Hoarding or tossing the gravel in life

(This originally appeared 10 years ago in my newspaper column. I no longer live in that town, and I no longer have that scooter. But gravel can be found in all places and times, so this is just as pertinent now as then.)

As I backed my scooter out of the garage, pushing with my feet, they kept slipping on the loose sand and gravel that had accumulated over the winter.
The words of a biker friend from Ohio immediately came to mind. “Be careful about the road surface in the spring,” he said. “That loose gravel will send your bike sprawling faster than anything.”

With that in mind, I watched the road carefully as I took off on my first ride of the season, turning corners and accelerating with care. In a car, I never would have noticed that gravel. I noticed it now.

Most of it is still there, and will be until the city crews have a chance to finish the street sweeping. They’ll scoop up and dispose of all of winter’s detritus, so helpful a few months ago, so unnecessary now.

Leftover “stuff” can play havoc with lives in more choiceways than one–and not all physical. I’ve never forgotten a little bit of wisdom I found in a book during Morning Prayer one day. It said that the ancient spiritual writers warned about “morning demons,” those trials, troubles and grievances from the day before that could poison the new day.

Some people wake up with hurtful conversations still replaying in their mind; with slights from coworkers or family members still playing in their emotional theater.
Leave the old stuff behind and start afresh, the writers advised. It doesn’t mean simply sweeping things under the rug. Some things deserve to be remembered, as a caution if nothing else. But they don’t have to determine what kind of day we’ll have today.

At the same time, I know people who anticipate their demons. A friend who recently applied for a new job, which gave him an employment possibility he hadn’t had until then, was really down in the dumps when I talked with him.

“I might not get it,” he said. “Then where will I apply?”

I told him to be happy for the opportunity, and let the results take care of itself when it happened. Or, if he’s going to play what-if, tell himself that he could just as easily be the one who’s hired.

Some people won’t try new things because they might not work; they won’t get excited about new plans because of anticipated roadblocks. They’re the people who are glum on Saturday morning because they have only two days before they have to go to work again on Monday.

And believe it or not, I’ve actually heard someone grumbling about summer because “it’s so short and winter will be here before we know it.”

My oft-quoted favorite saying comes into play here: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Unpleasant things have happened in the past, and they will undoubtedly happen in the future. But so did happy things, and so they will again. I choose to focus on those.

“It’s my choice whether I’m going to be happy or sad,” I told a friend recently. “It all depends on what I choose to focus on.”

So, I’m watchful of the loose gravel. But the ride is good nevertheless, and I know it will be smoother eventually. That’s today’s gift.

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Make a list

I love lists.

Somewhere along the way during my life, they became a habit with me, and they sure make life a lot easier. They also make it a bit risky at times.

I guess I’m obedient by nature because grocery lists, packing lists, to-do lists–they all give me my marching orders. Once the lists are made, even when I’ve compiled them myself, I do what they tell me. The glitch occurs when I didn’t put enough thought into what went on that list.

Groceries, for instance. I do NOT like grocery shopping. shopping listI don’t like wandering up and down the aisles, casually browsing the shelves to see what might be on them that’s new. To me, that’s a surefire way to spend more money than I’d hoped.

So, I have a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator, and as I start to run out of things (not when they’re actually gone), I put them on the list. Then, when I’m at the store, I head directly for the aisles where I’ll find those items, looking neither right nor left.

“You shop like a man,” my sister once told me. She’s right. I get what I need and get out. And my grocery list makes that possible. Unless, of course, I forgot to put something on it. When that happens, I’ve lost my self-imposed challenge: to go to the grocery store once a week, and not keep running back every other day for something I forgot. So, even in the middle of cooking or baking, if something looks low, I stop what I’m doing and add it to the list.

I make a packing listpacking list whenever we’re going on vacation or taking even a short trip. Recently I went to the Holy Land. Different climate, new activities, limited luggage space–that was a real challenge! So, my lists included not only what to bring, but where to pack it. The night before I left, I looked over the several pages of lists, and saw that everything was checked off. Then I gave it no more thought. After all, I did what the lists told me, so all should be well. And, I’m happy to say, I didn’t forget a thing–until I got to the airport. Security confiscated my shampoo and hair gel because the containers were too big for the carryon luggage. They should have gone in the checked bag. Not too bad, though, all things considered.

My favorite lists are my to-do lists. Most days, unless I have lots of appointments or other places to be, I make a list of things I hope to accomplish the next day. They save me a lot of time because I don’t have to wonder which chore I should tackle first. I just look at the list and pick something to do. If I don’t get it all done to-dothat day, I move it to the next. Once the list is made, I don’t have to think about it again.

I’m not inflexible. If I suddenly remember the bag of apples I bought to make applesauce, I’ll do that instead of something else. But, I confess, I’ve been known to add something like that to the list when it’s done and then immediately cross it off because it just feels so darn good to draw that line through a chore.

I make Christmas lists with ideas for each person–because, since I hate to shop, that relieves me of the burden of searching. I don’t have to wander from store to store, hoping something will catch my eye. And I don’t wait until the last two weeks before Christmas, either. I can’t. I make a lot of the presents and I have to get an early start.

