Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Holy Land: Dormition Abbey, King David's Tomb, The Upper Room (Day 5: Afternoon, 2 June 2011)

Day Five: Part Two

After an unbelievably full and memorable morning, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch at a kibbutz before venturing out for more exploring in Jerusalem. Our first stop of the afternoon was the Dormition Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey on Mount Zion. This Abbey commemorates Mary's assumption into Heaven after her life on earth. Some believe that this is the location of Mary's assumption into Heaven. Dan and I like to believe that it is in Ephesus where her home was located after Christ's death. There is no doctrine that declares the exact location of Mary's Assumption. Either way, it was a beautiful church that honored Mary as Christ's sinless mother and the day she joined her Son in Heaven.

Dormition Abbey

Inside of Dormition Abbey

Next, we walked to King David's Tomb. This Jewish holy site on Mount Zion has been traditionally viewed as the burial place of King David, the second king of Israel. The site was very small, simple, and humble. The holy site was divided into two sections, one for men and one for women, similar to our experience at the Wailing Wall.

Our last stop on Mount Zion was the Cenacle, also known as the Upper Room. I got goosebumps as my brain tried to process the immensity of this location. This was the location of the Last Supper. Christ Himself washed His Apostles feet, shared His last meal before His Passion and Death, and celebrated the first Mass on this very spot. This spot is also believed to have been a regular meeting place for the Apostles. This is where they gathered in fear after Christ's death. This is one of the spots the Risen Lord appeared to His Apostles bringing words of peace. This is where they elected Saint Matthias as the Apostle to replace Judas. This is where the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of blazing fire and gusting winds on the Apostles at Pentecost. Incredible. My mind raced as I tried to choose which event to meditate on first. There was just too much to wrap my brain around. I ended up just resting my mind in the peace of this place, just soaking in the grace from the few precious moments we had there. I can spend the rest of eternity traveling back to that spot in my mind and meditating on its immesity.

The Upper Room

After such a grace filled day, we were eager to return to the hotel to praise God at Mass. Father celebrated Mass in a small conference room in the hotel. We were especially thrilled to offer up our prayers at Mass because it was the Feast of Ascension Thursday! It was incredible celebrating Acension Thursday with a view of Jerusalem out the window. Our hotel in Jerusalem was called the Olive Tree Hotel and the conference room we had Mass in that evening was the "Mount of Olives Room"-- so we were honored to celebrate the Ascension (which took place on the Mount of Olives) in such an appropriately named place! God is good!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Holy Land: The Wailing Wall, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Seplucher (Day 5: morning, 2 June 2011)

Our fifth day in the Holy Land was one of the most meaningful and unforgettable days of our pilgrimage.  We began our first full day in Jerusalem by visiting the Wailing Wall.  The Wailing Wall, built by King Solomon, is the remnant of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount and one of the holiest sites in Judaism.  The wall is all that remains of the Temple complex after it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.  Therefore, for Jews, it has been a venerated place of sorrow for hundreds of years--hence "Wailing" Wall.

The wall was divided into two sections, separating the men and the women.  I joined the ladies from our group and Dan took Peter to the other side.  Because the Wailing Wall area is considered a large open-air synagogue, Dan and Peter had to cover their heads to enter the area.  They had free Jewish skull caps called "kippahs" that they put on.  We visited on a Thursday which is one of the holy days of worship.  The area was bustling with devout Jews coming for worship and pilgrims from all over the world.  Peter was a little afraid of all the praying Jewish men with tallits (Jewish prayer shawls) covering their heads.  There were many Bar Mitzfas taking place on the men's side of the wall.  Thirteen-year-old boys were carrying tabernacles (ornate containers that held scrolls of the Torah) to places where they could read the Word of God for the first time.  There was a buzz of excitement, singing, and horns blowing celebrating these events.  The women's side was much more subdued, though several of the women stood on chairs and peeked over the divider to catch a glimpse of the festivities on the men's side.  It was beautiful and interesting to visit a sight of such great significance for so many people.

