water, another group moved in with almost military precision and occupied the space by the water.

So we prepared ourselves, waited for that group to finish, and some of us may have been "primed" by listening to and watching this other group, Italians as I recall, and listening to their fervent young priest. We then waded down a few wooden steps into the murky water of the Jordan... not that it was polluted but rather heavy with silt from upriver... and the wood steps continued into the water from the concrete steps up above and are probably less slippery than concrete might be.... A few took the last step down, more of a 'leap' bringing them into waist-high water. The rest of us were content to stand in water to our knees and there we renewed our Baptism promises, a meaningful experience for all which brought tears to some....

From there we went back to Jericho where by cable car we went up the Mount of Temptation to which summit Satan brought Jesus to tempt Him... walking then up many stairs to a Greek Orthodox monastery commemorating Jesus' temptation up there and we stopped to pray and chat with the monk... A sense of community was already manifesting itself as we began to attend to one another, accompany and assist one another in the blazing heat and as our many differences of age, health, stamina, temperament, and disposition manifested themselves....

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

We went back to the Good Shepherd Parish where we once again celebrated the Liturgy, this time the Sunday Liturgy but with texts provided by the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land in link with each of the holy sites, here, with Jericho and as I had prepared them all in advance.... Here is my homily for our Sunday Mass...

After lunch we went to see in a central part of downtown Jericho a large Sycamore tree a few centuries old that is called for pilgrims the Zacchaeus Tree because it evokes that Gospel scene where he wanted to see Jesus and the Lord invited Himself to the tax collector's home for supper, and the man experienced a life changing conversion. This tree is far too big for anyone to climb up it, but it is a striking image. Moreover, the tree itself could not have been the one that the tax collector climbed, since they generally don't live beyond 500 years or so. However, this tree may possibly be a third or fourth generation offshoot, but we don't know if that original tree was the one he climbed. It seemed sufficient for us to see the tree and know that the event happened nearby.

We saw the spring which the prophet Elisha had made sweet again after it had been poisoned by enemies and the townspeople asked the prophet to intercede with the Lord for them and some of us lingered near the fountain and pools. A few caught a glimpse and took a few photos of an archaeological dig site on display beyond the fountain of an ancient city predating the one mentioned in the Old Testament.

We then traveled to our Kibbutz Holiday Village Ma'Agan, a lovely site on the Sea of Galilee... the kind of place you would want to vacation in with your whole family... lovely huge pool for swimming lengths, a children's pool with cascades, and an infant wading pool where parents can supervise, as well as a lakeside waterfront....

That evening we had our first general meeting of all our pilgrims who wished and were able to come to begin our communal sharing of our experiences. There were a few differences of view expressed and some questions were asked, and overall it served the purpose of opening up a sense of being in this pilgrimage experience together.

I didn't sleep so well that first night, waking up every hour or two, because I thought I'd be better off without the air conditioning, but I realized my mistake and put it on the second night, and thankfully the equipment allowed for the vanes to be adjusted up and away from my bed, which allowed me to sleep much better from then on.

DAY SIX - Monday, September 30th, 2013

Today we went from our lovely Kibbutz oasis home to Nazareth, beginning with a visit to a humble convent where Sœur Joséphine spoke to us about Brother and later Father Charles de Foucauld, who stayed at their convent in Nazareth from 1897 to 1900. A devout young man, he was searching for his vocation, having a deep sense of calling from God but having a hard time finding his place on Earth. He had been to several Trappist monasteries, or would in subsequent years, but all of them found him too strict, sending him to a stricter monastery than themselves; however, in the end, no Trappists could find him suitable to their way of life. So it is that he came to live as a hermit among the Touareg nomadic people of northern Africa, where he lived among them by choice as a brother, without revealing that he was a Christian and without making any effort to convert them. He preached the Gospel by his life and in the end was martyred, killed by an overzealous bunch of young men. Sister Josephine challenged us to take in the example of Brother Charles, who gave no thought to what he would say or do but simply tried to be a good neighbor to people, loving them as best he could. She encouraged us to be instruments in the hands of the Lord Jesus, light to our neighbor's feet.... At 96, she is a vibrant example of what she shared with us....

