Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Retracing the footsteps of Christ (Part 1)

We had the privilege of undertaking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from 09 to 20 October 2009. It was unexpectedly very hot weather, and it was just an approximation of what summer heat is.
We started our pilgrimage first to the land of exile of the Holy Family, Egypt. In Cairo, we were able to go to the more famous pyramids and the Sphinx. These were wonders to behold, man-made and were magnificent. Paradox that we were told by our Egyptian guide who informed us that once a Pharaoh assumed the throne, he was already preparing his grave and this was the pyramid. And their belief all the images that were included in the tomb would come alive in the next life. And hence, statues of the favorite things the Pharaoh wanted were included, and of course, there were statues of slaves so that in the after-life, the Pharaoh would still have slaves serving him. It was very interesting; they went out of their way and took pains to prepare for the after-life, at least, in the manner they thought it best to prepare.
Our Egyptian guide also commented how Egypt is so rich with natural resources but that only 25% of the population benefit from the 75% of the resources while 75% of the population benefit from the mere 25% of the resources. Sounds too familiar, isn’t it? And guess, what is the proposed solution of the government to this misdistribution of wealth? Curb the population. Now that’s very familiar!
One evening which was a Saturday, we had our dinner cruise along the Nile River. As our guide pointed out, it was not the cruise that was the highlight but was the Nile River itself. That Egypt and surrounding areas survive and even flourish only because of the Nile River.
The next morning we proceeded to Mt. Sinai. No we didn’t dare to hike the Mountain, it is supposed to be an arduous four-hour early morning trek, as in early morning, 2:00 am. Well, our group opted to sleep further and to celebrate Mass in the morning. We then proceeded to St. Catherine of Alexandria Monastery which is at the foot of Mt. Sinai. There, with the usual dry hot weather, we walked a short distance towards the Monastery. No there were no more monks. There is an Orthodox Church instead. Inside the compound is the fire bush, the burning bush through which the Lord spoke to Moses. Yes, it’s still an alive bush. And Filipinos as we are, some of us tried to have some souvenirs from the fire bush and ended up with wounded fingers, it was so full of thorns. Probably that was why Moses dared not go near it. Our group found a silent corner near the fire bush despite the multitude crowd, we prayed and sung a song, O Lord, You are near. (Just one remark, per Vatican instruction, we avoided mentioning the revealed name of God and substituted it with the title Lord.)
It was such an experience knowing that in very place, the Lord God revealed His Name to Moses and there instructed him to be His instrument to set His people free.
From Mt. Sinai, we travelled by bus towards Israel, a seven-hour drive, and we took the opportunity to watch the classic film, The Ten Commandments.
Our first stop in Israel was the Dead Sea. We arrived early evening. Most still took advantage to dip their feet at the Dead Sea. Well, I took the advantage to sleep longer (ehem…).
Next morning, the 13th of October, we proceeded to Nazareth. We first visited the house of Our Lady where the Archangel Gabriel greeted Our Lady and announced to Mary her particular and singular vocation to be the Mother of God. The Ave Maria was translated into many languages, including Tagalog, and was displayed around the Basilica. It was, as in any sacred place, a touching moment, realizing that there, Verbum caro factum est, the Word was made flesh.
We also visited a church marking the traditional spot where the house of St. Joseph was. There we prayed that we may encounter Christ in the fulfillment of the ordinary duties of life. After lunch we proceeded to Cana, there we celebrated Holy Mass and where five couples of our group renewed their wedding vows.
After the Holy Mass, I asked a religious nun who happens to be a Filipina if she was familiar with the statue of Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace, which was given there some months ago, and she said yes. She ushered the entire group into their convent, and inside their chapel is the statue of Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace. The group was so surprised since earlier on I was telling them of the story of Lipa Carmel. They promised to help me promote the cause of Our Lady and also the Confraternity of Mary, Mediatrix of All-Grace.
Then on we went to the Tiberias region. Our first stop that morning was the celebration of the Holy Mass at Capernaum, the place where Jesus called His first apostles among the humble local fishermen. Here in this area, Our Lord taught at the Synagogue. On we went to visit Mount of Beatitudes where the Lord preached His Sermon. We also visited Tabgha where the Lord multiplied the loaves of bread and the fishes. Then, we visited the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy, the traditional site of the third appearance of the Lord after the Resurrection. It was here where the Lord asked Peter the triple question of Do you love me? And Peter responded thrice in the affirmative. Contrast that to his triple denial of Christ during his Agony and Passion. There it was also recognized the Primacy of Peter among the Apostles.
Later on the day we visited Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration of the Lord. We cannot but help feel how Peter, James, and John must have felt when the Lord was glorified right before their very eyes.

And before the evening set in, we found ourselves in the boat over the Sea of Galilee… (to be continued)

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