Day 6 – Bethlehem

1. Church of the Nativity

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From the outside

The oldest church in the world!!! From the 300s!!!!!! Oh my gooosshhh

a. St. Jerome’s cave

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We said a Christmas Midnight Mass in a little grotto next to this tomb. I was able to lector. Farther Daniel spoke in his homily about the humility of God to come in this animal filled cave, and how shocking it is that the Almighty God would choose to save us by coming as a defenseless, useless little baby. I thought about how that is how we ought to be in our communities. Not angry, grumbling for the political defeat of those who disagree with us, depressed about the state of our society — but rather a light of humble love, sweet and gentle. In the eyes of the world such a way seems weak and foolish – how could anything be accomplished this way? But God saved the whole world through the child Jesus. Through faith we can move mountains.

b. Site of Christ’s birth

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This was a blessing. We stood in a long line for about 45 minutes before descending down stone steps into an underground cave lined with ornamental tapestries. The church above was quite cold, but down the stairs it was warm. Two at a time we prostated ourselves on the ground : embedded in the stone was a 14-point silver star. Inside and below this star was the stone upon which Jesus was born. I was able to kiss the star and touch my rosary to the stone. Nearby was the place where the manger was. I went through the place like a dream, kneeling, then standing, then kneeling again… I will revisit those moments in my memory many times.

2. Milk Grotto

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Mary breastfeeding Jesus

This grotto is where the holy family stayed after they left the original stable. A drop of Mary’s breastmilk landed on the floor of the cave and turned the rock white. Now many people have reported miracles after drinking some if the powdered rock dissolved in liquid.

3. Lunch with a Palestinian Christian family

No pictures on my phone… I’ll upload one later.

I will write a whole post about this soon! It was a highlight of the trip to eat in this family’s home. They welcomed us and spoke to us about their lives. Raid, a photographer, spoke the best English and said the biggest problem is that it is so hard to leave Bethlehem — an Israeli permit is required and those are hard to get. He also spoke about the scarcity of jobs. Yet he and his large family are happy in Beth Shahour – they are.connected to almost everyone in the town and enjoy strong family ties. I am so glad we were able to spend even just a couple hours focusing on people rather than places – the living stones that mean so much more than any holy site.

4. The Shepherds’ Field

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The church built at the site was donated by Canadian Catholics

Here were the shepherds when the angel appeared to them and told them of Christ’s birth. There was also a chapel in a cave, where shepherds would keep their flocks overnight. Father Daniel spoke of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and as the Gate. He said that these were much the same thing, for shepherds would lie across the floor of the cave at night to prevent the flock within from escaping. I had never realized thag before.

5. Carmelite convent and Blessed Marie of Jesus Crucified

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The chapel inside the convent

This woman helped to found this convent here in Bethlehem. It is always inspiring to me to learn about the lives of holy nuns – these are women who truly gave their entire existence to the Lord.

Now we are in Jerusalem! The next three days will be much more intense, both physically and emotionally. I pray I’ll be able to store these treasures up in my heart for later unpacking!!

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Day 5: The River Jordan and Jericho

Driving through Palestinian areas in the West Bank was overwhelming. A very stark contrast to the wealthier Israeli cities we had been in up to now. We are in the desert now, too, which only heightens the contrast.

(Sorry about yesterday’s post; I wrote a bunch of reflections, but they didn’t get uploaded. I added some captions to the pictures at least, and I will try to recapitulate what I said at a later date.)

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The first cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

1. River Jordan

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We renewed our baptismal vows at the very site of our Lord’s baptism.

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Living out our baptismal vows is hard. They are pretty intense. But Baptism washes my old self away and Christ gives me a new self… thank God!

2. Qumran – the Dead Sea Scrolls

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The museum at Qumran was pretty mediocre. But it’s pretty incredible that those Dead Sea scrolls were found here. They are the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible that we have. I am glad!

