Holy Land Pilgrimage – Nothing More Beautiful

Holy Land Pilgrimage – Nothing More Beautiful

Written by: Bernadette Parrott

We began planning our pilgrimage to the Holy Land back in April 2022 – a full year in advance of our adventure. Bernadette Parrott, a St. John Vianney parishioner and owner of Wishbook Vacations and Tours, planned, organized and then travelled with our group of 31 pilgrims who came from the Okanagan, Nelson, Quesnel, and Edmonton.

You’ll find a few pictures scattered through this post, but if you want to view the complete collection of photos, please have a look at our picture album.

April 28, 2023

How does one begin a pilgrimage of faith? Well, with fellowship and a Mass of course! Before our very early departure from Vancouver, some of us were able to gather for Mass the night before in our hotel room. It was close quarters, but God was present. The perfect guide for our pilgrimage of faith.

April 29 – April 30, 2003 – Our First and Second Day of the Pilgrimage – the Journey to the Holy Land

Our overnight flights brought us all safely from Vancouver to Toronto to Tel Aviv, to the land where Jesus walked. Some travelled in from Rome, others from destinations all over BC, but we all came with a heart filled with anticipation, curiosity, joy, faith, and wonderment. We encountered the many graces of God and were blessed everyday walking where Jesus walked; and beyond. After arrival we were greeted by Aehab our Tour Manager and brought to our coach for the journey, meeting our charming driver, Mofi, had some down time in the adjacent park, an excellent dinner and orientation. We even learned our first new words: Habebe (beloved), Yala (let’s go), Toda (thank you) and of course, Shalom.

May 1 – Our Third Day of the Pilgrimage – From Tel Aviv to Caesarea to Tiberias

Theater in Caesarea

After a comfortable and well needed night’s rest, our day began with a hearty breakfast and our drive from Tel Aviv to Caesarea where Rome ruled over Judea under king Herod the Great. Now, pilgrims such as us explore the ruins reflecting on the spot where the Cornelius the Roman Centurion was converted to Christianity and where St. Paul was imprisoned for two years. It is rich in history at this site.

The place where Jesus lived with Mary & Joseph
Grotto where Gabriel spoke to Mary

After our visit there we continued to Nazareth to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the House of the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph. “Be not afraid” “And the Word became flesh” became engraved in our heart. Beautiful and intricately carved doors retelling the story of Jesus’ life welcomed us. Inside this beautiful church, built over the grotto and home of Jesus, we had a short time to stop and pray at the grotto where the Angel spoke to Mary. Here too, in this humble cave dwelling, Jesus lived and grew and learned. We continued through the Church of St Joseph, bringing all into a prayerful reflection of the family life of Jesus.

Mass in Cana

Our day continued with a stop at Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine. The faith of a mother and love of a Son, how beautifully wonderful is a family rooted in love and faith. We celebrated our first beautiful Mass in the Holy Land and several couples renewed their own Marriage Vows. Our arrival for our 2-night stay in Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee ended this powerful day of blessings.

May 2 – Our Fourth Day of the Pilgrimage – From Tiberias to the Sea of Galilee to Tabgha – Capernaum and back to Tiberias

This day was joyful! We prayed a lot, sang and even danced. Today was a day filled with joy, rejuvenation of faith, a day filled with each of us making a new commitment, a choice for God in the waters of the Jordan River. It was a beautiful day.

One of the plaques marking each Beatitude
Mass atop the Mount of Beatitudes

What is the most wonderful way to begin this day? We celebrated a beautiful, open-air Mass at the summit of the Mount of the Beatitudes. There was a gentle breeze and songbirds celebrating with us. I recall be amazed at the faith of other pilgrims who were from Poland, asking if they could join us in celebrating. How wonderful is our Catholic Faith! The respite here on the Mountain was a spiritual moment for many of us. Here we were and are reminded …blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who mourn, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake…theirs is the kingdom of heaven! Ours is the kingdom of heaven!

Here in this place we stopped, and prayed in joyful thanksgiving for all the blessings our loving God bestows upon us.

The “Jesus Trail”

Descending to the Sea of Galilee, we drove by the “Jesus Trail”, the very path our Lord walked upon on his many journeys to and from Capernaum.

