A Personal Reflection: Scriptures come alive on trip to the Holy Land
By Christian R. González
Catholic Spirit Staff
We have all heard the old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes, right? Try walking 40 miles in their country. As a guest of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, I, along with five other Catholic journalists from the U.S., was treated to six days of pilgrimage and sightseeing in the Holy Land. It was the trip of a lifetime and I learned a lot about Jewish culture and history.
Every Catholic –– every Christian –– should visit the Holy Land. But since that’s not a possibility, I went on a true pilgrimage not to see it just for me but to experience it for all those I know who will most likely never get the chance to go –– my parents, family and friends. I tried to soak in the details of each place we visited and between my phone and camera took more than 2,000 pictures. Like Mary, I tried to store these treasures in my heart and I now understand what the early followers of Christ said after their walk to Emmaus, “Were not our hearts burning [within us]?”
There’s far more to Israel than what we see on the news, and far too much to see in the six days we were there. The places we visited were clean and safe and we did not witness any violence or military action. The Ministry of Tourism set us up with an English-speaking guide and our own driver, but we did a fair amount of walking.
We went on a driving tour of Tel Aviv to Old Jaffa and saw the ruins of the ancient seaport, a Roman theater and the place where Paul appealed to Caesar. We crossed the Jezreel Valley to Nazareth and saw the place where Gabriel spoke to Mary.
Later we went to the Mount of Precipice, which is where the crowd tried to throw Jesus from in attempt to kill him. From this vantage point we could see Mount Tabor, the place of the Transfiguration. We finished the night in Haifa and stayed in a hotel atop Mount Carmel.
The next day we quickly visited the symmetrical B’hai Shrine and Gardens –– their beauty was stunning. On we went to Akko (Acre) an ancient castle that was conquered numerous times throughout history. We rounded the Sea of Galilee and went up to the Mount of Beatitudes. A church, at the top of the mount, is surrounded by beautiful gardens. There, overlooking the sea, I read the Beatitudes in the spot where Christ once spoke them. This was a particularly emotional experience. As I read, I could feel the wind and hear the birds and I felt a tranquility that I’ve never felt before and I long to feel again.
We moved on to Capernaum and saw the house of Peter and looked at the ruins of a village Jesus would have seen with his own eyes. We also saw a fishing boat preserved from the time of Jesus. While the boat was a wonder to behold, I was fascinated by the display of items found with it –– clay pots and common Roman iron nails –– the kind that would have been used for crucifixions.
The next day we watched pilgrims be baptized in the Jordan River and we renewed our baptismal promises. We went to the top of Masada, and then we “floated” in the Dead Sea –– the lowest place on earth.
We could not go to the Mount of Olives for security reasons, so instead we went to Mount Scopus to get a panoramic view of the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane and the gates of Jerusalem. We visited a church built over the rock where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We prayed at the Western Wall or “Wailing Wall” where I inserted my own written prayers into the crevices between the rocks. One day those papers will be removed and buried with millions of others on the Mount of Olives.
On a tour that took us underground to see the excavation of the Wall, we touched the stones that were closest to the Holy of Holies. We walked part of the Via Dolorosa stopping to place our hands into an imprint in a wall stone that Jesus used to steady himself while carrying the cross.
It all culminated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where I touched the spot where the cross went into the ground and prayed at the stone slab where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. I prayed long and hard at the rock that held the body of our savior who died for all of our sins. After a Mass in Portuguese with very charismatic Brazilians, we were able to quickly touch the place where Jesus was buried.
The next morning we went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and a museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls followed by a visit to a massive model of Jerusalem from the time of Christ. Then we visited the Church of the Dormition where Mary went into sleep, David’s tomb and the room of the Last Supper.
Our Israeli guides helped us arrange a tour into Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem, where they were not allowed to go. We were cautious crossing the “border” because we did not know what to expect. After splitting up into two groups with drivers we had never met, we reunited and met our guide who showed us the Church of the Nativity.
We all had a chance to reach down under the altar and touch the spot where Jesus was born. Our guide was able to clear out everyone from the very cramped room except our group, and we stood in awe of the sanctity of the place. We went up to the main church and saw the statue of the Baby Jesus that is taken out and venerated at Christmas time. We visited the place where St. Joseph slept and the place where the Holy Innocents were said to have been buried.
This trip brought the Scriptures to life: we drove by the Valley of Death –– mentioned in Psalm 23 and I saw and touched things Jesus did. This trip was a blessing in my life and to those around me. Over time, the fruits of this experience will manifest themselves in ways only the Holy Spirit can give.
Christian R. González has served as the diocesan Communications Director since 2007. He and his family are parishioners of Santa Cruz Parish in Buda.