Then there are the cooking lists. I remember the days of big family meals at the holidays. If someone was invited to join us, I was always concerned about eating when I said we would. So, I’d make lists of everything I planned to make, what day I’d make it if it could be done ahead, the oven temps for things that were going to be baked, and the in and out times so that everything would be done at the same time. If you’ve never done that, it probably sounds nuts; but this way, all the thinking and planning happens when there’s no one around, and then on the big day, when things can be hectic, all I had to do was look at my list.

I have a prayer list with my own and others’ intentions on it, and wish listI absolutely love Amazon’s wish list where I can keep track of things I want to buy later. I’m sure I’ve written lists for other things–and I’m sure you have, too. I just hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

And now I’ve got something else to cross off today’s list: “write blog.”

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Holy Land–Odds ‘n’ Ends

Although my blogs included a lot of information, there were little bits and pieces of interesting details that I didn’t have room for. So, I decided this last blog would be a bullet-point collection of things I still want to share. They are based on what our guide told us, and I apologize if I may have misunderstood

abandoned palestinian

Abandoned Palestinian farm

any of his explanations.

Here they are, in no particular order.

• I always wondered why Jesus stayed home so long before starting his public ministry. The answer: he couldn’t become a rabbi until age 30.

• It was unusual that Jesus “went up a mountain” to preach the beatitudes. Normally, in theater or any other “performance” setting, the speaker is below, with the listeners on risers above because voices carry upwards. Jesus did the opposite; because he was God, his words came from above and still managed to carry so that all could hear him.

• It was


The Jerusalem cross.

unsettling to see Israeli military compounds, most of them abandoned and filled with grafitti on the walls of the squat, rectangular structures. Also hard to see the bombed and deserted dwellings of Palestinians on the West Bank.

• The Jerusalem cross is found on all Catholic Churches in the Holy Land. The symbolism of the five-fold cross is variously given as the Five Wounds of Christ, Christ and the four evangelists, or Christ and the four quarters of the world.

• An interesting experience were the co-ed bathrooms,

signs 2

Signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

with stalls designated for men or women. I picked the wrong one, but no one ran screaming. At another place, the stall had a hole in the ground meant to be straddled. I was told that stall was for men. Good thing. I wasn’t about to do any straddling.

• In the story of the wedding at Cana, the Bible says Jesus arrived “on the third day,” and that’s when they ran out of wine. Jewish weddings lasted for five days beginning on Sunday and ending on Thursday so as not to interfere with Sabbath. The actual wedding took place on the third day, and there were still two more days of celebration left. To run out of wine with two days left was a huge embarrassment. signs 3

• Cana is now an Arab town.

• In the days of Jesus, those who were blind, deaf or impaired in any way were not allowed to live in Jerusalem or worship in the temple.

• Nazareth was settled by a group of “pure” Jews of the Davidic line, who left Jerusalem because only the physically “pure” could worship there. There were only about 100-200 people in Nazareth when Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived there. Today there are about


Careening down a narrow street in a cab.

76,000 people in Nazareth, with more Christians than in Jerusalem.

• A kibbutz means “group,” and it was Jewish people who lived together and took care of each other in a land that was mostly Arab. At one time there were about 128 of them. After 1948, when Israel became a nation, the kibbutz was no longer needed because the the whole country was theirs. A few kibbutzes remain, large enough to have factories and the things a developed city would have. Those who live there don’t have to pay taxes, and Jews can become a member only by birth.

• Settlements are civilian communities inhabited by


Litter is everywhere.

Israeli citizens who are predominantly Jewish built on lands within the Palestinian territories which Israel has militarily occupied since the six-day war in 1967, currently existing in parts of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and within the Syrian territory on the Golan Heights.

• One day we saw a settlement of Jews built on a hill specifically to prevent Palestinians from expanding north from Bethlehem toward Jerusalem.

• The Sea of Galilee is 600 feet below sea level. It was once the opening to a huge volcano.

• This

jewish cemetery

The Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. Those men had the doors to two tombs open, but I don’t know what they were doing.

was the perfect time to be in the Holy Land, since it was spring and there was greenery for now. The hillsides were full of red poppies and yellow mustard. By April everything will be brown and temperatures will be rising.

• Israel grows cucumbers, zucchinis, bananas, avocados, olives, figs, mangos, dates and citrus, among other things.

• At one time citrus was a big export to Europe, but with the European Union, those countries began treading among each other first so the farmers of Israel began growing mangos, which don’t grow in Europe. They discovered that there was more profit with the mangos than there had been with the citrus.

• A “tel” is a mound made by civilizations built one atop

dead sea

The Dead Sea. The water was once nearly up to the road.

another as each preceding one is destroyed by natural disasters or war. The Tel at Bet She’an is 19 civilizations high.
• At the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Jesus instructed his apostles to distribute the food to the people, rather than do it himself. It was a precursor to priests distributing the Eucharist to the faithful.

• Galilee was also known as the Land of the Shadow of Death.