Jesus Boat

It’s amazing how a couple of hours can change your life! So it was with our 2 hour ride on “the Jesus Boat” on the Sea of Galilee. The operators welcomed us – Canadians and Americans – by raising our flags and playing our National Anthems. We raised on voices in songs of praise and worship on this beautiful, sunny day. Birds were singing and there was the quietest movement of the Holy Spirit in the whisper of the silent winds. Then, just before turning the boat around to head back to shore, they turned off the engines and left us with the silence and the stillness.

Silence on The Sea of Galilee

As had been the practice throughout our pilgrimage, Father Obi again read from Scripture. Jesus spoke and it happened – there was stillness. I can only speak to my heart – but in that stillness and silence, there was God, the Father, there was Jesus, his Son, there was the Holy Spirit. The boat ride continued after that two minutes of silence in jubilee – singing and dancing as we continued back to the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Recently, my husband, Richard and I participated in a Holy Land Pilgrimage. We were privileged to see and experience many of the biblical sites mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments. We visited many beautiful churches and toured several historic towns and other places of interest. One of the ways that God speaks to me is through His creation. I love nature and being outdoors. The highlight of my trip was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was in the quietness of the lake and the stillness of the waters that I had the most profound sense of the presence of Jesus. Recalling this event as I write these words today brings tears to my eyes. The disciples said, “Who is this man, that even the winds and the waves obey Him?” I am glad that I can call the author of creation my Savior, my Lord and my Friend.
~Michelle Sargent

We continued to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Here, at this spot, with a gift from a child, Jesus fed the multitudes, nourishing not only their hearts and souls, but the physical body. Here we found time to stop and pray and to thank our Loving Saviour for his incredible gifts he lavishes on us all.

Floor mosaics in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes
Rock inside the Church of the Primacy of Peter

It was here too at the Church of the Primacy of Peter, were Jesus appeared to his apostles after his resurrection, cooking them breakfast on a charcoal fire. Here he gave Peter the keys to kingdom of heaven. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Then, feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” In this garden setting a stone remains, the most wonderful of dining tables, here too, a statue stands commemorating the commissioning and primacy of St. Peter.

At the Jordan River, we donned our white garments and renewed our Baptismal promises while praising the Glory of God. At this Galilee Baptismal Site we were invited to make a choice, to say ‘yes’ to our loving God in the same flowing waters that Jesus gave his assent, his yes to his loving Father. It was the most remarkable experience to place our trust in the hands of our priest and two others as we “sank” into the waters of the Jordan River, only to be brought forth again renewed in our assent, our “yes”, hearing our loving God speaking to us – you are my beloved. Even Father Obi succumbed and released his fears, placing his trust too into the hands of others as he too renewed his own baptismal promises.

Today was indeed a day of joy!

May 3 – Our Fifth Day of the Pilgrimage – From Tiberias to Bethlehem to Jerusalem

After 6 days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was speaking,
behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Church of the Transfiguration

We began our fourth day traveling to Mount Tabor. I hear Father Obi’s voice speaking so clearly to me “It is good that we are here!” The site of the Transfiguration stands atop a very high mountain. Our very comfortable bus took us to a transfer point where we continued on smaller busses. We traveled in comfort. Jesus walked with Peter, James and John, no doubt a strenuous and difficult walk.

We are definitely on a mountain

The view is breathtaking and everywhere reminded us that God’s glory does indeed shine here as it once did through a bright cloud that spoke to the apostles and now to us “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Inside the Church of the Nativity

Bethlehem and the Christ Child. The Church of the Nativity. No words can explain this experience, this encounter with the Christ Child, this moment when Christmas consumes you in a complete renewal of faith in this humble birthplace. The church is indeed beautiful, the wait to enter the birthplace of our Saviour is long, and the descent into the chamber where Christ was born and placed tenderly after is birth is steep.

Touching the spot where Jesus was born

However, we did indeed touch the very spot of his birth, we did indeed reach out to the stable, the trough he was placed in. This is a moment that the heavens opened, and the angels sung about. We were blessed to celebrate Mass at the Church of the Nativity in St. Jerome’s Chapel. Our voices praising God in song and prayer. This is Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Saviour and our Lord.

