St. Christopher’s Catholic Parish aims to be alive in Faith and Love, a welcoming community in which each member is co-responsible for ‘being Church’ to all in their daily lives.
27 April – 15 May 2014
“32 in a happy, holy, singing and praying bus to the Holy Land”
Our pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and Palestine was a dream realised. It was organized by Scenic Travel from Singapore in conjunction with our parish leaders of St Christopher’s parish, Syndal. We walked in the footsteps of Jesus, had fantastic guides, drivers and enjoyed the love, care and fun that we had with each other.
In front of the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted after 40 days of prayer and fasting
“Yella, yella”, “shake a leg” were constant cries to get out of the bus and experience the places where Jesus lived, poured himself out for us and walked up and down tracks and steps. We realized the distances Jesus and the early disciples walked to preach and heal the crowds in every town and village. We went by bus.
Mass every day, in the very places where Jesus was, brought the place and the Gospels alive for us. The word “Here” in the Mass texts and in plaques made Jesus’ mystery and ministry very real for us. To return to four-star accommodation was a welcome end to each busy day.
Riding a camel in the desert
The pilgrimage was well planned, giving us a mix of history and culture, archeology and scripture, leading us to the ever-present awareness of Jesus. We had to pinch ourselves that we were really here. Our two Catholic guides, one from Jordan and one in Palestine and our two Jewish guides enabled us to see so much that will take time to process.
Posing with Israeli military recruits at Masada
They were passionate about their countries so we saw both sides of the tension from the border crossings to the Golan Heights. We prayed constantly for peace and for Pope Francis’ visit on May 24th. Pope Paul VI upon his election as pope went to Jordan, Israel and Palestine in 1964. Hence the 50th anniversary visit of Pope Francis at a critical time.
In the River Jordan
Arriving by plane to Amman, capital of Jordan, home to thousands of Palestinian refugees overlooked by a temple to Hercules, our guide was Hisham, a Jordanian Catholic. This was a constant feature: the changing of guides and drivers when in Jewish or Palestinian /Jordan parts of the country. We continued the Jordanian part of the pilgrimage to Madaba where there was a Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land from the 6th century in the Orthodox Church of St George.
The next day was spent in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra, an ancient Nabatean city carved out of the rock, and a key post of the silk road linking China, India and trade cities of the Mediterranean. After walking about 4 kilometers through a gorge, we suddenly saw it. Others of our group came on a carriage for three, driven at breakneck speed. There were many buildings carved out of the mountain, including Churches and a monastery up on the mountain, reached by 400 or 800 steps. An old man and his grand-daughter sang a hymn in one of the empty churches.
Bedouin musician in Petra
We had a meal in a bedouin desert camp called Wadi Rum where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. The narrow guage railway built by the Kaiser for the Ottoman Empire was nearby. We got to the camp on the back of jeeps and had an experience of desert sands and a taste of Bedouin hospitality. Then on to Mt Nebo where Moses saw the Promised land. We remembered the words of Martin Luther King, “I have been to the mountain and seen the other side, but I won’t get there…” This place made a deep impression on a number of us.
At Herod’s palace in Masada where Jews made their last stand against the Romans during their rebellion
Down to Aqaba where we went by camel to meet Abraham, to hear the recounting of his journey from Ur and be treated to nomadic hospitality, and then crossing into Israel at Eilat with a Jewish guide and bus driver. From here we visited Masada, Herod the Great’s fortress by cable car, the scene also of the last stand of 960 men, women and children Zealots who killed themselves rather than fall into the hands of the 10,000 Roman army in 73 AD who after three years’ construction were approaching them on a colossal ramp. We proceeded to Jericho and the Mount of Temptation and were met by a biblical scene of two flocks of sheep led by their shepherds through the town.