• Houses

olive trees

Two thousand-year-old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane–which means they were there when Jesus was.

in the cities are three and four stories high, with many of the stories unfinished. Open windows that don’t even contain glass stare blankly down upon the streets. The reason is that families live together, partly to care for each other (no nursing homes) and partly because space is limited. As they get permits and as money is available, they add a story and finish it when the next generation is ready to move in.

• According to our guide Raouf, Muslim and Jewish prayers end cursing each other and the Christians. “They may smile at you, but they don’t like you,” he told us.

• Arabs once worshiped palm trees because the trees were able to live in the desserts, so the people thought a god lived within them.

• The city of Jericho, at 10,000 years, is the oldest

shabat elevator

Sign above one elevator in the kosher hotel.

city in the world, and is 900 feet below sea level. Its name means “good scent” because its spring allows gardens and flowers to flourish. It is located in the barren hills of the “Wilderness.”

• Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level, the Dead Sea is 1,400 below sea level.

• The Dead Sea is shrinking every year, and in 50 years may be gone entirely.

• The


When excavations are done around the churches, mosaics from centuries gone by often emerge.

Church of the Ascension contains the rock of the Ascension. Originally it was no church, but just columns surrounding the holy rock. The Persians destroyed it, the Crusaders rebuilt it and put a domed top on it. It’s in Arab territory, and the Muslims allow only one Mass per year to be said there, on Ascension Day.

• The Valley of Judgement in Jerusalem is a Jewish cemetery, and it is believed that those who are buried there will be the first to be resurrected.

• In the Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem you can see little pebbles on the tombs. Those are placed there by people 1. who weren’t able to attend the

east gate

The East Gate to old Jerusalem (now bricked up). Jesus entered through that gate on Palm Sunday. In front, a Muslim cemtery, placed there to defile the land for the Jews.

funeral and came to the gravesite later, and 2.  who will be buried in the nearby Mount of Olives but will be “in” the Valley of Judgement by placing the pebbles within it.

• We call the olive garden “Gethsemane” where Jesus began his agony, but the name was actually Geth Shemain (guessed at spelling) which means “oil press.”

• Shepherds were looked down upon as defiled because they lived with their animals. Thus, they couldn’t go into Jerusalem–but they were the first to be invited to see the baby Jesus.

• People like to shop in Bethany on the West Bank because things are cheaper there. Lots of places


Breads for sale by a street vender.

there sell appliances, cars, spices and produce. We even saw a side of beef hanging outside, with a bull’s head–a real one–advertising fresh meat

.• At the Church of the Visitation (when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth), an Arab guide was leading a group of Christians. Returning to our bus, Raouf said, “Did you hear what that guide was saying? Not good. That’s what happens with a Muslim guide. He has no understanding of what happened there.”

• Our guide said that wherever there is a Christian church, there will be a mosque nearby, and that it’s done intentionally. The

arabic outfits

Palestinian women waiting for a bus.

Christian churches are usually built on the sites of former churches that date back to the Byzantine period or earlier, before there was a Muslim faith, so they were there first.

• The sounds of a muezzen singing the call to prayer from the minaret, the tower rising over each mosque, sound very foreign, especially when waiting outside a church to go in for Mass. Listen to the call here and here.

• I was surprised and dismayed to see so much dirt and litter in the towns, in the streets, between buildings, in the front yards. Everything seemed to just be tossed helter-skelter with no thought to aesthetics. However, in the narrow streets where walked for the Stations of the Cross, I saw shop owners with brooms and dust pans, picking up cigarette butts and other trash.

• I took a

herod's walls

The base of this sructure was built by Herod the Great.

wild taxi ride when three of us were given special treatment when we had some steep hills to climb at one location. The driver honked, zipped and zoomed, daring pedestrians and other vehicles to get in his way. I confess I sometimes shut my eyes.

• I finally learned that the hotel shabat elevator is one that becomes the exclusive use of the Jews on the Sabbath because it stops at each floor automatically so they don’t have to push buttons, which would be considered work.

This marks the end of my tales from the Holy Land. Thanks for making the journey with me!

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Holy Land–All the good eats

“Take pictures of the food,” my sister told me when I left for the Holy Land. So I took them, just for her, but then as I ate meal after meal, I realized the food we ate would make a good blog all by itself, since it was part of the whole pilgrimage experience.

One thing I noticed right away is that just when you

jerry's dates

Jerry bought dates at a roadside stand, and shared!

thought you knew what something was, it was just a little different. Like the gyros. When we were told the restaurant we were heading to for lunch offered gyros as one of their sandwiches, I raised my hand. In a country where sheep are raised and lamb is eaten regularly, these gyros should be great.

But they weren’t the gyros I was expecting, with the flat bread and the cucumber sauce–and the lamb. Nope, these gyros were chopped chicken meat in a pita. It was our job to add to the pita some or all of the sides, each on its own

druze restaurant

Druze restaurant

little plate: humus, an eggplant concoction, pickled and spiced cabbage, dill pickles, pickled horseradish root, and other things I’ve forgotten about. There was also a white sauce to squirt into the pita, but I have no idea what it was. I’m sure we were given the names of all those things, but they went in one ear and out the other.