3. Jericho

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This is the inside of a Catholic church in Jericho. There are only 230 Catholics in that town, and only 500 Christians in total. While we were saying Mass there, a nearby mosque began transmitting a loud and angry-sounding speech through some loudspeakers. The contrast was very striking during the consecration, when the tinkling of four tiny bells heralded the arrival of the Almighty God in the midst of this loud, loud shouting. I felt very small. It seemed strange for a moment that Jesus would seem so powerless in the very land in which he walked and taught. But God is found in the quiet breeze. Still, it would be very hard to stay Christian here, to put your faith in Christ when the loudest voices denounce such faith. Apparently those loudspeakers go off every 5 hours during the day.

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My friend Amy rode a camel. Camels are REALLY WEIRD LOOKING. Especially when they kneel down. Their legs bend in totally unexpected directions.

4. Bethany

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This Church is built near the site of Lazarus’s tomb, the friend of Jesus whom he raised from the dead. I think it is also near that family’s home. I missed the explanation whilst in the bathroom, sorry. The church was gorgeous. I was very moved. I read John 11 and prayed about Martha’s faith. Will I have such faith when faced with a loved one’s death? I hope so.

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There was a Crusades-era church still standing next door.

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This leads to what is thought to be the tomb of Lazarus. It is currently walled off, waiting for archaeologists’ study.

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Other thoughts… driving through the Palestinian towns of Jericho, Bethany, and Bethlehem (where we are spending the night) was troubling. There is a lot of poverty. Our Palestinian guide, George, told stories about the difficulties in living life in Palestine. It is very hard that there is so much conflict here: Israeli vs. Palestinian, Islam vs. Non-Islam, Jewish vs. Non-Jewish, etc etc. And even though Christians are less than 2% of the population, these other conflicts lead to bitterness and fear in the hearts of Christians against the Muslims, the Israeli government, etc. This is evident in George, at least – from what he says. Tomorrow we will get the chance to have lunch with Christian families from Bethlehem. I look forward to hearing their stories.

At dinner we talked about Immaculee Ilabaghiza, and Our Lady of Kibeho, both of whom urge forgiveness and mercy. What a change those two things would wreak on this land. I will pray for Mary’s intercession here, for all the people who live here.

Day 4: Caesarea Philippi and the Sea of Galilee

1. Caesarea Philippi ( now called Banias)
2. Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee
3. Site of the feeding of the 5000
4. Church of Peter’s Primacy, where Jesus appeared to Peter after his Resurrection
5. St. Peters Fish Lunch
6. Capernaum
7. Mount of the Beatitudes

[EDIT] okay I wrote a bunch of reflections and things here, but they did not get uploaded. Um. I will try to update this later. I added some captions to the images, at least.

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Caesarea Philippi was once the home of a temple to Pan.

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A shot of the ruins of the temple to the goat-man god, Pan.

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the sea of Galilee

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This church marks the site where Jesus fed the 5000.

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the church of Peter’s Primacy. It was starkly beautiful. Perfect for the fisherman, Peter.

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half of the door to the church of Peter’s Primacy

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the other half

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This kind of fish is actually called “St. Peter’s fish”

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This is a view of the sea of Galilee from Capernaum – a view that Jesus himself had

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the church on the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave that sermon in Matthew 5-7

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Sunset from Mount of Beatitudes

Day 4: End of Day reflection

So I am creating these posts on my phone, so my apologies if their layout is suboptimal.

Today was another day filled with wonders. One funny thing: I feel as though I expect the lands to glow or something – stand out in some way as The Place Jesus Was. But it just looks like… Any other land. Hills and water and stuff. Yet God chose this place as the promised land for the people of Israel, and that is why he came here – because they were his chosen people. The inscrutable plans of God.

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The Sea of Galilee

Another thought: part of me wants this whole land to be cordoned off as some kind of mega museum: The Place Where the Almighty God Himself Walked the Earth. Obviously that would be absurd and unfair to people of other faiths. Yet I am strangely disconcerted to see gas stations in Magdala, H&Ms in Nazareth, and mesh-covered banana orchards on the side of Mt. Beatitudes. I wish the whole land could be focused on praising God for what transpired here!!

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Me at the Sea

In the same vein, I feel very grateful that the Catholic Church owns land at so many of these sites, with beautiful (or sometimes weird-looking) churches built there. It feels like an oasis from the necessary temporality of the surroundings. I go in – and it is like I enter the super-reality of the Universal Church, and I am at home. Christ is there in the Tabernacle, as he was there 2000 years ago.

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A weird looking church over St. Peter's house

It is also cool to see Catholic pilgrims from all over the world: Vietnam, Russia, and the UK to name a few. :)

Coming soon: day 4, site by site.

Day 3: Nazareth and its Surroundings

In order, we visited:

1. Basilica of the Annunciation (at the site where Gabriel appeared to Mary and God became flesh)

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My dad in front of the Basilica

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The very room where Gabriel visited Mary.

I meditated on Mary’s simple “yes” to the Lord. So often I try to complicate things in my conversations with God. But somehow it is very freeing to stop worrying so much and say “yes” with my whole heart to what God wants to do in my life.

2. St. Joseph’s carpentry shop

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This altar was at the site

3. A church at the site of the synagogue where Jesus taught in Nazareth that he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies

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The entrance to the church

I thought about the conflict and violence that occurred after Jesus spoke here. Nazareth is still filled with conflict – our guide George told us how the Annunciation Basilica was bombed in 2006. A sign on the Basilica’s property tells Christians to worship Allah, and tells of the tensions surrounding all these holy sites. Yet Christ is here among us, just as he was among the angry Nazoreans. He sees our brokenness and is not scandalized, but moved to love.

4. Cana

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My parents renewed their wedding vows at Cana.

Father Daniel, our chaplain, spoke about Jesus’s first miracle in Cana, turning the water into wine. Yet it was the second wine, the later wine. He said likewise in marriage, the wine gets better each time we say “yes” to loving our spouse, better than that first newlywed wine. More patience, more gentleness, more love.

Another pilgrim mentioned later that this applies to our relationship with Christ as well. Each time we say yes to him, our joy deepens and the wine gets even better.

5. Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration.

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A beautiful mosaic inside the church atop Mount Tabor

Father Daniel again said something that resonated in my heart. The goal of this pilgrimage is not to “feel” great things stirring. But rather, like Mary, to ponder all these things in my heart. I pictured a “heart palace”, a la the new Sherlock. :) this set many of my fears of yesterday to rest.

6. Mount Precipice, near where the Nazoreans tried to throw Jesus off a cliff after his aforesaid teachings in the synagogue.

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Here I was drawn to contemplate Jesus’s humanity, and Mary. They both lived near this hill – surely the child Jesus cut himself once on these sharp rocks as he explored the country. And Mary washed his wound and bound it up. I thought of Mary’s pain to see her friends and family filled with hate toward her Son. Could she ever walk up that hill again, without tears coming to her eyes? Yet I know she was able to forgive those Nazoreans.

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A view of our hotel from Mount Precipice

Then we returned to our hotel. Walking on these holy lands truly does bring the Scriptures to a new vibrancy, a deeper reality in my mind. I think I will always remember Matthew 17, now that I have walked on that hill.

I look forward to a restful evening to prepare for another day of nonstop wonder. Pray for me and the other pilgrims!

End of Day 2

It still doesn’t feel quite real that I am in THE Holy Land. My parents are here with me and they both had very moving moments today. I just snapped photos, pretty much. Tomorrow I will work harder to pray throughout the day, at each site, so that I’ll be sensitive to the Spirit moving in me.

I think it’ll also help that I’ll be operating on more than 4 hours of sleep. :)

Tomorrow is Nazareth and Mount Tabor! Looking forward to it!

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Our awesome dinner buffet at our awesome hotel! Wowza.

Day 2: Mount Carmel part 2

After Stella Maris we visited the site where Elijah defeated some pagans in some kind of deadly Iron-Chef-like sacrifice competition.

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This statue commemorated the deed.

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We said a Divine Mercy chaplet in the little chapel there.

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The view was gorgeous, but I did not take pictures on my phone. I’ll post them later from a computer.