The following is a summary description of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, followed by daily posts containing details and pictures. The pilgrimage participants (48 total) gathered as a group at JFK Airport March 6, for departure at 12:00PM.
The pilgrimage began during the first week of Lent while Israel is in the winter season. The weather was clear with only two days of light rain at the end, otherwise, it was quite pleasant daytime temperature between 60 and 70°F (A good time to be there, given that some summer days reach as much is 150° at certain sites).
This was a guided pilgrimage tour with 48 people visiting about 32 holy sites in Israel. Once at a site, our guide gave a comprehensive explanation of what we were about to see followed by a walking tour complete with time for photographs. I must admit I would have liked him to have contacted car rental Jerusalem and organised some vehicles for us to use instead, as all the walking was quite tiring, but at least it was an authentic experience. While I had done some preparation and reading about the sites we were about to visit, my focus was on the spiritual significance of visiting the places where Jesus lived and died.
Lent is a natural time for Christians of all denominations to come to the Holy Land as both pilgrims and tourists. For the locals, it is a brisk business.
My fellow pilgrims found ourselves, at times, among large crowds of people squeezing by each other, bumping into each other and navigating with varying degrees of Christian courtesy. It seems that groups of people/pilgrims have a need to talk and communicate their experience even in holy places of silence and prayer. Initially, I was not distracted by this, but it did wear my patience toward the end making it harder to “Love thy neighbor” as thyself. I also found that as the tour progressed the amount of information to be absorbed quickly became a significant overload. After a while, keeping it all straight and organized in my mind and remembering the details became a real challenge while jockeying for position for a good photo.
It soon dawned upon me that my pilgrimage, after traveling almost 6000 miles was not so much about this place I had come to, or the various aids provided by archeological understanding, but was about how well I relate to my neighbor–wherever I am. It is less about time and place and more about relationships.
The typical day consisted of visits to about five holy sites. The day began with breakfast at 6:00 AM and usually ended around 5:00 PM in the afternoon followed by a welcome dinner. We typically walked 3 to 5 miles each day most of which consisted of many steps up and down throughout the sites.
WEDNESDAY 7:00 AM, MARCH 8 TEL AVIV/CAESAREA/HAIFA/TIBERIAS
- Drive north today to Caesarea to view the ruins of the Crusader’s fortress and moat and sit in the great Roman theater.
- Continuing along the coast, you will see the aqueduct that carried water from Mt. Carmel to Caesarea.
- On to Megiddo located on the Plain of Esdraelon. Visit the museum, ruins of the city and Solomon’s Stables. The Jezreel Valley takes its name from the ancient city of Jezreel. The word Jezreel comes from the Hebrew, and means “God sows” or “El sows”. The phrase “valley of Jezreel” was sometimes used to refer to the central part of the valley, around the city of Jezreel, while the southwestern portion was known as the “valley of Megiddo”, after the ancient city of Megiddo, which was located there. The area has been known as the Plain of Esdraelon (Esdraelon is the Koine Greek rendering of Jezreel).Armageddon is mentioned in the NT (Rv 16:16). Most Christians know the book of Revelation prophesies an end-times battle that will be fought at a place called Armageddon (Rv 16:16), and many know that Armageddon is, in fact, a corruption of the Greek, (Harmagedon) or “the hill of Megiddo.”The valley perhaps once acted as the channel by which the Dead Sea, located southeast of the valley, connected to the Mediterranean Sea. About two million years ago, as the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Rift Valley rose, this connection was lost, and periodic floods from the Mediterranean Sea ceased. This resulted in the Dead Sea no longer having a connection to the ocean, and over time, due to greater evaporation than precipitation plus surface water inflow, it has become heavily saline.
- Continue to Haifa where you will ascend Mt. Carmel for a magnificent view of the sea and harbor. Haifa has been inhabited for the last 10,000 years. It is the home port for the Israeli Navy and the US 6th It is the world center for the Bahai monotheistic faith which started last century in Iran.
