Much-travelled Catholic News contributor Felix Edinborough concludes his report on a recent T&T-St Lucian pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel.
Our experience continued at the Stella Maris monastery at Mount Carmel where Mass was celebrated and then we took an intermission from the holy sites and moved on to Caesarea Maritime to see the 3,000 capacity Roman theatre, a raised aqueduct, commissioned by King Herod to deliver water from the springs near Shuni, 16 kilometres north-east of Caesarea Maritime. Back to the holy sites and it was the house of Simon the Tanner where St Peter stayed when he was in Jaffa. Nearby is the St Peter’s church where we had our daily Mass.
We looked forward to our visit to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and there in the basement of the church we queued to see and put our hand on the star which is located over the place where Jesus is said to have been born. After visiting the adjacent Church of St Catherine, in front of which there is a statue of St Jerome, we were off to the Shepherds’ Field where in a cave, we celebrated Mass.
Saturated with spirituality, or so we felt, our guide led us to Jericho to see the centuries-old sycamore tree called the Zacchaeus tree and we imagined the short tax collector of the Bible sitting on a branch. Here in Jericho we also spied the Mount of Temptation in the distance.
The foregoing experience spruced us up for Mass at the baptismal site on the banks of the river Jordan. It was intermission time again as we moved to Massada where we took a hanging ride in a cable car up to the fortress.
Here, according to history, the defenders held out for three years against the Roman Army and then committed suicide rather than be taken into slavery. After this climb we were ready for a dip into the Dead Sea where you cannot drown as there is so much salt that your body does not sink whether you can or cannot swim.
There was so much that we experienced in this journey that it would be difficult to highlight all, but there are some more unforgettable sites that must be mentioned like the mosque at Hebron, with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, located in the occupied West Bank.
We cannot forget our experience at Gethsemane where we saw olive trees more than 2,000 years old before visiting the Church of All Nations. Immediately in front of the altar is a bedrock where it is believed Jesus prayed.
We experienced a prelude to the agony at the Mount of Olives on a cold and rainy day. It is not often that they see rain in Israel. This did not stop us from visiting the Pater Noster which stands on the traditional site in Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. On walls around the church and its vaulted cloister, translations of the Lord’s Prayer in 140 languages are inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.
It was the next day that we followed the footsteps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa (The Way of the Cross) starting at the Church of the Flagellation and ending at Calvary which is next to Jesus’ sepulchre. We then celebrated Mass at the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
From there we moved to Mount Zion to visit the Church of the Dormition identified as the place where the Virgin Mary died or “fell asleep”. Our journey continued to the Upper Room of the Last Supper then to the Church of Peter Gallicancu which commemorates St Peter’s denial of Jesus and his immediate repentance.
This superb spiritual experience lived by the pilgrims concluded with a visit to the Wailing Wall where petitions are pushed into crevices in the Wall, accompanied by individual prayers. Here the males are separated from the females. Our final Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Resurrection at the Benedictine monastery at Abu Ghosh.
It is hard to think of a more enhancing spiritual experience as was lived during our journey. We thank the Lord for his guidance during our pilgrimage.