The men's side of the Wailing Wall

Peter and Dan in their kippahs near the Wailing Wall

Next, we walked up to the top of the Temple Mount.  On top of the Temple Mount were many important places/structures.  On our right was the Al Aqsa Mosque.  This mosque was built soon after Islam began.  It commemorates Mohammed's Ascension to Heaven from the Temple Mount--a belief held by Muslims.  Once the Crusaders took Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, this mosque became the headquarters of the Templar Knights and the palace of the Crusader Kings of Jerusalem.  After seeing the outside of the Al Aqsa Mosque, we walked up to the Dome of the Rock, an important Islamic mosque built upon the Temple Mount.  Women were asked to cover our arms with scarves or jackets before approaching.  Though we were not permitted to enter the mosque, we spent time admiring the details of its design from outside.  This mosque is built over the rock which Muslim tradition holds is the actual spot Mohammed ascended to Heaven.  It is also thought that this spot might have been where the Holy of Holies was in the Jewish Temple--but no one knows for certain.  Jews are actually prohibited by their religion from setting foot on the Temple Mount for fear of offending God by accidentally stepping through the area that actually was the Holy of Holies.

The Dome of the Rock

It was amazing walking around the Temple Mount.  Jesus was Presented to God here, was found by His parents when he was 12, was tempted by Satan, preached here, and drove out the money changers.

As we left the Dome of the Rock, we stopped by the ruins of the Golden Gate.  This was the site that Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, met.  It is also the gate (which faces the Mount of Olives) where, tradition holds, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem upon his Second Coming.

We continued walking, quietly singing Old MacDonald to entertain Peter, and soon left the Temple Mount and reached the Lions Gate.  Nearby the Lions Gate is the traditional spot were St. Stephen was stoned.  We then walked west down a road which was north of the Temple Mount.  Along this road we walked by the Crusader Church of St. Anne (where St. Anne and the Blessed Virgin Mary are believed to have been born) and the former Pools of Bethesda (where Jesus healed a paralytic).  As we continued to walk, we approached the beginning of the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Christ's Cross which beings just north of the Temple Mount.  The Via Dolorosa was one of the most moving and memorable experiences of the pilgrimage.  It was unbelievable to walk the same path as Christ as He carried the cross to Golgotha.  We stopped at a worn spot on a stone wall; believed to be the spot that Christ laid His hand to rest.  Each Station of the Cross, commemorating different parts of His journey to the crucifixion, was marked with a sign and a chapel.  Our group stopped at each station, reflected, offered up petitions to God, and prayed an Our Father. 

The Via Dolorosa was right in the middle of Old City Jerusalem.  The very narrow, old streets were full of pilgrims in prayer.  The streets were also lined with gift shops and aggressive salesmen.  At first, I found the salesmen, pushing their postcards and souvenirs, to be distracting and annoying.  Can't you see that we are here to pray and meditate, not shop!?  But soon I began to imagine Christ's painful Way of the Cross in the busy Jerusalem streets.  I pictured the busy markets, onlookers jeering and spitting, soldiers yelling.  The setting of Christ's Passion was not in a quiet, peaceful sanctuary, rather, it was in the midst of chaos.  Soon, the yelling of the salesmen and the bustling crowds fueled my meditation and helped bring the scriptures to life. 

Each Station of the Cross was beautiful and meaningful.  Personally, the most powerful station was when Jesus Met His Mother.  This Station has always been touching, but has taken on even more meaning since I've become a mother.  I can't imagine the pain that Mary endured as she watched her Son carry His cross.  The heartache must've been unbearable.  We entered a quiet, underground chapel commemorating this spot.  Jesus in the Eucharist was held in a very large gold monstrance at the front of the chapel.  We stopped to pray and rest our souls in the peace of the presence of Christ.  What a beautiful sanctuary. 

Our Way of the Cross led us to Calvary, where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands.  We entered this massively large church and weaved our way through the hundreds of pilgrims filling its walls to the brim. The church was dimly lit and filled with countless candles in ornate gold candle holders hanging from the ceiling.  We moved to our right and began to climb stairs that took us to the top of Golgotha.  We moved through the crowds and approached the stone that the Cross of Christ stood.  The stone sat under an altar.  We waited our turn to encounter this holy spot.  When we came close, Dan and I grabbed each other's arms and dove under the altar with Peter to place our hands where Christ's Cross stood.  It was incredible.  We tried to soak up every precious moment we had in this sacred space before our time was up. 