The gyro is considered a sandwich. There were two other sandwiches to choose from when we stopped for lunch:



falafel inside a pita (chick peas cooked and mashed with spices added, then breaded and fried), or schnitzel (a guess on the spelling), which was flattened chicken white meat, breaded and fried, with sesame seeds on it, and served in a pita. If there were other kinds of sandwiches out there, we never saw them.

Those sandwiches came with “salad” and a drink, cost $11 or $12, and were served cafeteria style. The salad was usually those things I mentioned above, plus a bowl of greens in olive oil with spices. The spices were never anything I recognized, or were combined with familiar spices in a way I’d never tried.

Once we

salad with labaneh

Salad with my labaneh. There were always olives, in restaurants and hotels.

had lunch in a Druze town, at a restaurant owned by a Druze family. Like a number of other ethnic groups in the Middle East, such as the Kurds, the Druze live in several different countries, separated by borders drawn after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s. But unlike the Kurds, who are largely Muslim, the Druze are a unique religious and ethnic group. Their tradition dates back to the 11th century and incorporates elements of Islam, Hinduism and even classical Greek philosophy.

Today, 1 million-plus members of this community live

St. Peter's fish

St. Peter’s fish

primarily in Syria and Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, in Israel and Jordan. They offer their allegiance to whatever country in which they reside, but they remain a separate group. Perhaps that’s why when we ate lunch at the Druze restaurant, we were offered another sandwich choice, the labaneh.
Labaneh is a very thin, flaky “bread,” over which is spread a soft, creamy cheese that reminded me of a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese. The bread is folded over from

fresh datess

Fresh dates

each side, and served in a waxed paper. While some of our group stuck with the familiar falafel or schnitzel, I was one of those who wanted to try something new–and I’m so glad I did! It was lip-smacking delicious, and I was sorry I never found it offered at any of our other stops.

Twice we had served-at-the-table meals. One served a pice of chicken stuffed with rice with a side of french fries, of all things. The chicken was delicious! For dessert we had small sweet squares, about the size of a petit for. It was baclava, which

caesar making donuts

Making donuts at the Caesar.

originated in the Middle East. It’s layers of phyllo pastry filled with nuts and soaked in honey. It was served with tiny cups of strong, black coffee–espresso, I assume.
Another served-to-the-table meal was the St. Peter’s fish I mentioned in an earlier blog. Someone said it was a form of tilapia. The fish was served whole, but had been lightly breaded and then deep fried so that the outside was nice and crisp. The meat was white and mild–and delicious. I plucked those bones clean! Once again, the meal started with pita and salad, and french fries were served with the fish. Dessert was fresh dates, not the dried variety. It was a first for me, and I’m not likely to have them again unless I go back there.
At another restaurant we had “barbecue.” I pictured slabs of ribs, of course, or beef on a bun. Instead, we got

caesar donut

My half-finished donut.

what seemed to be ground lamb, rolled into a sausage shape, along with chunks of chicken in a red sauce of some kind–not our barbecue, but wonderfully good.
Those were the lunches. The breakfasts and dinners we had at the two hotels where we stayed was much more elaborate and of a greater variety.
A new experience for all of us was that the first hotel, the Caesar in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, was kosher. That means you don’t mix dairy and meat. So our breakfast offerings included no meat. Instead there were pieces of fish

caesar breads

Breads at the Caesar

(raw, I think. I didn’t care for it), mounds of tuna fish mixed with tiny chopped veggies, omelettes, boiled eggs, cheeses, fruit and breads.
For supper the meat was brought out, along with yogurt, potatoes, veggies, salads, and a huge array of desserts served in very small dishes. I think they knew we’d all want to sample more than one. One night one of the chefs made donuts as we watched, and we could drizzle chocolate sauce over them, or

Amb. bread pudding

Bread pudding at the Ambassador

maple syrup, or shake powdered sugar on them. I LOVE donuts, so I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t cake donuts, and weren’t quite like a bismark or long john dough. They were good, though.
The second hotel, the Ambassador in Jerusalem, was owned by a Christian family. There still was no meat at breakfast, at least not that I remember, but yogurt was available, cheese (including “salty cheese” that may have been feta but was better than any feta I’ve ever had), boiled eggs, pastries, and something that I thought was oatmeal

Amb. sides

Side dishes at the Ambassador

but turned out to be barley, served in a sweetened milk of some kind, with bowls of cinnamon, brown sugar and golden raisins nearby to add to it. Once I tried that, I went back for it every morning. There was also veggie mixtures. My favorite was shredded carrot with chunks of some kind of fruit in it.
Supper always included some kind of fish, some kind of chicken, and some meat–veal one night, I remember, and meatloaf another night. One of the veggie offerings I liked was thinly