From there we went to the Church of the Annunciation which, like most churches in the Holy Land had at its base an original church erected by the Byzantines - Emperor Constantine and his wife Helen who lived and ruled the Roman Empire out of Constantinople - a beginning of growth and divergence between West (Rome) and East (Byzantium or Constantinople). In 614 the Syrians wiped out the Byzantines and destroyed all the churches. They made a bit of a comeback but were knocked down again in 637, this time by the Muslim invasion which spread across northern Africa, the Middle East, then Eastern and Central Europe until they were stopped by Charles Martel in France in 800 AD.

In 1099 the Crusaders took back the Holy Land and began to reconstruct the churches, only to lose the Holy Land to Saladin in 1187 or thereabouts. However, under the Ottoman Muslims - later known as the Turks - Franciscans were allowed to make pilgrimages and over time to repair and even rebuild some sites. Most churches have been rebuilt in the 1900's. It was touching to visit here where Mary received the Annunciation from the Archangel Gabriel and where she would have come to draw water, and where she lived with Joseph and in time the boy Jesus, the Holy Family....

The Basilica of the Annunciation is a fairly recent modern church decorated in part inside and also outside by large ceramic panels depicting Our Lady in a variety of ways and donated by the Churches of various nations. The architect masterfully combined features of the various periods of the church - Byzantine, Crusader, and modern, keeping the floor in the center open to keep Mary's "house" visible at the higher levels....

We visited the Church of St Joseph where a group of Mexican priests and seminarians were singing a lovely Mass, the local market, synagogue, Church of St Gabriel, and the Mount of Precipice, where the townspeople had tried to throw Jesus off the cliff to his death after he proclaimed his person as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies... we had lunch and celebrated Holy Mass in the Cana Wedding Church kept by lovely Sisters.... During the Liturgy we called on the Lord to bless our married couples and it was lovely for me to offer a homily for the occasion and for this day in our pilgrimage....

DAY SEVEN - Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


Monday, October 7th, 2013


We began our day on the Mount of the Beatitudes where we received background information from Joseph, and then we had time to enter into the church to explore, stop and pray, rest... and walk the grounds. At an agreed time we returned to the bus and Omar took us a short distance to the beginning of the "Pilgrims' Walk" going all the way down to the Church of the Primacy of St Peter.

Thea's inspiration for this walk is that each pilgrim at the start pick up a pebble or stone, or more, representing a particular burden or intention, a person, or an issue or need in our lives, something that weighs on our mind, heart, soul, or body, and that we carry it or them throughout the walk, walking prayerfully, and mindfully, in view of putting it or them into God's hands at the end of the walk and releasing the pebble or stone, either dropping it outside the Church of the Primacy, or flinging it or them into the Sea of Galilee. It is an exercise of our trust in the Lord and our willingness to allow Him to act as He wishes regarding those specific burdens and, ultimately, in our whole life.

After about 30 to 40 minutes of walking under the blazing sun, we stopped under the shade of a little tree, just big enough to shelter us all, where we sat down together - much as Jesus would have with his Apostles and Disciples - and read alternatively in English and French the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters five to seven, with moments of reflective silence here and there.... As it turned out, the reading was a deeply moving experience for many of us, as was the walk itself. Any number of things happened to us as individuals, in small groups, and as a whole company that in effect made the walk a parable, or image of our whole life as a pilgrim walk. Many manifested caring hearts for others on the way and both giver and receiver were blessed.

Upon arriving at the Church of the Primacy of Peter, where Jesus served breakfast to some of the Apostles who had been fishing and didn't catch anything until Jesus suggested they cast the net on the other side of the boat, was the place where Jesus restored Peter's dignity which he had lost by denying Jesus on Holy Thursday night. We either dropped our pebbles on the ground or flung them into the Sea of Galilee, and some of us took off our shoes and socks and waded into the sea. It was a timeless and memorable moment, as had been the Pilgrim Walk itself. We prayed in the small church and lingered under the trees, listening to the colorful songs of the local birds. Their joy seemed to be or to echo our joy at being there and we could have stayed for hours....

