Friday, July 1, 2011

Holy Land: the Visitation, a special Mass, & St. John the Baptist's Birthplace (Day 6: 3 June 2011)

On Day Six, we visited the small town of Ein Karem where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth.  I love this story.  I love how John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth's womb when Mary (carrying Christ in her womb) arrived.  I love Mary's humble prayer of praise, the Magnificat.  This Scriptural event is a beautiful reminder that we are also called to carry Christ in the "womb of our hearts" and to bring Him to others. 

The site of the Visitation was Zechariah and Elizabeth's summer home which was on the side of a large hill overlooking the town of Ein Karem.  Ein Karem is surrounded by hills, hence Luke 1:  39-40:  "During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth."  Tradition has it that after Elizabeth found she was pregnant, she left her home in the town and went up to live in her summer home for privacy during her pregnancy--since she was an older woman. 

A Church was built over the site of the summer home.  Modern concrete stairs were added to help pilgrims reach the site; we actually saw a Franciscan friar sweeping the stairs as we climbed up to the Church of the Visitation.

After climbing our way up, we stopped to admire the beautiful view of the "hill country" and the wonderful Church of the Visitation .  Displayed on a wall near the church was Mary's prayer, the Magnificat, in many different languages.  Yet another beautiful example of our universal Church.  Inside of the Church of the Visitation was a well, most likely used by Elizabeth and Zechariah. 

The view of the "hill country" from the Church of the Visitation

The Church of the Visitation

Mary's Prayer, the Magnificat

The upper level of the Church of the Visitation was another church, honoring the heroic women of the Bible.  This gorgeous church was ornately decorated with paintings of Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ruth, and Rachel (just to name a few!) on the walls.  The sunlight streaming in from the large windows illuminated the detailed artwork.  Even the heavy iron doors were beautifully carved with a scene from the Visitation.

A painting of the Visitation inside the lower chapel

Beautifully carved iron doors

Our next stop was Yad Vashem where we visited Israel's Holocaust Museum.  It was a very powerful, moving experience.

Next, we went back to Ein Karem to visit the home of Blessed Marie Alphonsine near the Church of the Visitation.  Blessed Marie lived from 1843-1927 and was the co-founder of The Congregation of the Rosary Sisters.  She was beatified in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.  A sister welcomed us into the small, humble convent where she lived.  We visited Blessed Marie's room and then had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in this holy woman's home!  What a blessing!

Bedroom of Blessed Marie Alphonsine

The last stop of the day was Saint John the Baptist's birthplace in Ein Karem.  It is thought that this church was built over the normal home of Elizabeth and Zachariah.  We walked through the breathtaking church across the mosaic tiled floors to a cave near the altar.  This cave is believed to be the site of Saint John the Baptist's birth!

Saint John the Baptist Church

Site of Saint John the Baptist's Birth

After seeing this incredible site, we went back to the hotel and prepared for our last day of site seeing in Jerusalem...