Amb. soup & bread

Soup and bread at the Ambassador

sliced al-dente carrots that tasted as if they were drizzled with lemon. It’s a combination I might try at home. Once again, there was a huge array of desserts, but it didn’t take long for people to discover the bread pudding. Unlike some I’ve had, that sits like a brick in your stomach, this was light and fluffy, reminding me of cinnamon rolls, with a maple, buttery sauce over the top. It was serve in a big pan, so we could scoop

caesar desserts

Desserts at the Caesar

up as much as we wanted. A little went a long way, though.
And there always was fruit–apples, bananas, deliciously sweet tangerines, dates, cut-up citrus, and chunks of a firm, red fruit I couldn’t identify. It had the texture of an unripe pear, and was very good.
Our last meal together was served at the hotel we had checked out of that morning. We had a private room, with served-to-the-table meal of chicken, roasted dark and unlike anything I’ve had here, and a rice mixture with thinly sliced carrots and browned cauliflower.
Serving it was done theatrically. The rice mixture was in a huge, round bowl, which the chef upended and then slammed down on the table with a great thump that

farewell dinnenr

Our farewell dinner

made us all jump. The rice was then dished up onto our plates along with the chicken. For dessert we had squares of cake that had been soaked in honey. It tasted like the Middle East.
I admit that when we got home, and George offered to take me out for a late lunch, I opted for a hamburger and fries. It’s something I don’t usually eat, but it was just so American I couldn’t resist. Still, I’ll be thinking of some of that Israeli food for a long time, and probably wishing I knew how to fix it myself.

P.S.–which has nothing to do with food. My husband couldn’t be with me on this pilgrimage, and while I was gone, he did a concert at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay. Some of my fellow pilgrims asked me what kind of music he plays. So, you can check it out here.

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Holy Land–Day 9

I must be crazy, I thought, as I crawled out of bed at 5:30. We had been given an extra hour of sleep, with the wake-up call due to chirp at 7.

But I couldn’t sleep. It was our last day in the Holy Land, and our suitcases had to be sitting outside our door by 7:30. We’d eat breakfast, and begin touring for the last time, pilgrims without a home since we’d be checked out of our hotel.

Our first stop was the famous Western Wall, or Wailing Wall,

men's side

Men’s side of the Western Wall

as it’s sometimes called. It’s the last remaining bit of the Temple of Jerusalem where the Jews are allowed to pray, because the Muslims have taken over everything else.

I confess I hadn’t known much about that wall or its significance. I’d merely seen pictures of bearded and black-hatted Jewish men praying up close to it, and I wasn’t quite sure why. Our guide, Raoul, gave a lengthy explanation of the history, starting with the rock of sacrifice, where Abraham nearly killed his own son before God intervened and said it had merely been a test. That’s why the Jews revere that site on the Temple Mount of Old Jerusalem.

women's side

Women’s side of the Western Wall

Nine centuries later, King David bought the land and wanted to build a temple, but because his record with God was less than spotless, God wouldn’t allow him to. The task was left to his son Solomon, in 975 BC. It was the first temple of Israel, where Jews came to pray and make atonement. In 585 BC the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians who then carried the Jews off to captivity. When they returned, 70 years later, they built the second temple on the same site.

In 21 BC, Herod the Great said the temple, which took up 12

Dividing wall

The dividing line between men and women.

acres of land, was collapsing and ugly, so he built a wall in the surrounding valley, filled it with arches and roofed it over. It now comprised 36 acresthat became, in effect, a new temple, the third. The prophecies had said the Messiah would appear during the third temple period. This, according to Raouf, is where the Christians and Jews differ. Since the Jewish leaders didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, they will never refer to Herod’s remodel as the “third temple.”

In 70 A.D., when Titus destroyed Jerusalem, the Jews were kicked out, and eventually the Muslims took over. They wouldn’t allow the

dormition abbey

Beautiful Dormition Abbey

Jews to rebuild the temple, but they did give them a place to worship: the Western Wall, the one built by Herod the Great. Meanwhile, over Abraham’s rock, the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock in the 7th century AD. This is where they believe Muhammed was taken up to heaven.

It was awe-inspiring to stand on a nearby open space and look at that ancient wall (with the minaret of a mosque looming over it), standing where ancient people had built it. Jewish men, some in tallitot (prayer shawls), stood before the wall, reading prayers and swaying. Raouf said the swaying comes from Psalm 149, which says to worship with dance.

The area in front of the Western Wall is divided in half,


The dormition of Mary

with the men praying on one side and the women on the other. I think, dressed appropriately, we could have approached the wall, but I don’t think any of our group did. Some holy sites should be reserved for the people who revere them, and it doesn’t seem right that outsiders should treat them as tourist attractions. I wouldn’t like to have gawkers show up at Mass just to watch, as if it were a spectacle.

Still, it’s edifying, even from a distance, to see

shell damage

Shell damage from conflict in Jerusalem

the remains of an ancient structure, and to see the faith of a people whose ancestors once worshipped in the temple that stood there.

“But if the Jews were ever able to rebuild the temple, this wall would become just a wall,” Raouf said.

Our next stop was Dormition Abbey, where it is believed the Blessed Virgin was taken to heaven, body and soul. (The dogma of he Assumption.) It sits on the site of the Hagia Sion, a Byzantine church built under the bishop of Jerusalem

last mass

Fr. Brian, Fr. Carl and Dcn. Mark at our last Mass together.

in the early 5th century. Relics of St. Stephen were transferred there. Two centuries later it was destroyed. Churches continued to be built and destroyed during the following centuries, with the current church being built in the early 1900s.

I heard a gasp from one of our group as we entered the part of the church that stands over the site attributed to Mary’s assumption, and were greeted by a full-size figure of Mary, “sleeping” on her bed. Things like that brought out the reality of our beliefs.


