By Joe Granda
Twelve members of San Marco Catholic Church went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from June 3 to June 14, 2012. We flew from Ft. Myers airport to New York Kennedy, and from there to Tel Aviv, Israel, where we met other members of the group who were arriving from other U.S. locations. We spent four days in Jerusalem visiting various Holy sites, starting outside the City walls at the Mount of Olives for a spectacular view of Jerusalem where we visited the Church of Pater Noster and the Chapel of the Ascension.
We walked along the Palm Sunday road to Jerusalem. From there we proceeded to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We entered the Old City and carried the cross at the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to visit Golgotha and the Tomb of Our Lord.
We also visited the Dome of the Rock, El Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall where we had a chance to insert petitions in the crevices of the Wall. This is a very special place for the Jewish faith. After Jerusalem, we visited Mt. Zion at the place of the Last Supper and also the place where Peter denied Jesus three times. We drove to Bethany to visit the House of Mary and the Tomb of Lazarus. We traveled to the West Bank in Palestine Territory to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
The crossing from Israel to Palestine and back is well guarded and there are several check points that you must endure and be subject to search and questioning. We left the Jerusalem area on the sixth day of our trip on the way to Egypt to visit Mt. Sinai. This was a long trip as we stopped at The Dead Sea for a quick bath at 110 degree temperature in an oily, salty water where, by the way, no swimming, jumping or diving is allowed, just floating on your back. Fourteen hours later we arrived at our hotel which I will describe as the Hotel from Hell.
We ate dinner at 10:00PM local time and later waited for a wake-up call at 12:30AM to begin our climb up Mt. Sinai on camels. We traveled for an hour and a half which takes one to the site where you start climbing by foot, 750 steps made with very irregular rocks to the top of the mountain to witness the sunrise at 4:45AM.
After descending the mountain, our group had breakfast and left Mt. Sinai for the resort town of Taba. We stayed at the Hyatt Hotel located on the Red Sea. Across the sea we could observe the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We spent the day relaxing from our mountain climbing adventure.
The next day we traveled back across the Egyptian/Israeli border, another hour and one half journey. We entered Jericho, the city conquered by Joshua, now on the Palestinian side. We drove north through the Jordan River Valley to the site where St. John the Baptist baptized the Christians and where we had an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows. We were on the Israeli side guarded by Israeli soldiers and across the river, about 30 feet away, the Jordanian side was guarded by Jordanian troops. Our group was by the river in between the two sides, not a comfortable feeling, to say the least.
On the way from Jericho to Tiberias, we traveled along the Sea of Galilee to Cana. Jesus performed His first miracle in Cana, changing water into wine at a wedding feast. All the couples on our trip had an opportunity to renew our wedding vows at this site.
We also had an opportunity to board a replica of the fishing boats used at the time of Jesus and we traveled along the coast of the Sea of Galilee where our captain fished, unfortunately without a catch. On our last day we visited the site where Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1187. We visited Nazareth where Jesus did most of his preaching and then we moved on to Haifa. We ascended Mt. Carmel, home of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Our final stop was Jaffa before returning to Tel Aviv for our flight back home.
Our group enjoyed the trip and came back with many special memories that will last a lifetime