The Chapel of the Crucifixion.
The Crucifix marks the exact spot where Jesus was crucified.

Next, we moved toward a small chapel/edicule within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that contained Christ's tomb!  A long line of pilgrims waited to enter this very small chapel where Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.  We spent the 30 minutes in line entertaining Peter with stickers and songs.  We softly sang "Jesus Christ is Risen Today", one of Peter's very favorite songs that he requests often.  Peter even sang "A yah yah" ("Alleluia") as we waited in line.  As we neared the front of the line, Peter and I were spotted by the Greek Orthodox priest who controlled entry into the Sepulcher.  He motioned for us to move to the front of the line because I had a little child.  Dan boldly requested, "Can I come too?"  He responded with a sharp "no".  So, Peter and I moved to the front of the line and prepared to enter Christ's tomb.

Inside of the chapel was a small outer room, and a very small inner room.  The outer room held a piece of the stone that was rolled away by the angel on Easter Sunday.  It also served as a waiting room.  We waited with a Greek Orthodox priest and about five others.  Soon, the priest motioned for Peter and I to enter the small inner room.  I bent low and crawled into the chapel, the doorway was barely 4 feet tall!  The chapel of Christ's tomb was only large enough for about five adults to enter at a time and was dimly lit with candles.  The small chapel was very quiet and serene.  I knelt before the stone on which Christ was laid while Peter quietly stood next to me.  I whispered to him "Jesus was here".  I whispered "I love You, Jesus" with Peter.  I placed my hand on the stone.  Peter watched and then placed his little hand next to mine.  I then bowed my head and kissed the holy spot.  Peter watched, stood up on his tippy toes, and reverently kissed the stone as well.  It was absolutely beautiful.  At that moment, I knew that we had made the right decision to bring our little one on this pilgrimage.  To share a moment like that with my little boy is something I will never forget.  Soon, the Greek Orthodox priest encouraged us to leave to keep the line moving. 

The Beaudoin Family outside Christ's Tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Sarah and Peter entering the edicule which contained Christ's Tomb

Peter and I found a quiet corner in the church to play with one of his cars while we waited for Dan and the rest of the group.  An old Italian woman stopped to play with Peter, saying "toot, toot!" as Peter drove his little red car on the ancient stone floor.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Holy Land: The Jordan River, Dead Sea, & Arrival in Jerusalem (Day 4, 1 June 2011)

After breakfast at our hotel in Tiberias, we packed up our belongings and started a new day of adventures.  Our first adventure led us to the site on the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist.  The Jordan River was peaceful and blue (we're used to brown water rivers in Nebraska!).  It was much narrower than I had imagined.  It was surrounded by tall, leafy trees.  We had the opportunity to renew our Baptismal Promises and be sprinkled with water from the Jordan River.  A curious muskrat popped out of the water and crawled around Father's feet as we prayed. 

From the Jordan River, we traveled to the beautiful Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  Mount Tabor was MASSIVE.  We expected it to be smaller than what it was.  We had to exit our tour bus and board shuttle buses because our tour bus would not have made it up the mountain.  It was interesting for us to think about Christ, Peter, James, and John hiking up this mountain...it would have been a tough climb by foot!

Mount Tabor with the Church of the Transfiguration on its peak.

The Church of the Transfiguration was very beautiful...it was fun looking at the sky above the church and imagining Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talking...right there!

The Church of the Transfiguration

From Mount Tabor you could also see Nazareth and Mount Precipice--the spot where the Nazoreans led Jesus so they could throw him off headlong.

