AT the Sea of Galilee, we were provided with a boat where the 21 of us Filipino pilgrims were all on board. As we started the ride, the boat operator suddenly played the Philippine National Anthem and the crew members raised a small Philippine flag. It was a wonderful surprise to see and hear the Philippine symbols in a foreign land and over the lake where the Lord walked over, at that.
While riding the boat, we read the Gospel part that speaks of the storm over the lake, and the apostles had to awaken the Lord, and with one word of His, the storm calmed down. We took the opportunity to pray and ask the Lord to calm and dispel all the storms in our lives. And that when we do pass through the storms of our lives, we shall be strong and at peace, for the Lord is not only near us but is actually with us.
The next day, October 15, Memorial of Santa Teresa de Jesus, better known as St. Teresa of Avila, we started the day by celebrating the Holy Mass at Dalmanutha, traditionally the site where Jesus sighed for mankind. It is a place of meditation marked with a Cross facing the peaceful waters of the Sea of Galilee.
After the Holy Mass we then proceeded to Yardenit, part of the Jordan river which is located within the state of Israel. Although it is not the actual site of Christ’s Baptism, it is part of the Jordan River nonetheless.
There we renewed our Baptismal vows, to renounce forever Satan, his pomps and works, and to affirm our faith in God, one in Three Divine Persons. It was such a touching experience to have renewed our Baptismal promises in the very water with which the Lord was baptized. The Jordan River is said to be the “most alive” river since all the water it receives from the Sea of Galilee it simply passes on to the Red Sea.
There was no big crowd that morning, and we were able to have our silent part totally to ourselves, there was even a closed circuit camera that allowed everything to be recorded and, of course, its DVD recording to be sold to us later on (yes Virginia, almost everything has to be paid for in our contemporary lifetime).
After lunch we drove towards village of Ein Karem, which means “the spring in the vineyard.” There we first visited the Church of St. John the Baptist, built on the traditional home of Zacharias and Elizabeth. A stone marker points to the exact place where St. John was born. Outside the Church, one will see the Benedictus, the words uttered by Zacharias after his tongue was loosened right after the birth of St. John, translated into many languages.
And deeply Marian as we are, from the gate of the Church of St. John the Baptist our small group proceeded to the Church of the Visitation in a procession, praying the Rosary and singing Marian hymns. One can just imagine and feel the delight that as we were praying the Second Joyful Mystery, we were actually retracing the steps of Our Lady as she went to visit and serve her cousin Elizabeth.
There near the gate of the Church of the Visitation were two very interesting statues in metal, that of Our Lady and St. Elizabeth, with that of St. Elizabeth obviously pregnant. We entered the rather small Church, prayed there, and outside where the multilingual versions of the Magnificat, Our Lady’s song as her response to St. Elizabeth’s praise. The Tagalog version could not be absent, and singers as we are (well, that is, our group excluding my non-singing self), we sung the Ang Puso Ko’y Nagpupuri.
At the Upper Chapel is the Blessed Sacrament, there we paid our visit and to my surprise, a painting of the Wedding Feast at Cana, with the following words at the bottom, Mediatrix Nostra Potentissima. Indeed, there at the Wedding Feast when Our Lady acted as truly the Mediatrix between men and Christ who is ultimately the source of and who is All-Grace.
From Ein Karem, in the late afternoon, we travelled towards the Holy City of Jerusalem, the highlight of our pilgrimage.
We arrived already in the evening, going straight to the hotel knowing that the next days will be spent in this holiest of all cities. Truly, if in our religious pilgrimage the highlight is Jerusalem, in our spiritual pilgrimage on earth the ultimate end is the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Early the next day, we left for the town “City of Bread,” Bethlehem. There, true to its name, was where Word became Flesh that became our Heavenly Bread. At the Shepherd’s Field, we celebrated our Christmas Mass. Just a note, in the Holy Land, as in other duly recognized shrines, one can celebrate the Mass proper to that Church. Hence, even if it were not Christmas, one is allowed to celebrate Christmas Day Mass in Bethlehem.
After the Holy Mass, we excitedly proceeded to the Basilica of the Nativity which houses the Grotto of the Nativity and the Altar of Christ’s Birth. A silver star marks the traditional place where Christ was born. The line of people was long! We had to wait our turn and, mientras tanto, we prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It was such a wonderful feeling as we drew close to the exact site and when it was our turn to venerate the exact place, one but cannot help to feel the divine presence. There at that exact very place, God became man and dwelt amongst us. The very reason of everything and for everything, there at the simple but most hallowed of place, He was born. I am very sure for those who have been there, each succeeding Christmas celebration would be a deeper and more special one having seen and touched where Christmas begun.
After lunch we proceeded to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, literally the cock crows signifying the fulfillment of Christ’s prophesy that Peter would deny Christ three times before the cock crows.
The door of the Church shows it all. On one side of the panel is Christ with three fingers straightened looking at Peter telling him that he would deny Christ three times and at the other side of the door panel is Peter with the rooster near him, his left hand at his chest, his right raised up palms open as if saying, No, I can’t do that to you.
The place was originally where the house of Caiphas, the High Priest, stood. And at the lower part of the Church is where the prison cells are located, including a pit where Christ was probably kept some hours before He was sentenced to death. It was at that pit that He was all alone, it is a cold and dark pit. We read part of the Gospel, sang a religious hymn, and where we spent some moments of silence to contemplate Christ’s passion. During that silent moment, the lights were put off, and one can just feel the coldness and darkness of being alone. Shut off from the world outside, with memories of betrayal in His heart, what could have Christ felt? But He endured it for you and me… (to be continued)