Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Stations of the Cross in Old Jerusalem Day 11: November 13, 2013

Our day began very early; 5:15 am on the bus for a short drive to the old city where we walked through the Gate of Herrod.   As we rode in the bus we listened to Steve read the Passion for Palm Sunday.   Entering the city we walked uphill for most of the way on stone streets with dark corners using our flashlight.
We prayerfully followed the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross, through the old city to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which houses the tomb of our Lord.  We stopped at each Station to pray the prayers and ask for God’s mercy as we recalled his painful journey to Golgotha. 
There we went up a series of steep marble steps to the upper floor where we were able to spend a moment at the Altar over the spot on the hill known as Golgotha, the place of the skull, where Christ was crucified on the cross.  Kneeling down we reached down about a foot through a small hole in the floor until we touched the rock. 
Then we proceed to a chapel beside the Altar where we celebrated Mass with Father Paw and all three deacons.  It was an extremely emotional experience for all of us; hardly a dry eye in the room. 
From there we walked back down the stairs to pray at the slab of marble where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial after he was taken down from the cross.  We saw a portion of the pillar where Jesus was tied and whipped that has been moved inside this church to preserve it.   We also saw through a window the lower portion of the hill of Golgotha showing the crack that split the hill at the time he died and allowed him to reach down into the earth and pull up the skull of Adam who was buried here. 
But the main visit was in the tomb of Jesus.  We stood in a long line for over half an hour to enter this sacred space.   We first entered the entrance cave that has the last remaining piece of the rock that was rolled in front of the cave and then removed by the angels. 
In the second portion of the cave we were able to touch the slab that held the body of Jesus Christ from Friday sundown until Easter Sunday when he was resurrected.  It’s hard to envision the emotions that flowed though each of us during this nearly four hour journey along the agony of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
It was 9 am by the time we walked through Jaffa Gate to our waiting bus.  Our legs ached from standing, climbing and walking on the marble streets of Old Jerusalem.  There were no places to rest and most of the time we were walking slightly uphill; in the dark at the beginning.   
Back to the hotel for a late breakfast and then time to rest and pack our bags.  At noon we all convened in the lobby where we split into two groups; one stayed at the hotel for rest, computer and/or card games. 
The other group went back to the Old City; some walked part of the wall and then shopped.  Another group walked back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and spent three hours there exploring the rest of the church.  Many Christian sects have chapels in this mammoth church that was built by the Crusaders so many years ago.
By four o’clock we were all together again on the bus and off to the Ambassador Hotel for another four hours during which we will have our farewell dinner.  Our luggage is already on the bus for our forty-five minute drive to the International airport in Tel Aviv.  Our flight leaves from there tonight; or should I say early morning as its 1:10 am when we expect to depart.
A sixteen hour flight will take us to LAX in California; arriving about 6:40 am.  Then a bus ride to home; hopefully well rested after a good night’s sleep on the airplane.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed sharing our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  It was an unexpected growth experience for me and I think many of the others also.  I have a desire to learn more about the Bible after this trip.
I hope you enjoy the slideshow: 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ein Karem, Israel Museum and Mount Zion Day 10: November 12, 2013

