My trip to Israel was an experience of great joy. The first thing you see is that all the signs are in Hebrew, in Arabic and sometimes English is added, that is, we are two times illiterate.
In Abu Gosh, a small Arab town, 15 km from Jerusalem, there is a church and accommodation dedicated to Notre Dame Arche du Alliance (Our Lady, Ark of the Covenant), led by the Sisters of St. Joseph. There I met a Belgian missionary of about 75 years, from the Order of the White Fathers named Paul. He explained that there are three criteria of the Holy Places: the real, the traditional and the popular. The real is very little, the traditional is more, and the popular, much more. Some places are sanctified by the memory of Christ, the Virgin or the Apostles. He told me that in his Order they have no European vocations, only ten novices from East Africa. He was there finishing his eight-day Retreat, but he usually lives in the Muslim Quarter, next to the Church dedicated to Santa Ana, where the Bethesda Probatic Pool is. In this five porch pool, the first catechesis and the first baptisms were carried out.
In Notre Dame we stayed only two days and then we started the march a few meters away, where there is a Conference center Saxum, where we feel in our house.
It was exciting to look and touch the places where Jesus, the Virgin, the apostles, the prophets, Herod the Great, Caiaphas and other characters from the Old and New Testaments were.
The Lake of Galilee, of Tiberias or Sea of Genesareth, is the only thing that remains the same as Jesus saw it. It measures 20 km by 10 km. It is beautiful but smaller than the Dead Sea. The slabs of what was the esplanade of the Temple of Jerusalem (today instead of two mosques) were laid by Herod the Great. There Jesus was presented in the Temple, there he stayed two days at twelve years of age and there he taught and discussed with the Pharisees … Some current archaeologists say that the Temple was in the City of David and not there, because there is no water, and that a Roman Legion was living there.
The Basilica of all Nations or of the Agony remembers when Christ prayed and sweat blood. There we hear Mass. Ana Catarina Emmerick says that when she was heading to the Mount of Olives, the Lord did not stop crying. Here God allows us to feel our nothingness and the infinite mercy of God. God tells us: “Here is my love, my love without limits. Come to my arms and I will make you happy”. What made me think the most was the loneliness of Jesus. In the Garden of Olives his friends fall asleep and leave him alone when he most needed to be wrapped; then, before the Sanhedrin’s judgment, the people turn their backs on him, and with the conviction of Pontius Pilate the Roman Empire despises him, nullifies him, the prisoner becomes invisible, soldiers can do whatever they want with him.
The Holy Sepulcher is beautiful – especially for what it means – there are several chapels that belong to Orthodox Greeks, Catholics, Copts, Latinos, Syrians, Ethiopians and Armenians. Everyone takes care of every inch. It takes one to four hours to enter, and then they let you stay twelve seconds, and that doesn’t matter to anyone. It has so much history! The Crusaders gave their lives to rescue the Holy Sepulcher from the Muslims. A young girl from Spain, told me that it was the fourth time I went to the place and had not been able to enter, but it was edifying to see how it persisted until it entered.
Going to where Peter denied the Lord – to the Gallicantu- where he sang the rooster, caught me off guard. Suddenly we were at the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. This man had a dungeon for dangerous prisoners, 3m x 3m. They went down the prisoner through a hole – the ceiling was high – and spent the night in the dark in a dungeon full of vermin and dirt from previous prisoners. There Jesus spent Holy Thursday night. The Owner of the universe! From the house of Caiaphas on Mount Zion there is only that dungeon left.
Jerusalem has been destroyed 18 times and rebuilt in the same place. Then, the city that Jesus inhabited is, for the most part, ten or twelve meters underground.
The multiculturalism of the Holy Land attracts attention; Muslims, Jews, Christians and people come from Vietnam, Indonesia, France, Korea, Canada, the United States and countries in Africa.
Palestine is the only place where you can say: “It happened here.” In the Grotto of Bethlehem: “Here the Son of God was born.” In the Garden of Olives: “Here he was captured.” In the Holy Sepulcher: “Here he defeated death! Here is the empty tomb! ” Here the Savior sanctified these lands with his long walks. Here, it is God who makes every stone holy, and the pilgrim can join the Passion of the Master. We were accompanied by two priests, one from Portugal and one from Colombia, who celebrated Mass in the Holy Places. With the Liturgy we had Heaven on earth.
There is a conservation project of the fortress or Citadel of Acre (Akko, in Hebrew; they were crusaders buildings) which is an underground complex measuring 8 square kilometers. The guide explained that the archaeological work is carried out by Jews with a state budget and they do not want more people to enter because the things found are taken away. We visit the beautiful Caesarea Maritima, next to the Mediterranean Sea, where the excavations are still underway. There Paul was imprisoned, Saint Peter passed by, and there Pontius Pilate lived habitually. We also went to Carmel where the cave of the prophet Elijah is below the altarpiece. In an attached church we prayed, we had Mass and blessing of scapulars.
Three days before the end of the trip, the guide – who was Jewish – told us that there were three places for people to spend the whole night in the Holy Sepulcher. Three of our group were encouraged immediately. The next day they got four places and the next, five. I saw that they returned happily having spent the night from 7 to 11 p.m. in the Holy Sepulcher and then next to Calvary, because at that time the Orthodox Greeks arrived to put incense. We knew that every day there were fifteen places for Catholics to spend the night next to the Holy Sepulcher.
The company I had was extremely pleasant. The group was made up of people who only thought of serving and making life enjoyable. Almost all were older people who appreciate Jesus’ invisible traces to the fullest. We were 31 Spanish-speaking women and 11 Portuguese-speaking women. It was the prelude to Heaven. And we were accompanied by two priests, one from Portugal and another from Colombia, who celebrated Mass in the Holy Places. With the Liturgy we had Heaven on earth.
We could not see the ruins of Herod’s fortress or palace in Maqueronte because it is next to the Dead Sea that belongs to Jordan. My joy was filled with knowing personal stories of messianic Jews.
Israel’s airport is very clean and there is not a single spotlight or molten light.
One ends by saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”