We then journeyed by bus through the desert.  The green, lush terrain we had seen earlier was replaced by sand, rocks, and the intense desert sun.  Tradition has it that Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness occurred not far from here.  Our desert travels led us to the Dead Sea, the lowest point of elevation on earth.  The Dead Sea was surprisingly beautiful and radiantly blue.  It looked like a mirage in the dry, colorless desert.  We grabbed a bite to eat and changed into our swimming suits to experience the Dead Sea for ourselves.  Since the water was too salty for Peter, Dan and I took turns floating in the salty sea and feeling the squishy Dead Sea mineral mud in our toes.    Peter dabbled his toes in the sea for a few moments and then splashed in the outdoor showers on the beach with mommy.
Our hour on the beach passed quickly and soon we were back on the bus: salty, tired, and hot. 

Dan floating in the buoyant Dead Sea...it's very easy to float because of all the salt!

Peter fell asleep on my lap as we drove to Masada...an ancient fortress built by Herod the Great.  It was later taken by the Romans and then the Jewish Zealots after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  Masada was the Zealots' last stronghold.  The Roman Army encircled the fortress on top of the mountain and began a siege that would lead the Romans to build a giant earthen ramp to the top so they could engage their Jewish foes.  With the prospects of slavery or death at the hands of the Romans facing them, the Jewish garrison chose mass suicide (killing each other) so that the Romans would not get them first.  When the Romans finally broke into Masada, they found that the fortress's 960 inhabitants had killed each other...with the exception of two women and five children who had hid in a cistern and therefore lived to tell the tale.  Today, Masada is a symbol of nationalism for Israel.  When new Israeli soldiers are inducted into the Israli military, their induction ceremony ends with the declaration:  "Masada shall not fall again."

Some of the ancient strutures built on Masada with the Dead Sea in the background

The group took a cable car to the top of the mountain to explore the fortress while I stayed in the air conditioned ticket building with my sleeping boy.  Peter slept for almost two hours and I was able to "people watch" and relax. 

After the tour of Masada, we journeyed to Jerusalem that evening and checked into the beautiful Olive Tree Hotel.  The staff welcomed us in the lobby with a sugary, Tang-like orange juice (we were welcomed with this drink at all of our hotels).  We were eager to take our keys, shower, and rest after our Dead Sea adventures.  We finished our day with a scrumptious dinner at the hotel (rice, fish, chicken, hummus, watermelon- yum!) and wrapped up Day 4.

Holy Land: Tabgha, Nazareth, & Cana (Day 3: Afternoon, 31 May 2011)

Day three of our pilgrimage was so completely filled to the brim with sights and experiences, it just had to be divided into two parts. Here's part number two: the afternoon.

"Jesus took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children."
Matthew 14:19-21

After our fish lunch on the Sea of Galilee, we ventured to Tabgha. This is the spot where the Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed the thousands who had come to hear Him speak. We entered a church commemorating this miracle. Inside, there was a large rock. This is the rock that is believed to be the spot that Jesus laid the loaves and the fish.

After leaving Tabgha, we set off toward Nazareth. We walked several blocks through the streets of Nazareth. Our wanderings led us through narrow bazaars selling every trinket and nic nac imaginable (very similar to the bazaars in Turkey), quiet alleys lined with dumpsters and stray cats, and a bustling modern street filled with pedestrians and cars. We drove by "Mary's Well" which is the site of the Nazareth town well since the time of Christ. We got off the bus and walked by the church built over the synagogue where Christ was rejected by his town people and then nearly driven off a cliff. We then came to the largest Christian church in the Middle East: the Basilica of the Annunciation. This church is built over the spot where the Angel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God. It was a gorgeous church. The walls were covered with paintings and mosiacs of Mary donated by countries all over the world. Each country depicted Mary uniquely and beautifully. It was a moving reminder of our universal Church.

Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation

Inside the Basilica. The grotto where St. Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary is on the left. Mass was being celebrated by a group of Koreans (I believe) in front of the grotto...yet another reminder of the universal Church!

Our next stop in Nazareth was a smaller, humble church built over the remains of Saint Joseph's workshop...it was nearby the Basilica of the Annunciation. The church is located, according to early traditions, over the carpenter workshop of the Holy Family. Later traditions identify this place as the house of Joseph and the Holy Family. I wish I could've spent all day there, just imagining what it must've looked like to see Joseph and the Child Jesus working in the workshop, to see Mary drawing water from the well, to see their holy footsteps walk those same streets that we had just trod. As I watched my little Peter play with sticks and leaves outside of Saint Joseph's workshop, I had to wonder if little Jesus toddled and played in that same spot. I'm still just trying to comprehend it all. Some things are just too big to wrap your mind around.

St. Joseph's Church
We closed our day with a trip to Cana. This is the site of Jesus' first public miracle: changing the jars of water into wine at a wedding feast. We entered the church and went to a small side chapel and prepared to celebrate Mass together. It was incredible to be able to spend time in prayer and meditation in the location of the miracle of Cana. As I reflected on this miracle, I took comfort in knowing that just like Christ cared for the newly married couple by saving them from embarrassment, He also looks after the small, seemingly insignificant details in my own life as well. I also took comfort in knowing that Mary intercedes to her Son for me constantly, just as she intereceded in this instance. What a beautiful miracle to reflect upon!

During Mass, we had the privilege of renewing our wedding vows in Cana! It was so beautiful! And so perfect! And so completely different from our first round of wedding vows almost three years ago. It was the end of a long day of touring, and Peter was done. I can't blame the kid, he had been so good all day and sitting quietly in a warm, small chapel while his parents renewed their wedding vows was just not on his agenda. So, I looked into Dan's eyes, spoke those beautiful words of love and commitment, and smiled as Peter loudly yelped, flailed, grunted, and squirmed in Dan's arms. It was unforgettable-and so perfect- because, after all, Peter is the fruit of our first wedding vows. And he definitely made his presence known during the second round! After Mass, we received a wedding certificate and a red rose from the church in Cana and drank some Cana wine (of course!).

The Church at Cana

After celebrating Mass and renewing our wedding vows, we toured the church. It was very amazing. In the basement underneath the altar are the remains of the house where the wedding was celebrated. We got to stand inside of the walls where Christ performed his first miracle! Also on display inside of the remains of the house was a large stone water jar that was discovered at this site during excavations. It is believed that this was one of the stone water jars used by Jesus in his miracle. We ended our day with some wine tasting and shopping in Cana...quite a special, busy, and wonderful day!

Behind the glass were sections of the wall from the House where Jesus performed His first miracle!

A stone jar excavated at the site of the Church...thought to be one that Christ used in His miracle.

Holy Land: Mount of the Beatitudes, Sea of Galilee, Capernum (Day 3: Morning, 31 May 2011)

Day three of our trip was filled to the brim with unforgettable sights and experiences!  We started at the Mount of the Beatitudes.  It was not hard to imagine Christ giving His sermon on the mount in this peaceful, picturesque setting.  The top of the mountain was covered with beautiful gardens and shady trees.  A grand church sat nestled in the gardens for pilgrims to visit.  The view of the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding landscape from atop the mountain was breathtaking.  Though there were many pilgrims there, it remained quiet and serene.  It was amazing to think that from the spot where we were standing, we would have been able to hear Christ's voice proclaim the Kingdom of God had we been back in time.

Next, we embarked on one of my favorite experiences on the trip: a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  As I mentioned before, the Sea of Galilee is simply mesmerizing.  The water is radiantly blue and clear.  Sailing out on the Sea of Galilee felt unreal.  It was incredible to reflect upon all of the Bible stories I've heard since childhood involving this famous sea as we floated along these holy waters.  To think that Jesus could have walked on the water or calmed the sea right where we were sailing was amazing.  After a while, the captain of the ship turned on festive Israeli music and Peter hopped off of my lap and danced joyfully. 

We recalled a passage from John 21 as we floated:
"Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.

We soon floated to the spot where Peter and the apostles spotted the Risen Jesus on the shore.  It was incredible to picture Christ standing on the shore from the perspective of Saint Peter on his boat.  I could almost hear Saint Peter splash into the Sea and swim toward our Risen Savior.  It has been said that a visit to the Holy Land brings the Bible from black and white into color.  This story will always be vivid and colorful in my mind now. 

The Church of the Primacy of Peter on the left where the Risen Christ stood on the shore and had breakfast with the Apostles.
This picture is taken from near the spot where the Apostles saw Jesus from their boat .

After docking the boat, we walked to the shore that the Risen Lord called out to His Apostles in John 21.  Here is the rest of the story:

9 So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” 11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.

15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

Resting upon this holy shore was a small church called the Church of the Primacy of Peter.  Inside of the church is a large stone, believed to be the stone that Christ shared breakfast with His apostles that morning (the Mensa Christi--"Table of Christ").  As Catholics, we celebrate the Primacy of Peter here: Christ calling Peter to be the first Pope, and the unbroken line of Popes leading our Church since the time of the Apostles.  After stopping in the church, we had a few minutes to visit the shore.  We let Peter take off his shoes and wade in the cool waters, right where his patron Saint did.  Peter happily splashed and splashed.  We had to drag him away from the shore when it was time to get back on the bus.  Our little guy cried all the way to the bus.  He could've splashed in the Sea of Galilee all day long.  Who could blame him?!

Peter splashing in the Sea of Galilee

Next stop: Capernaum.  Here we visited the ruins of the town which was Christ's "main base" for his Galilean ministry.  It is referred to as Jesus' "own city" (Matthew 9:1; Mark 2:1)  and a place where He lived (Matthew 1:13).  We got to see the ruins of Saint Peter's house (and the beautiful church built over it) where Christ healed the paralytic lowered through Peter's roof.  Many other recognizable events from Christ's ministry happened here as well:  Jesus' healing of the Centurion's servant, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law from a fever, the calling of Levi (St. Matthew) from his tax-collector's booth, the healing of the woman with hemorrhages, and the resurrecting of Jairus' daughter.  Nearby Peter's House, we visited the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus gave His Bread of Life discourse (John 6).

The late fourth cenury AD "White Synagogue"
 built upon the remains of the "Synagogue of Jesus" (the darker stones)
 where Jesus gave His Bread of Life Discourse

Saint Peter's House!

After a busy morning, we were all ready to hop in the bus and drive to lunch.  While riding in the bus, we crossed the Jordan River and viewed the Golan Heights from afar.  We also saw the cliff where the swine possessed by demons had run off after Jesus had cured the demoniacs (Matthew 8: 28-34).  We soon arrived at another kibbutz for a fresh fish lunch on the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Holy Land: Mount Carmel, Acre, & Tiberias (Day 2, 30 May 2011)

The next morning at breakfast, everyone seemed energized after a good night's sleep.  We were all ready to begin the second day of our journey.  We started north on a highway built over an ancient pilgrim trail.  Along the sides of the road were the ruins of ancient fortresses that Crusaders had built to protect pilgrims as they traveled into/through the Holy Land.  After the crusaders were driven from the Holy Land, the Muslims destroyed many of these fortresses in an effort to prevent the Crusaders from using them again should they attempt to re-conquer their lost territory.

Our destination along this ancient route was Mount Carmel.  Mount Carmel was a home of the prophet Elijah.  In the Bible, 1 Kings 18 tells of Elijah challenging 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel to prove that our God is all powerful. 

Mount Carmel is also where the first Carmelite Order was founded in the 12th century.  The Carmelites are a Catholic religious order that became extremely popular in Europe in the Middle Ages and beyond.  The Carmelites built a monastery over the cave of the prophet Elijah.  We had the opportunity to visit this beautiful church and climb down into the cave of Elijah.  Incredible!  It was unbelievable that we were visiting the site that the famous Biblical prophet Elijah lived!  The Bible was coming to life before our eyes. 

Carmelite Monastery on Mount Carmel

Dan and Peter praying in the Cave of Elijah!

As I began exiting the church, a poster with a familiar face caught my eye.  Hanging in the entrance of the church was a poster of Saint Therese of Lisieux, my very favorite Carmelite Saint.  Dan and I both have a special devotion to her and have asked for her prayers many times throughout our lives.  I grew up in Saint Therese's parish (where Dan and I were later married) and distinctly remember learning about her often in grade school and trying to imitate her virtues.  I've read many of her writings and admire her love for Christ greatly.  Before meeting me, Dan prayed several novenas (9 days of prayer) to her asking her to find him a wife.  In fact, before we left for Israel, Dan and I decided to pray a novena, asking Saint Therese to pray for the safety, success, and holiness of our trip.  Saint Therese has always felt like a close friend in our lives. 

I walked closer to get a clearer look of the poster.  The poster advertised Saint Therese's visit to the Holy Land!  Saint Therese's relics, which are normally kept in France, were "On Tour" in Israel for two months.  I quickly scanned the dates and locations of her relics.  My eyes fell on Haifa (the town we were currently in) and read May 29-31.  Saint Therese's relics were here in the same town as us!

The poster of Saint Therese we saw at Mount Carmel

What made this even more miraculous, the morning we left for Israel--right before Dan left our house to get in our car to leave for our flight--Dan remembered looking at a statue that we have of St. Therese on my dresser and thinking that St. Therese probably never had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land to see where her Lord had lived. (St. Therese lived a very short life, she joined a convent at Age 15 and tragically died of tuberculosis at Age 24...after only 24 years of life, she was holy enough to achieve sainthood and earn the honorary title "Doctor of the Church"--an honor bestowed on only 32 other persons in Church history.) Dan looked at the statue and prayerfully told her that we would go to the Holy Land for her since she was unable to go during her short life.  Through the grace of God, she had come with us on the journey of pilgrimage...not only spiritually, but physically!  She had physically come from France to visit Jesus's home WITH US!  Unbelievable.

Our tour guide did some research and discovered that the relics were being kept in a local Catholic church down the road.  Before we knew it, we were on our way to visit the relics of Saint Therese!
Saint Therese's relics were enclosed in an ornate wooden box in front of the altar.  It was incredible to visit our dear friend from Heaven and ask for her prayers.  Father spoke with the pastor of the parish and arranged for us to celebrate Mass there.  It was an incredibly joyful experience of God's providence and His unique, personal care for us!  We knew that God had heard our prayers through the intercession of Saint Therese and would bless our pilgrimage. 

The Beaudoin's and Saint Therese!
 (With rose pedals covering the clear case holding the container of her remains.) 

After celebrating Mass with St. Therese, we visited the beautifully cultivated Baha'i Persian Gardens and took in a view of the city of Haifa at the foot of Mt. Carmel.
Peter in the Baha'i Gardens. 
The Gardens were beautiful- but Peter is cuter. 

We then journeyed further north to the ancient city of Acre.  Acre was the headquarters of the crusaders after they were pushed from Jerusalem in 1187.  Many of the crusader structures are still intact in the city, including a hospital for pilgrims, a combat training courtyard for Hospitaller Knights (an order of crusader knights who fought Muslims and ran hospitals for pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land from far away), and a subterranean tunnel built by the Templar Knights (another order of crusader knights whose headquarters was located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem).  The crusaders were eventually pushed out of the city by the Muslims in a titanic battle in 1291.  Napoleon would later lay siege to this city but failed to conquer it.  Peter snoozed as we explored the knights' halls in Acre.
Catching some zzzzz's while Daddy reads up on the history of Acre

We then hopped back in the bus and headed to our hotel in Tiberias.  Our tour guide informed us that we were driving on the same route that Jesus walked as He traveled from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee!  Soon, we caught our first glance of the Sea of Galilee!  It is impossible to describe how radiantly blue the Sea of Galilee is.  It literally sparkled and glowed in the intense Israeli sunshine. 
We drove past Magdala, home of Saint Mary Magdalene, which sat right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  We were able to gaze at the clear, blue waters of Galilee and contemplate this monumental sight as we neared Tiberias.  Soon, we arrived at our hotel on the Sea of Galilee.  Several of us took the opportunity to walk along the Sea of Galilee and explore Tiberias during our free time before dinner. 

We were where Jesus was!