Awake at 5:30 am, breakfast at 6:30 and on the bus ready to roll by 7:45 am.  Long day ahead of us and Raouf decided we needed to start earlier to try to beat the traffic.  Well I think all of the other pilgrim groups in our hotel decided the same thing; there were so many buses in front of the hotel that just finding our bus was a real challenge.  Our yellow daisy in the window helped!
Soon we were headed for the highway amid the traffic of buses and people going to work.  It took us about forty-five minutes to reach Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist.   There are several sites that we visited in this town.  But to reach the first one we had a quarter mile walk up a steep hill, well about a thirty degree angle.  Part of the way up we stopped to visit Mary’s Spring; so called because Mary would fetch the water for her cousin Elizabeth from this well during the three months she spent with her near the end of her pregnancy in the house that we will be visiting.  Mary was also carrying the baby Jesus in her womb at the same time.   Continuing up the hill we soon reached the Church of the Visitation.   This was built over the site of the home of Zacarias and Elizabeth who were blessed with the birth of Saint John the Baptist very late in life.  There are many paintings and statues of the two women together celebrating the fact that both were carrying babies during the same time.  
There was a Mass in progress in the main church but we were fortunate to have the use of a beautiful outdoor chapel overlooking the gardens for our Mass this morning.  Father Paw wore blue robes to celebrate the Mass and Deacon Nick assisted during the Mass.  It was inspiring to hear the words as we looked out into nature and when we sang, the birds sang with us. 
After Mass we explored the Upper Church and the Crypt below that has remnants of the cave that was the base of Zacarias and Elizabeth’s home.   Also in the Crypt was the stone that the bible tells us was brought by angels and placed over the mouth of the cave to hide the baby John the Baptist from the soldiers who were sent out to slaughter all male infants in order to kill the Messiah who the kings heard had been born. 
The bible tells us that Mary first uttered the words of the Magnificat during the time she was living with Elizabeth.  This prayer is written in many different languages on large plaques that hang in the courtyard of the home.  This is a prayer that is said daily by millions of Catholics around the world. 
We then walked back down the hill towards the village and there visited another church that is built over a home that was owned by Zacarias and according to the bible, this is the home where John the Baptist was actually born.  This church is known as the Church of St. John the Baptist.  Again large plaques hang on the walls of the courtyard.
It was nearly 11 am when we were safely back on the bus again.  This time we had about a fifteen minute ride the Israel Museum.  We saw two main exhibits while we were there.  Outside there is a huge model on the scale of 1-50 ratio of the City of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD before it was destroyed.  Remember that all of the churches and sites that we are seeing have been reconstructed due to massive earthquakes and non-Christian rulers over the centuries. 
But this was a very accurate model during the time of Christ.  This shows the Temple built by King Herrod the Great; the Western Wall called the Wailing Wall that we visited is the only remaining piece of the Temple and that is where the Jews worship today.   
The second exhibit is a special building built to house a selection of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in caves in 1947.   Also within the building is a display of ancient scrolls of the Jewish Torah.  The exhibit is called the “Shrine of the Book”.  Outside there is a huge white water fountain shaped like a jar, representing the good people and a black wall that represents those that will not be saved at the Last Judgment.
Back on the bus we headed for the West Bank of Palestine where we had lunch at a restaurant called Ruth’s.  Very good food, fast and easy with some choices.  Tomorrow is our last day so there was a hot topic of conversation around the tables regarding what we’re going to do during our three hour solo time in the afternoon?
About two o’clock we were back on the bus for our next site; Mount Zion.  Here we had three things to visit.  We first went to the House of the Blessed Mother known as the Dormition Abbey.  This church is over the house where Mary lived until her son returned and from this place we believe that she was taken up into heaven by Jesus. 
We then walked to the House where Jesus and his disciples held their Last Supper, The First Mass, His first appearance after Resurrection and the visit to Thomas who did not believe the rest of the disciples.  This was also where they hid for ten days afterwards and were visited by the Holy Spirit that gave them the strength to go spread the gospel to the world.  
Nearby we visited the Tomb of King David that is now a synagogue; there we had to go in a separate area from the men.  The men had to cover their heads.  There were many people praying inside of the rooms. 
A short walk brought us to St. Peter of Gallicantu where the cock crowed and Peter denied knowing Jesus three times as the bible had prophesied.   This is also the place where they have discovered the dungeon where Jesus was held during the night after he was arrested.  We were actually able to descend into the dungeon by way of stairs that have been cut into the stone and stood on the stone floor where Jesus spent the night.
There is a faint drawing on the wall that is supposedly from that time and possibly made by Jesus. 
Our last stop of the day was to view the area where Jesus struggled up to this area on ancient steps that are blocked off and you can only view them.  But they feel that it was more than likely that Jesus used these steps from the Gardens where he was arrested to the house that held the dungeon where he was held overnight. 
It was a long day and dark by the time we returned to the hotel.  An early dinner as we are going to be on the bus by 5:30 am tomorrow to say our Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Tomorrow's blog will probably be written after I arrive home.  I hope you enjoy the slideshow from today:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Holy Sites in Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall, Day 9: Monday, November 11, 2013

We were awake well before the wakeup call and enjoyed an early breakfast.  By 8 am we were all on the bus and headed off in the bumper to bumper traffic to the Mount of Olives.  It took us at least thirty minutes to travel the short distance that on the Sabbath would have taken only minutes.  The Mount of Olives is outside the Eastern Walls of old Jerusalem above the Jewish Cemeteries. 
During our ride we did several things.  First, as soon as we arrived to the bus the games began with the name changes that Darlene gave us last night.  Lots of fun and many mistakes!  Jacques and Claudette Germain, our new names, confused even me!  Richard is Stanley at the suggestion of Father Paw who told the story about the “Flat Stanley” that a school boy had him bring on a previous trip. If you have not heard of this; school children are assigned a project of making a large paper doll and then finding people to take “Flat Stanley” on trips.  When they return they bring photos of him at all the places they visited on the trip.  This is shared with the class. 
Secondly we sang happy birthday to our song leader, Roberta, who celebrates her sixteen and a half birthday today!  We practiced our hymn for this morning and Raouf gave us information on today and tomorrows activities.  I also collected email addresses for those that had requested photos of themselves at the Dead Sea yesterday while they were covered in mud! 

The Mount of Olives is covered with graves as they believe that the Final Judgment will begin on this site and they want to be the first ones.  Also, people who visit graves here leave small rocks for two reasons:  1) they were late in arriving and missed the funeral and the rock is to witness that “I have come”; or 2) they believe in the Day of Judgment and want the person who will get in first to “remember me”. 
The cemetery for Christians is at the bottom of the Mount of Olives in the olive grove and is much nicer.  Newer and graves are spaced far apart instead of being up against one another as in the Jewish Cemetery; partially because they are newer and there are fewer!  In the slideshow you’ll see a pyramid in the cemetery that I can’t remember the story about but nearby is the grave of Oskar Schindler from Germany, a Christian who moved to Israel after the war when he saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis. 