Then we walked uphill to the road and back down again on the adjacent property to visit the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes - Tabgha - a bigger church with a courtyard garden and pool with fish in it - where we lingered in prayer for a while. There were some beautiful high relief sculptures of scenes in Jesus' life and ministry on the heavy bronze doors, and one was particularly moving for a few of us, the scene of Jesus healing the blind man....

It was after 1:00 pm when we headed off for lunch at a huge restaurant in Capernaum where we were encouraged to have "St Peter's Fish" and most of us did. It was an enjoyable lunch surrounded by a large crowd that swelled and shifted, giving us a glimpse of what it must have been like to be among the crowds following Jesus when He multiplied the loaves and fishes to alleviate their hunger and provide them a much needed moment of rest to refresh them....

Then we drove a short distance to the site of the synagogue from just after the time of Jesus - probably built on the site of a previous one - next to the ruins of the multi-generational house of Simon Peter's mother-in-law, where there was a beautiful and light-filled chapel, big enough to seat a few hundred worshipers. In the very middle was a glass floor sectioned off by a banister revealing the ruins below from Jesus' day. We had a lovely Liturgy during which we were invited to come forward to touch the Altar and deposit there our offering of ourselves, our lives, and intentions to the Lord, as well as an offering - if we wished - for the church. The Filipino sister asked that a special intention of hers be included and offered to the Lord, and it was. The church was remarkably constructed with full length and high windows all around, allowing everyone luminous views of the surrounding area... nature, the ruins of buildings that are witnesses of Jesus' day.... We spent some time exploring the ruins after Mass, walking or sitting reflectively, resting, taking photos.... Then we returned to our Kibbutz refuge for a swim - those who wished - a rest, dinner, and a relaxing evening....

DAY EIGHT - Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Today our pilgrimage brought us to Chorazin, the site of the ruins of that city, one of the three cities Jesus declared cursed or dead for having refused the receive the gift of salvation from God in Him: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. After walking around looking for an appropriate place to celebrate the Liturgy, we settled on a large stone table with stone benches near the parking lot and reception booth. There were two tables with stone benches in proximity enabling our whole group to find a seat in the shade of a large tree, since though only morning, the sun was already blazing hot....

There was something special about celebrating the Holy Mass there in the open, under the shade of a large tree, in the presence of all these ruins where Jesus had once trod, praying for the human ruins of our day, both those familiar to us and those throughout the world.... After Mass, some sat reflectively, taking a snack, while most of the group went with Joseph to explore the ruins....

Then we drove to Banias in the Golan where we saw two of the sources of the Jordan River and came to Caesaria Philippi, where Peter made his profession of faith and Jesus confirmed his faith and entrusted to him the keys of the kingdom.... Both Chorazin and Banias are national parks of Israel, and we walked about examining the crystal clear water in the pools fed by one of those springs. We ate outside in the shade at a nearby local Jewish restaurant where we enjoyed simple but tasty fare, and then drove the long way back to Kinneret, where we saw a brief video on the finding and restoration of a fisherman's boat from the time of Jesus, an ancient boat. One of our pilgrims had a very strong experience and inner confirmation that Jesus had indeed been in that boat and that the Lord had wanted it to be found and brought out of the mud that year when a severe drought had so lowered the water level of the Sea of Galilee so that it might become visible on display for all humanity to see.

From there we boarded a large wooden motorized boat, much larger than Peter's fishing boat, and cruised to Tiberias. About half way there, the captain stopped the boat and cut the engine, and we read in both languages two passages concerning Jesus and the Sea of Galilee: the calming of the storm, and Jesus walking on the water and Peter going out to Him. The boat's "second" offered some friendly entertainment to Jewish music and even a little group dancing....

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 

It was a lovely day... lots of driving as we went all the way up into the Golan and then back again, and just being in such a place with such history of war and violence over the past several decades, as Joseph gave us historical details and geographical information, was quite stimulating and meaningful. It was a day full of sights and sounds, lots to think about and reflect on, and also for many, a fair amount of emotion.... It was good to be back at the Kibbutz for a little rest, for a refreshing swim for some in the amazing pool area or in the Sea of Galilee at the beach, and then a delightful supper.