We checked in at the Jacir Palace in Bethlehem, Palestine, changed guides had Mass in St Catherine’s church, visited the Church of the Nativity built by the Crusaders over the earlier church that Helena, Constantine’s mother, built over many sacred sites after the Edict of 313. The Persians destroyed these Byzantine churches in 600, the Crusaders rebuilt the places in the 11th century. The Franciscans have had the custody of the sites for 800 years, have rebuilt churches under the guidance of a brilliant Italian architect, Berlucci, and are now engaged in constant maintenance. We met a Fr Abrahim who runs an orphanage, a seminary and a parish. He talked to us about the situation of Palestinian Catholics who receive $50,000 annually from the Good Friday Appeal for the Holy places. He asked three things of us to promote prayer for peace, pilgrimage and projects that could help them.
We went to the Milk Grotto where tradition has it that Mary Feeding baby Jesus, spilt a drop of breast milk and it turned a rock white. While we were there we heard the Carmelite nuns praying the Office. Then we went on to the Shepherds Field approached through a nice tree shaded field to a church telling the story of the shepherds, hearing and telling the good news.
Celebrating Mass at the garden where Peter denied Jesus
We drove to the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. The churches were in use by various groups, so we said Mass in the Garden at Gethsemane. Later we returned to have a Holy Hour, joined by another Australian group of pilgrims, the muezzin sounding the Muslim call to prayer. Some places were being prepared for Pope Francis’ visit so we couldn’t go in, but we visited the church where Peter denied Jesus. As we said Mass a cock crowed. We spent three days in Jerusalem, leading the stations of the cross and taking turns to carry it – it was very moving because we had time to reflect and pray. During it a little girl ran up, touched our cross and made the sign of the cross.
Fr Pat putting his rosary on the stone where Jesus’ body was laid and anointed with oil
It led to the Sepulchre crowded with people. Time was limited and we moved on in faith despite the human elements. We knelt where Jesus died on the cross and put our hands to feel the rock, prayed where Jesus was hurriedly anointed on a nearby slab and placing rosaries or a cloth to touch it. We visited the Cenacle and prayed there, then moved on to the Church of the Visitation which we had to ourselves, time to pray the rosary. Our Jewish guide took us to the Holocaust Museum and to a memorial for children in complete darkness lit by five candles which were infinitely reflected by mirrors while the names of the children were spoken, and to a model of the second temple.
On Day 12 we came to Abu Gosh, Emmaus, to St Peter’ Church in Joppa where St Peter had a vision preparing him for meeting with Gentiles and the conversion of the centurion Cornelius at Caesarea, seat of the Roman governor. One stone in Caesarea bore the name Pontius Pilate. It had a hippodrome for chariot races and an amphitheatre. We ate there, and then visited the Carmelite monastery of St Elijah on Mt Carmel.
Renewing marriage vows at Cana
From there we went to Nazareth, the city of Jesus’ childhood and youth. Visited the church of the Annunciation, then on to Cana of Galilee where our married pilgrims renewed their wedding vows and drank the special wine of Cana. On day 15 we went to the mount of the Beatitudes, had Mass outside. God was so good to us, we only had rain at Cana when we were inside.
Celebrating Mass at the Mount of Beatitudes
We went to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked “Who do you say I am” leading to Peter’s confession of faith, said Mass at the church of the Primacy of Peter where Pope Paul VI had come in 1964. We visited the Golan Heights and could hear the gunfire in nearby Syria only a kilometer away, then on to Tiberius from where we launched out on to the sea of Galilee. A most beautiful spot, no wonder Jesus loved it. We sang and danced on the boat. Our bus took us to Mt Tabor and then vans drove us to the very top along winding roads. Here was the Church of the Transfiguration designed by Berlucci in such a way that light through a rose window would light up the face of Jesus on August 6th.
Dancing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee
We crossed back into Jordan to Gerasa a well-preserved Greco-Roman city where we heard bagpipes in an amphitheatre and orations by members of our group. We had a fun time at the Dead Sea, floating and covered with mud and then on to Amman for the journey home. It was a well-planned pilgrimage with real time to pray, share, be anointed, shop, take photos, eat and sleep. We have gained so much that has and will change our lives. It was a fantastic opportunity, a spiritual journey for all of us. We have taken great photos and hope to share them with you here on our parish website very soon.
- Fr Pat