May 4 – Our Sixth Day of the Pilgrimage – the Church of the Our Father – the Garden of Gethsemane – Mary’s Tomb – Shepherd’s Field – our view of Jerusalem from outside the walls – Ein Karem

Praise God! Another day of encountering God. Another day of walking where Jesus walked.

Saying the Lord’s Prayer

We proceeded to the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father). Here in this place, we were surrounded by the Lord’s prayer displayed in over 140 languages. In this place, there is a cave, a grotto under the church where the apostles simply asked: Lord, teach us to pray…. We now too, join the voice as Jesus taught his apostles as we cry out: Our Father who art in heaven…

Our quest to walk where Jesus walked continued down the very steep descent of the Palm Sunday Route. I was particularly moved by these steps I took. As Jesus, mounted on a donkey, descended down this very route, I could imagine the large crowds gathering in anticipation of the coming of this incredible prophet and healer. I could hear the crowds praising him and see the palms being tossed on the grounds before him.

A view of Old Jerusalem from across the Kidron Valley on the Mount of Olives

We stopped at “Dominus Flevit, still on the Mount of Olives on the far side of the Kidron Valley, the place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, as we too stopped and gazed over to the city of Jerusalem, the graves, the gates, the wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre all before us. The holy city of Jerusalem, still not within our reach.

Garden of Gethsemane

At the Church of All Nations there is a rock. Upon this rock Jesus prayed the night before he died. At the Garden of Gethsemane, we found respite from our journey.

Rock where Jesus Prayed in Agony

However, it was here that Jesus cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”. It was here that Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss. It was here that all of us were reminded of our weaknesses. In this beautiful garden, with the scent of roses filling the air, we felt the love of our Saviour.

We had the chance to descend into what the Eastern church believes to be the tomb of Mary, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Descending these very slippery steps into the grotto reminded us of the incredible gift and trust and faith of this Jewish woman, chosen by God, and her incredible gift of “yes”.

Sacred Pit

Continuing our walk with Jesus, we paused at Caiaphas’ Palace, St. Peter in Gallicantu – where St. Peter denied Our Lord. It’s in moments like these that we wonder – how many times will I deny my Lord? We descended into the Sacred Pit where it is believed that Jesus was held after his scourging. It is dark, cramped and forlorn. Yet it was here that Jesus spent his last hours.

The place where the Angels appeared to the Shepherds

Shepherd’s Field – Gloria in Excelsis Deo! On the first Christmas night, the Angels appeared to shepherds minding the flocks. As we traveled, we actually witnessed shepherds in the fields! We imagined that their lives are much like they were at the time of Jesus.

One of many painted image on walls

As we were entering the Chapel of the Shepherd’s Field, we could hear singing. We too, had chosen our songs to sing – but we were welcome and sang along. Our voices echoed and the Gloria resounded! It was so incredibly beautiful! I’m pretty sure we were all singing long after we left the chapel.

Fun Fact: Canada funded the building of this chapel and the altar has a Canadian flag etched on it.

Our day continued to Ein Karem to visit the Church of St. John the Baptist, and we celebrated Mass built over the grotto of his birthplace.

At each location we celebrated Mass, Father Obi was assisted by local clergy. It was at this place in Israel that Father Obi encountered Obi, stationed there studying as a Franciscan, the same Order as Father Obi. He is not only from Nigeria, but from the very same town! Father’s face was radiant with joy, as was Obi’s! God’s blessings are so abundant!!

After Mass we continued back to Jerusalem and ended this day with an incredible experience of light and sound projected onto the walls of the Tower of David.

Another incredible journey of faith.

May 5 – Our Seventh Day of the Pilgrimage – Exploring the Judean Wilderness

This day was just another amazing day of prayer, reflection and adventure! Today, we explored the Judean wilderness. “Jesus went into the wilderness to pray” has a whole new meaning. There is nothing here. It is barren.

Tomb of Lazarus

We began our day gathering together for our morning Mass in Bethany at the Church of St. Lazarus near the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and the tomb of Lazarus. Four biblical events took place in Bethany: the meeting of Jesus and Martha, the resurrection of Lazarus, the dinner at the home of Simon the leper and Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary. The tomb is located in a beautiful garden setting. To access it there is often a long wait and the descent is narrow and dark with the final steps having to be accessed by entering one at a time going backward down a ladder.

