Itinerary by Ann Vucic with my edits (Click on the links for images)*This is incomplete; I'll be adding more personal anecdotes in the weeks to follow.*
Day 1: Monday, May 4
Depart USA for Tel Aviv, via Madrid. For those of us flying from Chicago, we flew aboard a plane called the “Teresa de Avila."
A good omen for the beginning of our pilgrimage.
Day 2: Tuesday, May 5
Arrive Tel Aviv. Our local guide, Fr. David Wathen, OFM greets us at the airport. We travel together from Ben Gurion Airport to the northern part of Israel. On the way we took a detour on a dirt road due to road issues. Arrived at Mount of Beatitudes Guest House in late evening, had dinner and checked in.
For those who had some energy left after the long journey, Fr. Jim Livingston, our spiritual director, celebrated Mass in the Guest House chapel.
Day 3: Wednesday, May 6
After breakfast, we went to our first site, the shrine of the Primacy of Peter. It was a simple little church, right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, with a large rock inside of the church, with the words “Mensa Christi” (which means: table of Christ) written on it. This site is the setting for a few significant Gospel stories. It is a post-resurrection site, where Jesus prepared a meal for His apostles on a rock, while they were fishing on the Sea. It is also where Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” (in response to his having denied Jesus three times) and where Peter was instructed to feed the Lord’s sheep, establishing his primary role among the apostles, hence the title “Primacy of Peter” for this shrine. We had Mass at an outdoor altar, with a backdrop of a mosaic of Pope John Paul II. After Mass, we had some free time to spend along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
After that, we drove to the Golan Heights, in the northeast part of Israel, to visit Caesarea Philippi. This site is now an Israeli National Park. It includes the Banias Springs and the ancient pagan Temple of Pan. Jesus used the natural land formations here as a teaching tool. There is a HUGE rock there, and a deep cave, and the ancients used to believe that caves were the gates to the netherworld. It was at this site that Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?” And when Peter responded with the truth of Jesus’ identity, Jesus said to him: “you are rock and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It was here that Peter was established as the first Pope. There is also a spring at this site, and it is one of the 3 sources of water that together create the Jordan River.
Near Caesarea Philippi we had lunch at a local little “fast food” place run by a Druze family. As Fr. David explained to us, the Druze are a secretive, tightly-knit religious sect, and are an offshoot of Islam. They believe that God became incarnate in the form of their leader, al-Hakim bi-Amrih Alla. The Druze do not have their own homeland, so many of them migrated to the isolated mountains of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, while others settled throughout the Middle East.
After lunch we drove to a lookout point where you could see the country of Syria, and along the way, we recalled the story of the conversion of Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus (Syria).
Then we returned to the Sea of Galilee area and went to Bethsaida, where three of the apostles were born. There were many ruins in Bethsaida, but no church. We sat down on some rocks and listened to Fr. David speak about this site.
Our final stop of the day was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where we recalled the stories about Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Then our boat crew entertained us with some Israeli songs.
Returned to Mount of Beatitudes for dinner. After dinner, we had a “beginning of pilgrimage meeting” so that we could introduce ourselves to each other and share a little bit about ourselves with one another.
Day 4: Thursday, May 7
Began our day in Cana of Galilee. It is the site where Jesus performed his first miracle when He attended the wedding feast. He changed the water into wine at the request of His mother Mary. The married couples in our group renewed their wedding vows.
After Cana we drove a short distance to Nazareth, to the Basilica of the Annunciation. It is where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child. We had Mass in front of the grotto of the annunciation, where it is believed that this event took place. Mass ended right at noon, so we took the opportunity to pray the Angelus together!
After Mass we walked a short distance across the courtyard, to the Church of St. Joseph, the site where it is believed that the Holy Family lived. We listened to some priests and sisters singing beautiful music in French, while we were waiting for them to finish their prayer time in the main chapel. It was a place where many in our group were able to write out prayer petitions and drop them through a grate in the ground, to the actual site below.
Lunch was at a restaurant in a kibbutz.
After lunch we drove to Mount Tabor, the site where the transfiguration of Our Lord happened. We spent some time inside the church and then Fr. David took us to a lookout point and pointed out some places where significant Biblical stories took place.
We returned to Mount of Beatitudes around 4:00 pm and had a few hours free time to just relax before dinner.
After dinner, a large group of us hung out in the sitting room near the dining room.
Day 5: Friday, May 8
Began our day with an outdoor Mass in a beautiful setting, right on the waters edge in Capernaum and then spent about 3 hours there. Capernaum was the home of Peter, and also the home of Jesus. It was in the synagogue that Jesus preached His Bread of Life discourse (John 6). Many other events in the life of Jesus happened in this town. Fr. David held his own discourse for us and answered many questions. Very relaxing, leisurely morning.