The abruptly ending stairs to the pit.

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (meaning “cock’s crow” and referring to Peter’s denial) was very moving. It is built over what is believed to be the high priest Caiaphas’ palace, and the caves below are thought to be the dungeon where Jesus was kept after his arrest. One woman in our group bent to touch the ground reverently, and the rest stared in stupefaction at the abrupt ending of a staircase which would have meant a rough push to fall to the place below. We realized that there were horrors Jesus suffered that we may never have been aware of.

After driving around various sites in Jerusalem, it was very helpful next to stop at the 1/50 scale model of Jerusalem, where we could see how the city expanded, and how new walls were built each time. When determining whether something existed inside or outside the walls of the city, you have to

the pit

The pit–with a modern ambo for prayer.

know where the “city limits” were at the time. I was amazed at the size and scope of the temple where Jesus once worshipped, and of other buildings, whose gates and walls exist only in part today.

Near the model is the Shrine of the Book, an exhibit of replicas of some of the manuscripts found in Qumran. Its dark interior gave the impression of gazing through the tunnel of time to the era when dedicated scribes copied Scripture and other books. It made our earlier visit to the site of the Essene community, who preserved the scrolls from Roman armies, seem much more imminent.

By now there was only one site left for the day, that of the Church of the Visitation. Raouf warned us that there would be a lot of walking, and 100 steps to climb up and descend again. I knew I couldn’t

model of Jerusalem

Model of Jerusalem

do it, and four others also chose to remain behind in the bus. Since there was wi-fi aboard, I checked email and played a couple games.

When the others returned, Raouf made the announcement.

“You can turn in your Whispers,” he said. Those were the audio head sets we wore, along with a control box that hung around our necks, so we could hear Raouf even when he spoke quietly in crowded sites.

But turning them in meant our time in the Holy Land

the temple model

The temple model

was just about done. There would be no more tours, no more sites to visit. We returned to the hotel for a special farewell dinner in a private room, then boarded the bus for a final trip, this time to Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion Airport. We said goodbye to Samir, our driver, as we debarked, and Raouf got us as far as the security check site inside the terminal. Then he, too, said goodbye.

Roughly twenty hours later, we were home. The trip of a lifetime was over, but the memories will be with us forever. I walked in Jesus’ land and I feel I got to know him a little better. Scripture will certainly have more meaning to me now that I can see it “in context.”

(Coming up: A blog about the food we experienced, and another with odds and ends of interesting information.)

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Holy Land—Day 8

Every morning we’ve been rising at 6, having breakfast at 6:30, and heading out on the bus by 7:30. Today we were up at 5 and heading out at 6.

That’s because today we did the Via Dolorosa, or the Stations of the Cross.  It’s a popular stop for pilgrims, and we wanted to get ahead of the rest of them because the way is though narrow little streets, maybe 15 feet wide, if that, that have to accommodate pedestrians and sometimes vehicles.

There weren’t many vehicles out this early—just those that


Empty early-morning streets

were picking up trash and hauling things—and the pedestrians weren’t tourists, they were locals, both Jews and Arabs. I felt conspicuous, something I’m not used to, especially as we sang our Christian songs, softly, so as not to be intrusive.

As we walked, we passed locked metal doors in the old walls. Early sun filtered through the strip of open air above us, and the narrow road had a tunnel-like feel. The “street” had ramps on one side and steps on the other, which explained the narrowness of the utility vehicles that came through now and then—not stopping or even slowing for anyone. It was definitely “pedestrian beware.”

This is the


The third station.

Palestinian part of the city, so we saw men and a few women with the telltale head wrappings. Jewish folks came through, too, some of the men with yarmulkas and some with the black hats and sideburn curls of the Hassidic Jews. A very few said good morning; most of them ignored us.

Amid this atmosphere, we found our first station, just a plaque on the wall. Hard to imagine this was the place where Jesus was condemned to death. Some of the stations had more prominent markings, some were adjacent to


Shops are open.

Christian churches. We sang “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” as we walked from station to station, eliciting a few curious glances from the residents. At each station we prayed a meditation together, then moved on.

It took maybe an hour, and by the time we finished and headed back through the streets, the shops were open, creating a bazaar-like atmosphere. Many of the shop owners intercepted us to push their wares. In fact, that happened wherever we went, and we had to learn to say no and just keep moving. The more aggressive ones would lockstep with us.

“Beautiful bag, only 10 dollar. You like bag? Maybe 8 dollar?” I always felt rude to just ignore


Reaching under the altar and through the hole to touch the stone where Jesus cross was erected.

them and keep my eyes forward. It wasn’t so bad at these shops, but the ones who accosted us as soon as we alighted from the bus reminded me of seagulls circling for handouts.

The Via Dolorosa was moving, but there was more to come.


The slab where Jesus body was prepared for burial.

We headed for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we first passed by the slab of rock on which Jesus lay after being taken down from the cross. Many went down on their knees to press a gentle kiss on that cold stone. I couldn’t get down that far, but I did touch it. Then we headed to the nearby Blessed Sacrament Chapel for Mass. Near the altar was a statue of St. Joseph, whose feast day was today. He’s the patron for me and George because we were married on this day.