For those who wished, and more than half of us came, we had reserved a camp fire organized by the staff, and promptly at 8:00 as we arrived, they set it ablaze.... We quickly realized that we were served with a bonfire, not a little campfire, but it was delightful... stimulating to conversation and sharing.... Then off we went to prepare our bags for the next day and to bed for a good night's sleep....

DAY NINE - Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

We began this day really early, leaving at 7:00 for Mass at Mount Tabor, which is in sight and we saw the day we went to Nazareth and near there. It's quite a high mountain for this area and looks like a rounded off table top. At the foot we drove through an Arab Palestinian village, which apparently are all descendants of a single family that settled there a century or more ago. Part of the challenge this morning was that the only way up the mountain is by taxi, and we needed to get there before too many other buses came forcing us to line up for an hour or more. Thanks to our Guide Joseph, we got there by 7:35 and within ten minutes we were on taxi mini buses holding 14 passengers... so two full with us and a third with some of us... and there we were. We walked toward the chapel area and enjoyed a beautiful garden kept by the Franciscans behind a grill / fence on the way. Some of us explored a little while I sought out and found the sacristy and received our instructions from the Friar. 

I had been expecting to celebrate Mass in the chapel, which was simple but beautiful with lovely mosaics, but Thea had reserved for us an outside chapel on the left side dedicated to St James I think, and though initially disappointed, I gradually realized - while I vested - why Thea had done so.... Being outside with some sun and some shade in a kind of quadrangle or bare bones of what looked like an unfinished or demolished chapel, we were given more of a sense of what it might have been like for Peter, James, and John to be there with Jesus on this mountain top. Wow! We are actually right HERE, where they were with the Lord.... As I recall it now, I invited those who wished to share some impressions from the Word of God or on being there, and then I shared with them some words of Homily

In addition, that day we were regretfully leaving our lovely home away from home in the Ma'Agan Kibbutz Family Resort, so we had our baggage out at our doors at 6:00 AM, had breakfast at 6:15, identified our baggage as it was put on the bus by the porters, and on the bus to go at 7:00.

Going up and down Mount Tabor was quite and adventure, and so very scenic too.... I asked our driver how many hairpin turns there were as he zigged and zagged up and later down the mountain, and he answered that there were 23, and when I say hairpin turns, that's exactly what they were... HAIRPINS, and at one point, the little stone wall was missing, suggesting at some point in the past a vehicle had gone straight through... whether or not that is so, still, the imagination boils when you're on a bus on such a road on such a mountain slope, with not really enough room for passing. Whenever they needed to pass one another, the drivers slowed down to make sure they didn't collide.... I think you get the picture....

Next we drove to Mount Carmel, to Muhraka - one of the peaks of Mount Carmel which is a huge mountainous promontory at least 20 km across - where we were able to pray in a little Carmelite chapel, shop for some religious articles, and explore.... Realizing a number of us were unwell, I proposed we gather for a Liturgy of the Anointing of the Sick, and many seemed eager. An African group was in the chapel at Mass; so I suggested we gather in a little garden nearby where there were chairs already arranged. It turned out to be a lovely time of prayer and reflection, and receiving the Sacrament of the Sick was very meaningful for many who came forward to receive, including myself... I felt so grateful for the presence of Abbe Andre and Abbe Guy....

At the moment I can't remember where we had lunch... I think perhaps in Tel-Aviv... perhaps one of the other pilgrims will comment and confirm it... and then we began our long drive to Jerusalem. Lots to see and learn on the way, but it also turned out to be more eventful that anticipated.... At one point, after about an hour or so, our bus had a double blowout... both tires in the back on the driver's side blew out... thankfully our pilgrims had begun the Rosary and we were beginning the fourth Luminous Mystery when it happened, and the Lord gave Omar the grace and cool to keep control of the bus and bring us to a gentle and safe stop.