Next we went to Tabgha, to the church that commemorates the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. It is a simple little church that has the famous mosaic on the floor under the altar. It was the place where the woman was setting up a little fish pond in the courtyard, and was putting the fish into it while we were there. We stayed there only a brief time.
Lunch was at the restaurant where we were offered the St. Peter’s fish for lunch.
After lunch we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, to the Jordan River, where we renewed our baptismal vows.
We got back to Mount of Beatitudes around 4:00 pm, and had a few hours of free time before dinner.
After dinner, Fr. Jim led us in a healing service in the chapel. After the healing service, a large group of us hung out, first outside, then in the lobby for a few hours.
Day 6: Saturday, May 9
Our day began with Mass at the outdoor altar at the Mount of Beatitudes. After that, we checked out of the Guest House and began our journey down to Jerusalem.
We first went to the Mount of Temptation. We had to take the cable car up from Jericho to the Greek Orthodox Monastery at the top. In the monastery is the cave where it is believed that Jesus lived and slept while He was put to the test by Satan.
Lunch was at the Mount of Temptation restaurant in Jericho.
Then we drove through Jericho to see a Sycamore Tree, which reminds us of the story of Zaccheus climbing the Sycamore Tree in order to be able to see Jesus.
After that we drove to the Dead Sea and spent about an hour there.
After our visit to the Dead Sea, we continued our drive through the Judean desert, to Jerusalem, checked in to the Grand Court Hotel, and went to dinner.
Some of the group hung out together that evening in that cold meeting room that was just off of the reception desk.
Day 7: Sunday, May 10
We began our day at the Mount of Olives. First we visited the Chapel of the Ascension of the Lord, which is now under Moslem control and is actually a Mosque. There is an indentation on a stone slab on the ground that legend claims is the footprint of Jesus as He ascended to heaven.
Next we walked down to the Church of Dominus Flevit (which means “the Lord wept”). This site commemorates where Jesus
looked upon Jerusalem and wept. The little chapel at this site is built in the shape of a teardrop, but we were not able to go inside because another group was having Mass while we were there. From a lookout point just in front of the church, Fr. David pointed out the way that Jesus walked during His passion. Jesus began on Mount Zion (from where we were standing, Mount Zion was at the top of the hill across the valley, and to the left of the Old City), where he celebrated the Last Supper in the Upper Room, then He crossed the Kidron Valley to come to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He was arrested. The Kidron Valley is that little valley where the Papal venue was set up for the Mass in Jerusalem. From our vantage point at Dominus Flevit, Gethsemane was just below us. Next Jesus was taken to Caiaphas’s house, back across the Kidron Valley. This is the place we went to with Jimmy, the guide who replaced Fr. David. It was where we saw the dungeon that Jesus would likely have been kept overnight, and where we saw the Holy Stairs. From Caiaphas’s house, Jesus was brought into the Old City where He was brought before Pilate, and
then Pilate sent Him back to Caiaphas’s house, where He was kept overnight in the dungeon that we saw later. And then finally on Friday, Jesus was brought to the place where He began His Via Dolorosa – His Stations of the Cross, that led Him to Calvary now located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We could see this entire path very clearly from where we were standing, at the Church of Dominus Flevit.
Next we walked the “Palm Sunday Road”, down to the Garden of Gethsemane. We took our group picture at this site, right in front of the grove of olive trees. Those olive trees are over 2,000 years old and are sometimes referred to as the “silent witnesses” of Christ's passion, since they were there when He suffered His agony in the garden. The church at Gethsemane is called the Church of All Nations, because many different countries contributed to its construction. It is also sometimes called the church of the Rock of Agony, because right in front of the main altar is the rock that it is believed that Jesus suffered His agony upon.
We then proceeded further down the Palm Sunday road, to the Tomb of Mary. It is believed that she died at the site of Dormition Abbey, across the Kidron Valley, on Mount Zion, but that her body was brought to this site for burial, and then from this site, she was assumed into heaven. To get to the Tomb of Mary, we descended down a long and wide staircase, to a darkened crypt area below, that contained the final resting place of the Mother of God.
Right next door to the Tomb of Mary, is a cave, called the Grotto of Gethsemane (the place where the apostles were a “stone’s throw away” from Jesus when he was suffering His agony in the garden). This cave was a regular meeting place for the apostles and Jesus when they were in Jerusalem, so it was natural that they went there on the night of the Last Supper. This grotto is also called the Grotto of Betrayal, because it is where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. It was in this cave that Jesus was arrested. We celebrated Mass at this site.