Caves where the first set of Dead Sea Scrolls were found

Our next stop was at Qumran, the site of the caves of the Dead Sea Scrolls, passing by the Sea Level demarcation along the way! This route is marked by the beautifully green date palm trees growing starkly against the white barren background.

Ruins from the Essenes community

The Essenes living here were a religious community consisting mostly of men. These men lived in isolation very near the Dead Sea in the monastery and in caves. In total 12 caves have been discovered where scrolls and fragments of parchment have been found.

After our visit here, we were off to the Dead Sea!!!

Kalia Beach with Jordan in the distance
Fr. Obi can’t believe he’s floating

Only in this place can one who can’t even swim, float with absolute confidence of never sinking! We had one very happy priest!!

Sandra enjoying her swim

I wanted to stand up in the water to assist others entering the Dead Sea, and I had to have someone push my legs down! It was the most remarkable experience. The Dead Sea is 427 metres below sea level and 306 metres deep. The lake is so high in salt and mineral content that it is recommended to not stay in more than 20 minutes at a time and to avoid putting your head in the water or tasting it and most certainly to not have it touch your eyes…I did have a small taste (quite by accident, I assure you, and it is not pleasant!) The day we visited here was 42 degrees!

Jordan River near Dead Sea – Jordan on the far bank

After drying off we continued to the actual site of the Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River close to Jericho. The river is much narrower now than it was then with Jordan being a very short skip across, which is not permitted of course. This opportunity to connect our first baptism to our renewal earlier to this most sacred spot and sacred waters was humbling. We were reminded that we are truly loved by Our Father, that he embraces and surrounds his children always in that love as we journey through our life here.

At Jericho, we ascended by cable car up the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by the Evil One three times.

This is a barren land – rocky and isolated – just turn these stones into bread and your hunger will be satisfied. We took a 1330-meter-long cable car to the top of the mountain – just jump and the angels will protect you. Looking down from this Mountain, the valley really does expose the vast expanse of the area – just worship the tempter and all the kingdoms of the world would be his. What a beautiful reminder to us that God is our only constant. That God is all in all!

“Zacchaeus, come down. I will dine at your home tonight!” This weathered, ancient tree is a reminder to us that we are called to the Table of the Lord. We are all called to be with Him. How many times do I go out of my way to climb up just to get a glimpse of my Lord?

Ancient Sycamore tree that Zacchaeus would have been called from

This too, was another remarkable day of walking where Jesus walked.

May 6 – Our Eight Day of the Pilgrimage – Inside the Walls.

Singing in the Basilica of St. Ann

Today, we continue to walk in the footprints of our Lord and Saviour and entered inside the walls that encircle Jerusalem. Our first steps brought us to the birthplace of Mary, the House of St. Ann and St. Joachim. The Basilica of St. Ann is surrounded by a beautiful garden setting, but also showcases the ancient ruins. We gathered to pray in this holy place, to sing Immaculate Mary with our voices blending and our Ave Marie reaching to the heavens and resounding with the most incredible echo filling the whole church. It was beautiful.

Birthplace of Mary

The church leads you to a small open grotto – the birthplace of Mary.

Outside of the Basilica are the remains of the pools of Bethesda. At this place, the paralytic waited for 38 years for Jesus’ healing hands. His faith healed him and he left his mat and walked! Here, at this place, we had a beautiful healing service, sure of our loving Saviour’s healing hands.

Pools of Bethesda

We walked by several gates leading inward to the city including the Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate and stopped at St. Stephen’s Gate, where the first Christian martyr was stoned to death.

Now began the difficult retracing of the steps Jesus took as he walked to the hill of Calvary, to his death. We encountered the stone archway where Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds, the Ecco Homo Arch, we continued the Way of the Cross stopping to pray at each site of Jesus’ Passion.