DAY TEN - Friday, October 4th, 2013

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

 I just discovered tonight at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias that the reason I've been having problems with Explorer allowing Blogger or Google sign in and editing is that the PC clock was behind so that those sites' security certificates seemed to not yet be in effect....

On this day we visited the Mount of Olives and celebrated Mass in the Dominus Flevit Church where once again I shared the Homily  and then we visited the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane - the Garden of the Oil Press - prophetically named since that was where Jesus was pressed like olives are pressed when He prayed to his heavenly Father in anticipation of his passion and death because He, the Love of God, had not been welcomed or accepted; then the Church of Mary where tradition has it that our Blessed Mother fell asleep before being assumed body and soul into heaven in the sight of a few of the apostles. We had lunch in the Kibbutz Ramat Rachelle, a lovely buffet restaurant in a nice hotel run by the Kibbutz, and then we visited the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu - or the Church of the cock crow over the site where Peter denied Jesus in the courtyard outside the High Priest Caiaphas' house - the Cenacle or Upper Room, and the Abbey of the Dormition of Our Lady.

DAY ELEVEN - Saturday, October 5th, 2013

This Saturday morning we began very early with Holy Mass in the Garden of Gethsemane outside in a corner of the garden on chairs that had been set up for us. We were all conscious that our pilgrimage was coming to the final days as I shared the Homily with our fellow pilgrims before we went out and entered into the Old City to begin the Way of the Cross. Part way along we stopped for lunch at a fountain and dispersed to find lunch in accord with each one's own preferences. Some of us climbed up to a rooftop terrace where we found a satisfying lunch and a needed moment of rest and fellowship.... Then we rejoined the others at the appointed time at the fountain and resumed the Via Dolorosa which we concluded at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.... Afterwards, according to popular request, our Guide Loic led us through the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall, where we paid our respects and prayed.... Then we made our way to the bus and back to our hotel....    

DAY TWELVE - Sunday, October 6th, 2013

We were scheduled to celebrate our final Mass at Abu Gosh, one of the possible sites of the house of the two disciples in Emmaus where they invited Jesus to come in and sit at table with them, but we lost our spot due to a communication error between our local tour company and the church. Instead, the day before our Guide worked out an opening for Mass at a convent of French nuns at another church in Emmaus and they received us well. It was a lovely church, and in the course of the Homily I invited les Abbes Andre and Guy to share some thoughts, which they gladly did, and it became a touching moment of recapitulation for us all....

We then visited Jaffa - Tel Aviv-Yafo - that is, our pilgrims did while I stayed on the bus... the flu symptoms were getting the better of me... and we caught up at the end of their tour and found a place to have lunch... satisfying and tasty local food... and then resumed our journey to Caesarea Maritime where they went exploring while again I stayed with the bus driver and then nearby to the old Roman aqueducts, where some went into the Sea of Galilee for a dip or wade.... That was the final visit of our pilgrimage, and on the long way back to the hotel, we took up the suggestion of one of our pilgrims and had our final sharing meeting on the bus at the microphone.... It was not as satisfying as face to face, but in a way, it was more intimate, as each of those who came to the microphone shared from the heart and either the Guide or I translated the heart of their sharing....    

DAY THIRTEEN - Monday, October 7th, 2013

At midnight we all received a wake up call and brought our luggage down, except me of course, since I was staying on for another pilgrimage, and Martyn and Flora who were leaving the next morning on a different flight, and then took a snack in the lobby lounge, where I came and greeted them briefly and went outside to see them all off.... It was a wistful moment as they got aboard the bus and waited to depart... and as I watched them waiting and then going, I thought of all that we had shared together and looked forward to what we might do to share our photos, and for those who can, even get together for a reunion....

Thank You, Lord, for your abundant grace through the days of our pilgrimage in your Holy Land, and throughout the pilgrimage of our lives.... Draw us ever nearer to You, Father, in Jesus your Son our Lord, through the love and peace of your Holy Spirit.... Mary, Queen of Disciples, pray for us.... St Joseph, pray for us.... Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

...to be edited, corrected, added to, and continued as a pilgrimage journal....

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