In the afternoon we drove to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, through an Israeli checkpoint. First we had lunch at Ruth’s Restaurant, and then we went shopping at a pre-arranged store, Boaz's Field.
After shopping we went to Shepherd’s Field, right next door to the shop. Shepherd’s Field commemorates the place where the Angel appeared to the shepherds and announced to them the birth of the Christ Child.
Then we went to the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born. First we stood in line to enter the lower level grotto, where we were able to venerate the place where Jesus was born, which is marked by a silver star underneath an altar. Then we visited the church that is right next door (under the same roof), called St. Catherine’s, which is the Catholic parish of Bethlehem. It is from St. Catherine’s that Midnight Mass in Bethlehem is televised on Christmas Eve.
Next we went downstairs, underneath St.Catherine’s and the Church of the Nativity, to several grotto’s, the most important being the grotto of St. Jerome, where St. Jerome lived for many years and where he translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin (called the Vulgate).
We left the West Bank and returned to Jerusalem. That evening, after dinner, we had a private holy hour in the Church of All Nations, at the Rock of Agony, with the church all to ourselves.
Day 8: Monday, May 11
Due to uncertainty about the Holy Father’s schedule and how it would impact our ability to get around Jerusalem in the coming days, Fr. David decided that we would spend the entire day walking through and around the Old City of Jerusalem (which normally would not be done all in one day).
We began the day very early (7:30 departure from hotel), and went first to the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, as it is also sometimes called. The wall is the most sacred site in the world for Jews, because it is the only remaining part of their ancient (Solomon's) Temple that still exists. The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 A.D., and the site where it stood has been occupied by a Moslem shrine (the famous golden-domed structure), called the Dome of the Rock, since the late 7th century. It is called the Dome of the Rock because the shrine is built over a very large rock. For Jews this rock is sacred because they believe it is the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Mt. Moriah), which was the reason that the Jewish people built their temple here. For Moslems this rock is sacred because they believe that it was from this rock that Mohammad made his “night journey” to heaven. Jews call this site “the Temple Mount”, and Moslems call it “Haram al Sharif”, meaning “the Noble Sanctuary”.
Next we walked to the Lion’s gate, also known as St. Stephen’s gate, to the Church of St. Anne, the site where parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary lived and where Mary was born. We venerated a cave in a little crypt area below the main church as the site where this event occurred, and then when we came back upstairs, we were greeted by the beautiful sounds of a group of Nigerian pilgrims singing "How Great Thou Art," in their native tongue. Right next to the church of St. Anne is the Pool of Bethesda, a site where some Gospel events occurred.
We then proceeded to the Chapel of Flagellation, where we were given a cross to carry, so that we could begin our Via Dolorosa, our own Stations of the Cross through the very crowded streets of Jerusalem. We meandered through the streets of the Old City, following the path that Jesus walked on His way to His crucifixion, and we concluded our journey at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where we visited the site of Calvary, the slab where His body was anointed when it was taken down from the cross, the tomb where He was laid…and rose from the dead! We also visited a few additional side chapels at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We descended down a few flights of stairs to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, where St. Helena found the True Cross. We visited the Chapel of Adam, which lies just below Calvary, and where you can see the rock of Calvary split in two, as was described in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.
We then had lunch at an outdoor restaurant in the Old City, not far from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
After lunch, we walked through the Jewish quarter of the Old City, to reach Zion’s Gate, which we went through to get to Mount Zion. On Mount Zion we first went to the site of the Upper Room, where Polish people from the movement Neocatechumenal Way were singing! They seemed to be following us wherever we went which I did not mind because their language and singing is so beautiful. We moved to an outdoor area to listen to Fr. David speak to us about the Upper Room.
Next we had Mass at the Franciscan chapel in honor of the Blessed Sacrament (the place where we sat around in the enclosed garden area for about 30 minutes before Mass). As Fr. David explained to us, the Franciscans used to be the custodians of the actual Upper Room, but it was taken away from them 500 years ago. Because they did not have access to the Upper Room, they built this little chapel next door to as a place where they could commemorate the events that happened in the Upper Room.
(A side note: the Franciscans have been in intense negotiations with the State of Israel for quite a while now, in an effort to re-acquire ownership of the Upper Room)
After Mass, we walked over to Dormition Abbey, the traditional site where it is believed that the Virgin Mary “fell asleep”. The central focus of the Abbey is the statue of Mary lying down in her final resting position. After this, our final stop of the day, we walked the long way back to the bus, circling around the outside of the huge walls of the Old City.
