(Associates Elaine and John Wood, of Barlow, Ky., traveled to the Holy Land with a church group led by Father Greg Trawick in February 2019. This is an account of the highlights.)
“Overwhelmed! You are kidding me!” That’s not what I pictured at all!” You would have to come and spend a lot of time with us to tell you about everything we saw and experienced or book a pilgrimage and experience it for yourselves. Father Greg’s bunch was amazing!
Our guide for the trip was named Sam, a Roman Catholic, and believe it or not was born and raised in Bethlehem! Who better to show us Jesus’ footsteps?
One of the best experiences for me was the day we visited Capernaum. Talk about walking in Jesus’ footsteps! We were actually sitting in the center of a town where Jesus spent his adult life, where he talked to the apostles, where he preached in the temple, where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
I looked down expecting to see the imprint of his feet next to mine. Sitting in the courtyard, we could see the temple, huge columns, no ceiling, no roof, no pews, a center square for those who read the Word of God. In front of the temple just a few feet away is what is believed to be the dwelling of Peter’s mother-in-law. Keep turning to the right and there is the Sea of Galilee! There is a large bronze statue of Peter, but it pales in comparison to the beautiful, blue sea where Jesus and his friends bathed, fished, cooked fish on the shore and talked about the Father.
We boarded a large wooden boat, similar to the one that Peter might have used to fish. As we set out a very surprising thing happened. The American flag was raised, our National Anthem music led us to sing. There was not a dry eye. Here in this place of conflict and war there is peace! The engines were cut, no noise, and Sam asked us to close our eyes. He began to read scripture where the apostles cried out in fear because the storm was so great. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, coming toward the boat. He is saved! He believes! He begins to walk toward his teacher, his brother, his friend, and then starts to sink. But Jesus takes his hand, and all is well. I experienced a realization. This is life to me. I’m a Peter.
As we left the Sea of Galilee, I kept watching the water and – oh no! – there was a bass boat. That should not be there! There were many instances like this on our pilgrimage where I allowed myself to be in the scripture and was shocked to see 2019 in that scene. The highways are smooth and marked well. There are beautiful churches, paintings, domes and spires. There were tens of thousands of people, mostly young who streamed through the buildings. But it was the quiet personal places that touched me the most. The caves where Father Greg said Mass just for our group and the renewal of our vows.
Entering the tomb of Lazarus was surprising! Across the dusty narrow street from the entrance were leather, jewelry, souvenir and spice shops. We went down C shaped steps and putting my feet through the very small hole first, I slid through on my back with the help of others. Inside the circular, small room were three 30-inch oval holes in the walls. One for Lazarus, one for Mary and one for Martha. Getting out is not easy either.
The Jordan River was very muddy and narrow. We gathered at a place believed to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. There were several groups, each in their own language, singing and walking in the water. Across the opposite shore were also people being baptized and praying. Behind them were armed military guards.
Upon our return, Elaine’s sister asked her, “How do you know these places you visited are actually where these special events happened or, are they are just tourist attractions?” Yes, they are real.
Constantine, a Roman Emperor, allowed his mother, Helena, to build churches where these holy sites existed. Saint Helena talked to the Christians who w
orshiped at the holy sites, thus learning the exact place to remove the sand that covered the sites and build the beautiful churches.
As we read the New Testament every morning, we could actually put ourselves where Jesus gave the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, where the shepherds gathered their flock by night, where Jesus was lowered into a hole to wait the night before his crucifixion.
The Wailing Wall in Old City Jerusalem had a big effect on John. For centuries people wrote their prayer requests on the wall. This is no longer permitted. However, one is encouraged to write names and prayer requests on a small piece of paper and insert it in the cracks in the wall. On one of John’s scraps of paper he wrote: “For the Ursuline Sisters and Associates of Mount Saint Joseph prayer requests.”
“Placing my hand on the wall while praying for Ursuline Sisters and Associates, I could feel a sense of everyone beside me,” John said.
This was indeed an experience of a lifetime – one that can be brought back to life throughout the year by reading the daily scriptures.