- See the Carmelite Monastery and Elijah’s Cave as well as the Bahai Temple with the Persian Gardens. Proceed to Tiberias for the night. A Carmelite monastery was founded at the site shortly after the Order itself was created, and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of “Star of the Sea” (“stella maris” in Latin), a common medieval presentation of her. One of the oldest scapulars is associated with Mount Carmel and the Carmelites. According to Carmelite tradition, the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was first given to Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Carmelites refer to her under the title “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” in honor of the legend, and celebrate 16 July as her feast day.
The Order was founded at the site that it claimed had been the location of Elijah’s cave, 1,700 feet (520 m) above sea level at the northwestern end of the mountain range; this, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the highest natural point of the mountain range. Though there is no documentary evidence to support it, Carmelite tradition suggests that a community of Jewish hermits had lived at the site from the time of Elijah until the Carmelites were founded there; prefixed to the Carmelite Constitution of 1281 was the claim that from the time when Elijah and Elisha had dwelt devoutly on Mount Carmel, priests and prophets, Jewish and Christian, had lived “praiseworthy lives in holy penitence” adjacent to the site of the “fountain of Elisha” in an uninterrupted succession.
- Return to the Hotel, about 4:00 PM.
TIBERIAS 7:00 AM THURSDAY, MARCH 9
- Today, cross the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, center of Jesus’ Ministry in the Galilee.
- Visit the ruins of the Second Century Synagogue.
- Continue to Tabgha, site of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.
- Then on to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the famous Sermon on the Mount and chose the Twelve Apostles.
- Return to Tiberias for the night. 4:00 PM
FRIDAY, MARCH 10 TIBERIAS/CANA/NAZARETH/JERUSALEM
- Depart today via Tabgha and Magdala to Cana, site of Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine.
- Proceed to Mt. Tabor, traditional site of the Transfiguration.
- Continue to Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus. Here you will visit the Church of the Annunciation and the winding streets of the old city.
- Proceed via the Jordan Valley and Beit Shean to Jerusalem
- Hotel. Leonardo Club Hotes–Tiberias
SATURDAY, MARCH 11 Grand Court Hotel
- This morning proceed on a walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. Enter St. Stephen’s Gate. Visit St. Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the crippled man.
- Continue to the Temple Area. See the Dome of the Rock, the El Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall. Exit via the Dung Gate to St. Peter’s in Gallicantu.
- View the Valley of Gehenna and the Pool of Siloam.
- This afternoon enter Herod’s Gate to the Roman Praetorium, beneath the Sisters of Zion Convent, and the Ecce Homo Arch.
- Follow in the footsteps of Jesus as you walk the Via Dolorosa, the traditional way of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
- Leave the Old City through the Damascus Gate.
SUNDAY, MARCH 12
- Drive to the top of the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
- Visit the Chapel of the Ascension and the Church of Pater Noster.
- Descend the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and walk along the ancient olive trees, viewing the Kidron Valley.
- Visit the Church of All Nations on the Rock of Agony.
- Ascend Mount Zion to see the Upper Room, traditional site of the Last Supper.
- Drive to Bethlehem. Visit the Church of the Nativity. See the Manger where Jesus was born and Shepherd’s Field. Time to shop for wood carvings before returning to Jerusalem.
MONDAY, MARCH 13
- This morning drive to Bethany to visit Lazarus’ Tomb and the village of Mary and Martha.
- Then on to Biblical Jericho, believed to be the oldest city in the world.
- View Elisha’s Spring and the Mount of Temptations.
- Continue to the Dead Sea, 1288 feet below sea level, site of ancient Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Stop at the Caves of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and visit the excavations.
- On the east side of the Dead Sea are the Moab Mountains and Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land.
- Continue to the citadel stronghold of Masada. Ascend by cable car to the fortress where 967 Zealots made their last stand against Rome in 73 AD. Return to Jerusalem. (B,D)
TUESDAY, MARCH 14
Late morning check out from your hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure for shopping and exploring the city on your own. Following dinner, transfer to the airport for your overnight flight back to New York. (B,D)
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 15 ARRIVE NEW YORK, Flight to Nashville cancelled due to east coast snmow storm, Arrive Nashville 11:20 Am.
Depart Jerusalem 12:00 Midnight arrive New York 7:00 AM
2:20 PM Flight to Nashville Cancelled, Rebooked for 9:30 Flight Arriving Nashville 11:20PM. This was a 49 hour trip home.