Soon we’d arrived amid hundreds of other pilgrims; each bus vying for a good parking place.  Quickly out of the bus with nothing but essentials; we walked down the hill to the Dominus Flevit Chapel that celebrates the site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.   We had reserved the chapel for a Mass that was celebrated with Deacon Joe Garza assisting.  An interesting symbol on the front of the altar was a Rooster with his wings spread for the baby chickens underneath. 
We sang Amazing Grace for our entrance hymn and I have posted the video I took on Facebook; only the singing and the image is focused on the icon of the Virgin Mary on the wall.  Our singing is quite good at times thanks to some very good voices in the group!
After Mass we sat on the wall overlooking Jerusalem from the north.  There Raouf continued to instruct us on the history of the city.  There are four walls; one in each direction.  There are two gates on each side.  On the North side you have the Gate of Saint Stephen, also known as the Lion Gate where we entered last night; and the Golden Gate in the Tower in the center.  But that gate is locked and they built Muslim Cemeteries in front of it because of the fact that the Jews believe that during the Final Judgment they will enter the Holy City through the Golden Gates. 
The Old Jerusalem City is divided into four quarters:  Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian.  Because the Armenians were scattered to the winds they were welcomed here in Israel.  The Armenian Church shares custody of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with the Greek Orthodox Church.  Something we learned over the phone from Jim’s sister as her daughter-in-law is Armenian.   Raouf said that there are two thousand Christians, three thousand Jews and the rest are Muslims within the old walls.
From there we continued walking down the hill through narrow walled streets between the Jewish Cemeteries until we reached the Chapel of Ascension where it is believed that Jesus ascended to heaven from a rock that has been protected over the centuries.   Today it is a Muslim Mosque but they allow the Christians to visit the site by paying a fee to enter.  On Ascension Thursday, only one day a year, they allow the Christians to celebrate Mass in the Holy Site.
A short walk down a very steep street brought us out to Akram and our bus.  From there we crept along in heavy stop and go traffic for nearly half an hour to go the short distance to the Church of the Pater Noster.  Exiting the bus we rushed down another steep path without anything on our person but our cameras (if we listened to Raouf) as we were assaulted every step by vendors attempting to sell us things.  When we arrived at the site Richard had lost his cell phone that he was using for a camera.  It was in his breast pocket; the pickpockets are very quick!  Fortunately is was an IPhone and he’d connected it to the cloud so his photos were safe in the electronic sky!  We all learned a lesson about listening to Raouf when he tells us to leave things on the bus. 
The Pater Noster is so named because it is the cave where Jesus taught his disciples to say the Our Father.   Jesus was asked how does one pray to God?  And Jesus responded “Our Father who art in Heaven…..”   The walls inside and out are covered with the prayer of the Our Father in one hundred seventy four languages from around the world.  I have put photos of many in the slideshow.  While we stood in the cave we joined hands in prayer as we said the Our Father together. 
Back on the bus for another short distance but very long drive (because of traffic) to the Dung Gate into the old city.  There we walked to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount that is commonly known as the Wailing Wall for the Jewish Faith.  It is the only remaining wall of their temple and until the coming of the Messiah when they will rule Jerusalem and rebuilt their Temple; this is as close as they can come to worship in the ancient city.  We walked through security, women on the right and men on the left before entering the common area.  As we approached the wall we again split, the women on the right and men on the left.  We were able to approach the wall, touch it, say a prayer if desired and leave notes in the wall on tiny pieces of paper.  Interestingly, the women stood on chairs to see across the fence to the men’s side so that they could participate in the many Bar Mitzvahs that were happening on the men’s side.  They would all cheer and toss candy at the group of men surrounding the boy!
We walked past many groups celebrating even though it was a Monday; lots of music with the groups as they walked towards the Wailing Wall.  We even saw one ram’s horn being played.  Back out to Dung Gate to the waiting bus for our ride back to the hotel. 
We each enjoyed eating out on our own today.  Some walked the old city while others climbed on the city trams for a tour of the newer sections of the city.  And a few of us have enjoyed an afternoon off to relax and enjoy our hotel.  Lunch for some was in a very nice restaurant in the American Colony Hotel; and others found a fast food place nearby for Pita bread sandwiches.  We even found our bus driver Akram getting his lunch there.   Raouf was off to visit his sister who lives an hour north of the city he told us.  Tonight’s dinner will be in our hotel.  It has been nice having the opportunity to write my blog before dinner!  I’m looking forward to an early to bed as in two days we will be on the airplane for fourteen hours.
Hope you enjoy the slideshow: