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

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