For more on Saint Therese of Lisieux:

For more on the traveling relics of Saint Therese in the Holy Land: http://www.jpost.com/Travel/Jerusalem/Article.aspx?id=212231

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Holy Land: Tel Aviv, Lod, & Caesarea (Day 1, 29 May 2011)

We returned home late last night from the biggest trip in our little family's history.  Not only was it the longest trip we've taken since having Peter, but it was also the most monumental and unforgettable.  We just spent eight very unforgettable days in the Holy Land.  We were joined by 12 others from our Catholic parish on base.

We started our pligrimage bright and early last Sunday morning.  Actually, it was not yet bright and very, very early when we loaded up our suitcases and our groggy little boy into the car at 1:40 am.  Leaving for trips before the sun rises always adds to the excitement and uniqueness of the day.  It also makes my head hurt a bit.  As I carried my sleepy boy to the car, I whispered "Do you want to go on an airplane today, Peter?"  He responded with an enthusiastic "ha, ha!" and never cried once.  We are blessed with such an adventurous, go-with-the-flow little guy!

We joined our group and took a shuttle bus to the airport.  We flew from Adana to Istanbul, then Istanbul to Tel Aviv.  We arrived in Israel at 9:30 am, went through the passport check and customs, and met up with our tour guide to start our day of sightseeing. 

Our first stop:  the city of Lod.  Saint George, patron saint of soldiers, lived in Lod, Israel.  We visited a beautiful church in Lod, and climbed down a staircase into a small, peaceful, dimly lit room where his tomb was.  It was amazing to think that the remains of THE St. George were in the small sarcophagus in front of us.  Icons and statues of St. George are very popular and found prevalently around the world...most of him slaying a dragon on horseback (reminiscent of a legend about the famous Roman soldier, saint, and martyr).  Standing in front of him was incredible.  We invoked his intercession for the success and morality of the United States Military.

Inside of the Church of Saint George

Saint George's Tomb

We then journeyed to the city of Jaffa where St. Peter ministered to the local populous as mentioned in the Book of Acts.  We visited a beautiful Spanish Baroque church built over the ruins of an ancient crusader structure.  The view of Tel Aviv from the church was breathtaking.

What a view!

We stopped for lunch at a kibbutz.  A kibbutz (Hebrew for "communal settlement") is a rural community of people based on joint ownership of property and agriculture.  People who live on a kibbutz live entirely on the food they produce.  Many modern day Kibbutz's have opened up restaraunts to showcase their fresh, homegrown food to tourists.  Most of our lunches on the trip were at kibbutz's.  Their food was very fresh and tasty!

Next, we drove to Caesarea Martima, an ancient city built by Herod the Great and used by Pontius Pilate as his permanent residence.  Famous Christian writers Eusebius and Origin were from this city.  While there, we explored the ruins of a Roman theater (where Pontius Pilate watched plays), a Crusader fortress (built by St. Louis), and an ancient aqueduct.  We also examined the ruins of Herod the Great's seaside palace, stood in a dusty hippodrome where chariot races took place, and meditated on the faith of St. Paul as we stood in the remains of the courtyard where he was sentenced to be judged in Rome for "inciting a riot." 

Caesarea Martima

Peter was in good spirits as he sported his new sunglasses and hat to stay cool in the warm sun.  We soaked in the beautiful view of the ancient city on the shores of the intensely blue Mediterranean Sea.  The cool breeze from the sea was so refreshing!  I had to restrain myself from diving into the cool, blue sea after a long, hot day of travel. 

Peter keeping cool in an ancient Roman theater.
 This theater is still used today.
(In the background you can see the modern part. 
The ancient part is what Peter is checking out.)

After exploring Caesarea, we drove to our hotel in Tel Aviv.  Everyone was in a daze as we unloaded our luggage, collected our room keys, and trudged to our rooms.  It had been a long, exhausting day of travel.  We got cleaned up, rested a bit, and met up again in a hotel conference room for Mass.  Mass completely rejuvenated me!  It was so good to refocus on Christ, the reason for our pilgrimage.  After Mass, we grabbed some dinner at the hotel and eagerly headed to bed.  We all slept well after such a long day!

*This blog was written by Sarah and Dan.  Dan's memory and historical knowedge is much more extensive than mine.  Plus, he's a very gifted writer.  I'm happy to co-write our Holy Land blogs with my talented husband!