Lined up to enter the Holy Sepulchre.

this point, the church had been fairly empty. When we left the chapel, to visit the tomb of Our Lord just a few yards away, we were met with throngs of people. The line stretched forever.

“Well, what can we do?” our guide Raouf said, and we trudged off to the end of the line. I’m not sure who was behind, but the group in front of us was from Romania. The women wore skirts over their slacks and leggings, and colorful scarves as head coverings. We wore neither, and I felt like the typical casual American. As I watched those people of other countries around me, I was reminded that while reverence may be in the heart, respect is shown outwardly. A dress to church on Sundays


The cane ladies

isn’t a bad habit to cultivate—as long as my heart has been prepared, too.

We spent over two hours in that line, and my little cane with the seat was never so appreciated. I heard someone behind me say, “She’s lucky she can sit down.” After I finally made it to the Holy Sepulchre and came out to wait for the others, I spotted a whole row of ladies with canes just like mine. We all grinned at each other and proceeded to have a short little gab fest. Fr. Carl took our picture with my camera. Too bad I’ll probably never see them again.

Now, about the Holy Sepulchre. It was a quick visit, maybe 60 seconds total. That sounds rushed, and I suppose it was, but with that many people, there wasn’t much choice.


Part of the Crusader church at Lazarus’ house

We’d spent our time inline gazing around at the gorgeous church, with its mosaics and elaborate carvings and the hanging oil lamps, high curving arches, and beautiful stone work. Lots of pictures got snapped.

The closer we got to the Holy Sepulchre, which is located under a small building within the church itself, the lines became two abreast. When we arrived, the priest let us in five at a time. In the anteroom was a glass case with the remains of the stone before Jesus’ tomb. Bits and pieces of it had been carried away by the devout over the years until this last piece was saved.

Then we entered the room that contained the slab on which


Me on a camel!

Jesus lay in the tomb. We touched it, reverently, and I laid my rosary on it. I’ll never use that rosary again without remembering where it lay, even if for only a few seconds. Being in that sepulchre made Jesus’ incarnation real in a new way. U fortunately, no photos were allowed to be taken in the sepulchre.

I begged off the next part of our tour. Raouf said there would be a lot of walking, and my knees are about trashed despite having a cane, so I decided to stay on the bus and get a head start on this blog. The others went to see the Eastern gate of the wall around old Jerusalem, near the Temple Mount (now controlled by the Muslims), and they also saw the old Muslim cemetery, built centuries ago.

Funny story about that cemetery. When the Muslims heard that the prophecies said the Messiah would enter Jerusalem through the eastern gate, they put their cemetery outside the walls because that would “defile” the land for the Jews, and they were sure the Jewish Messiah would not be able to enter the gate. Didn’t work, of course; at least not as far as Jesus was concerned.

Also 46AAD8DA-C18C-46C0-AC2D-0E0629C359B6included in our afternoon was a visit to the shepherds’ field, upon which a church was built, of course—built by Canada; and a visit to the Church of Lazarus, in Bethany, built over the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Raouf read the story of Lazarus, and told us that his being raised from the dead by Jesus was the turning point for Jesus. From this point on, the Jewish plotted ways to kill him.

The current church was built in 1952. First there was a Byzantine church, destroyed by the Persians, and then a Crusader church, also destroyed by Muslims who built a mosque over it. Finally the Franciscans bought the land that was left and built the current church.

It still amazes me to see the mammoth stone walls from centuries ago, and to see the remains of tiled floors, now protected by special glass; bits and pieces of the men of long ago who are now crumbled to dust. I always wonder , as I touch the beautiful stone, if my hand has fallen in the same spot as one of the builders.

 Now—from the sublime to the ridiculous. At the foot of the slope to the church was a small shop where some of our group paused to buy more goodies to take home. There was also a camel named Jimmy.

“You ride the camel? Five dollar,” its handler said. First I said no. Then someone else climbed aboard, and after that I couldn’t resist. With not much grace and with the help of the handler I mounted and hung on for dear life as Jimmy lurched to his feet. The ride was short, but fun. I rode a camel! Definitely a perk I never expected from this trip.

Tonight we pack, tomorrow we tour and then we head to the airport for a 10 pm flight. I’ll finish the last of the Holy Land stories when I get back home, for those of you who are still with me.

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Holy Land—Day 7

While yesterday was play day, today was about tears. Today we moved closer to Jesus in his most significant moments, and tears flowed freely for different people at different sites. We’re moving closer to the Via Dolorosa, and the holy places have taken on a more somber  note.

For my friend, it was descending into the cave where


Raouf directs us to the small door—for humility, to enter the Church of the Nativity.

Jesus was born, touching the spot and bending close to the rough stone that was his first “home.” For me, it was the garden of Gethsemane, and listening to our guide Raouf read the



We all touched this spot where Jesus was born.

account of Jesus’ betrayal and his willing acceptance of what needed to be done to carry out the Father’s will and bring the kingdom of God alive.