Beginning The Way of the Cross

The stations of the cross imprinted a deep understanding on me that Jesus died for me. To finalize the day Father Obi prostrated himself on the tomb and I laid my rosary on it as I embodied the mystery of the Passion.
~ Madeleine Harrington

It’s a continual upward climb. The streets are narrow, crowded and noisy with street venders and others praying and others going about their daily lives. We picked up the cross and carried it through all this, encountering those holy moments, those moments of prayer and adoration as we reflected on the sacrifice of our Lord. He really could have just left, but he continued because of love for each of us. We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

The 9th Station – Jesus Falls for the 3rd Time

We left the cross behind as we continued into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the last five Stations take place: Jesus is stripped of his garments, Jesus is nailed to the Cross, Jesus dies on the Cross, Jesus is taken down from the Cross, Jesus is buried.

Ascend Stairs to Calvary (Golgotha)

Before entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we passed through the Coptic Orthodox St. Antony Monastery built in 325 AD. It opened to reveal the beautiful chapel adorned with icons and images of Jesus, Mary, and Jesus’ crucifixion. We moved from chapel to chapel encountering these most holy sites, these Stations of the Cross, crouching to enter, imagining our Mother Mary gazing upward from afar, looking upon her crucified Son. Then we ascended the very steep, weathered steps, which was once a beaten path up a hill, leading to the place of crucifixion, Calvary (Golgotha) burial and resurrection.

The 12th Station – Jesus Dies on the Cross
Where Jesus Body was Prepared for Burial

Lying open for all those who wish to worship is the Stone of Anointing – the place where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. This was a moment to worship and pray and weep for the love Jesus had for us.

The walk down the steep Palm Sunday Route really impressed on me how much Jesus loves me. He could have turned away and never entered Jerusalem. Yet, he entered the city to shouts of Hosanna knowing that those shouts would change to shouts of crucify him. I wept lying across the stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Never again will the words proclaimed at Mass have the same meaning to me. I was also moved deeply by the silence of the Sea of Galilee. The silence of faith. ~Bernadette Parrott

The Tomb of Jesus

We were unable to enter the Tomb of Jesus as there was well over a four-hour wait to do so. Our guide suggested that he recommends pilgrims to come around 5 am to enter without the long lines and many pilgrims. In this Holy Place, it’s important to put aside all the noise and distraction and find Jesus, his journey, his steps, his suffering, his Passion, his death and his Resurrection. I found myself longing to push aside the church and focus on the place – this holy place. I imagined myself ascending the hill to Calvary devoid of all the distractions and focusing on reaching the top.

Our journey to Calvary ended with a beautiful Mass celebrated in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Chapel of the Resurrection. Here Mary encountered the Risen Lord. To one side is a remnant of the Roman column Jesus was tied to as he was whipped. We closed the heavy, wooden doors and prayed there in thanksgiving, praise and worship.

My favourite memory of the whole trip was attending Mass with everyone after the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa). I was feeling very emotional & sad & upset after walking along in dear Jesus’ suffering steps.
However, much to my/our joy, Fr. Obi dressed in wonderful white vestments, with his kind smile & beautiful voice began Mass exclaiming: “Happy Sunday, the day of Our Lord’s Resurrection!” Total happiness & blessings from heaven descended upon us! Such a grace-filled ending from God! My heart says thank you Jesus, thank you.
~Sandra Sutherland

The Upper Room

After Mass we left this Holy Place and continued to walk through the Armenian Quarter encountering The Hall of the Last Supper. It is indeed located in an upper room! It is empty and spacious and you have to really use your imagination to put yourself into the story, imagine yourself witnessing the Last Supper, imagine yourself witnessing Jesus, his apostles and friends, all seated around a large table, imagine yourself listening to the conversation and then imagine yourself hearing “truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.

In the Jewish Quarter we made our way to the Western Wall of the Temple. There, we left our prayers and returned to our room for a few hours of relaxing.

The Western Wall of the 2nd Temple

That night we gathered for our final dinner and Mass. Obi (2) joined us once again to the joy of Fr Obi.

Our pilgrimage of faith to the Holy Land, to walk where Jesus walked, concluded with our final Mass there. We were deeply blessed.

Abby put together a couple compilation videos to share:

As mentioned earlier, we included a few pictures in this post, but if you want to view the complete collection of photos, please have a look at our picture album.

Thank you for journeying with us. May our loving God continue to bless us all.