Day 9: Tuesday, May 12
After a very exhausting Monday, we were more leisurely this day. The morning began with a drive to Ein Kerim, where Zacharias, Elizabeth and John lived. First we visited the Church of the Visitation, where Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and where Mary spoke those famous words of the Magnificat ("My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…"). These words are written on many different languages, on tiles that adorn the courtyard of the church. We visited both the lower church and the upper church. Then we walked back down the hill to visit the Church of St. John the Baptist, where we were able to venerate the place where John the Baptist was born, marked with a star underneath a small altar, to the left of the main sanctuary space.
We had lunch in the garden area of a Lebanese restaurant in Ein Kerim. We spent about 4 hours in Ein Kerim.
From Ein Kerim (west of Jerusalem), we drove to Bethany (east of Jerusalem), the town that Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in and that Jesus frequently visited. Bethany is in the West Bank (though we did not need passports to get in and out of this part of the West Bank, as we did in Bethlehem). Bethany actually lies just on the other side of the Mount of Olives, about a mile or two from the site of Jesus’ Ascension, but there is now a wall that divides it. We had Mass at the church in Bethany. After Mass, we walked up the road a little way, to the site of Lazarus’s tomb, and we descended down into it. As we returned to the bus, there was a man with a camel waiting there for us, and so some of our pilgrims rode the camel. After that, we returned to Jerusalem for dinner.
Before dinner, some of the group decided to walk to where the Holy Father’s Mass was going to be. The group got as far as Lion’s Gate (also called St. Stephen’s Gate). The gate was blocked off, with Israeli soldiers stationed there. We were told that there was no way to get to the Papal Mass at that point, and no amount of begging changed that!
So the group decided to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in hopes of being able to spend more quality time there. When we were there the day before, it was packed with pilgrims, so we were not able to go into the tomb, or touch the rock of Calvary. It was much quieter this evening and we were able to do all those things. Then we walked back to the hotel for dinner.
Day 10: Wednesday, May 13
We drove to Emmaus (Nicopolis) in the morning. Fr. David explained to us that there are three different possible sites for the story of the encounter between Jesus and His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and this was one of the possible sites. We had Mass at the beautiful little chapel at this site.
We returned to the hotel after this visit, and then we had to say goodbye to Fr. David. For lunch we split into two different groups. One group went to a pizza place close to the hotel, and the other group went to an outdoor restaurant located in the American Colony hotel, near our hotel.
In the afternoon, our new guide Jimmy joined us for the afternoon. First we drove to St. Peter Gallicantu. Gallicantu means the crowing of the cock, and it is called that because it is the site where Peter betrayed Jesus. St. Peter Gallicantu is believed to be location of the house of Caiaphas, and it is believed that Jesus was held here overnight in Caiaphas’ dungeon. We were able to see that dungeon, well intact. We also visited the “Holy Stairs”. These stairs date to well before Jesus’ time, and they were a main route through the city, so, as Jimmy put, “we are not 100% certain that Jesus walked on these stairs, we are 1000% certain that He did." We had to drive a roundabout route to get to St. Peter Gallicantu because the direct roads were still closed due to the Pope’s presence. Because we drove this route, Jimmy was able to point out a few places of Gospel significance that we passed along that route. First he showed us the plot of land that Judas purchased for the 30 pieces of silver that he was given to betray Jesus. It is also believed to be the place where Judas hanged himself after his action. He also pointed out to us the Pool of Salome, where Jesus sent the blind man to wash his eyes in, after he smeared a mixture of mud and spit on his eyes. After St.Peter Gallicantu, we drove over to the Mount of Olives, to visit the Church of the Pater Noster, which commemorates Jesus’teaching His disciples to pray the Our Father. There were over 100 large ceramic plaques with the words of the Our Father written in different languages adorning the walls. Then we returned to the hotel.
After dinner, we met in the courtyard area of our hotel for an end of the pilgrimage meeting, where we shared about our experiences on this pilgrimage.
Day 11: Thursday, May 14
Morning and Afternoon
Free time to do whatever we wanted.
In the late afternoon, we met at the Franciscan Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, on Mount Zion, for our last Mass before departure.
After Mass, we went to the Christmas Hotel for a farewell dinner.
After that, some of the group decided to go to Ben Yehuda Street, partly to check out where the Israeli young people hang out in the evenings, and partly to stay awake for our very early morning departure for the airport.
Day 12: Friday, May 15
Departed Jerusalem at about 2:00 am for our long journey back home.