“It’s a mistake to say Jesus was ‘arrested,’” Raouf said. “When the soldiers came and asked for him, he stepped forward and said ‘here I am.’”

Raouf pointed out that while other kings send soldiers to do their fighting , and let other people defend them, Jesus did the opposite. He is the king who fought for us, alone,


Raouf explains things in the cave of the Nativity.

against the devil and the world’s evils, against all that would keep us from the kingdom of God. Sitting there, just yards away from the Church of All Nations which houses the rock of Jesus’ agony, I was moved to tears because it all suddenly seemed so close and so real. It’s one thing to read about Jesus’ sacrifice, it’s another to be where it began.

This church is built on the site of a Byzantine church that was destroyed by the Persians. No other


St. Jerome’s tomb.

church stood there until 1919 when money from Catholics around the world paid for a new one. That’s why it’s called the Church of aAll Nations.

At supper tonight we talked about our reactions to the day, and all seemed to have been affected by this day more than others—so far. We’re all learning to appreciate even more the beauty of our faith, and the goodness of our God.

“I’m not going to be such a quiet, passive Catholic


Touching the rock of the ascension.

as I have been,” one woman said. “I’m going to speak out for what I believe.” 

We visited other places today, too. One was the Church of the Pater Noster, or Our Father. St. Helena, mother of Constantine,


Early Christian cemetery.

built four major basilicas, three of which were destroyed by Muslims. One was Eleona, which means olive, in the area Jesus would have walked through when going to Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Persians (today’s Iranians). Later the Crusaders did some research and discovered that according to Luke 11, Jesus taught the Our Father there. They built a new church which was destroyed by Saladin in 1187.

It wasn’t until 1842 that the Carmelites bought the land and found artifacts that proved to be the remains of St. Helena’s church.

The current church


Me, with old Jerusalem and the east gate in background.

is called Eleona Pater Noster, and the walls of the courtyards hold large murals of the Lord’s Prayer in over 180 languages and dialects, including Ukrainian and Korean, which are of particular interest to me.

So, we stood amid the ruins of the original Byzantine church and prayed the Our Father together, and then Raouf recited it in Aramaic, Jesus’ own tongue. It was a special moment for all of us. You can hear it for yourself here.

We saw a Jewish cemetery with the pebbles on the graves


Rock of the agony, where another group was having Mass.

placed by people who visit, and we saw an early Christian cemetery, where the bones of bodies were placed in small caskets called “bone eaters.” These were former Jews who weren’t allowed to use the Jewish cemetery because of their conversions t9 Christianity.

We  drove through checkpoints manned by soldiers with guns, we listened to Muslim calls to prayer from the minarets of mosques placed strategically near Christian churches, we experienced Orthodox Jewish men being careful not to touch us in elevators because we might be unclean, and we came to realize the sometimes not-so-subtle tensions among the three religions in this area of Holy history.

And we met Jesus in a new kind of way, developing a bit more our love for him and gratitude for what he has called us to.

People have told me this pilgrimage would be life-changing. They were right. And we’ve still two days to go.

(I’m posting this from  an iPad and it suddenly won’t give me access to my photos. I’ll have to add photos tomorrow, but I wanted to at least get the narrative up today.)

(The photos are up!)

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Holy Land—Day 6

Sometimes people forget casual acquaintances rather quickly. It’s those who have proved reliable when needed that become best friends. My cane is now my best friend.

At first during this trip it seemed I misplaced it twice a day. Now it’s the first thing I grab and the last thing I relinquish. My knees wouldn’t have it any other way. But, although it has made getting around much easier, I still had to sit out a couple things today, at least in part.

We started the day with Mass at the site of the Last


Church at the Upper Room site,

Supper in the upper room. Our guide, Raouf, had told us that most original sites are many feet below current ground level because of a series of destruction and rebuilding due to earthquakes and devastation from things like the Persian armies. Still, the simple church with its striking Last Supper sculpture behind the altar, and the proximity to Jesus’ last meal, brought a reverent hush to our talkative group before Mass started.

Then the focus of the day changed. Instead of looking for Jesus’ footsteps, we broadened our journey. The first stop after Mass was Masada, the ruined fortress that sits on top of a 1,300-foot Mesa near the Dead Sea. It’s not mentioned in the Bible, but It is revered by the Jews because


Our priests and their sculptured predecessors.

nearly 1,000 Jewish men, women and children committed suicide there rather than submit to an advancing Roman army.

Most of our group rode a gondola to the top of the Mesa and then spent over an hour touring the ruins. Four us stayed below in the visitor center, where we saw the model of the famous fortress, and watched wave after wave of pilgrims arrive from the many buses parked


Salty edges of the Dead Sea that we’re once underwater.

outside, speaking all kinds of languages and coming from many different countries.

I struck up a conversation with a Mexican lady who joined me on a bench. She said she was 94 and this was her second trip to the Holy Land. I commented on her beautiful necklace—Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“You’re Catholic?”


Part of the Masada ruins.

she asked, and then smiled when I said yes. Instant bond.

From the visitor center I could see, through my telephoto lens, part of the ruins atop the Mesa. I also had a good view of the stark, barren landscape all around on which very little grows, and the Dead Sea in the distance. 

That Dead Sea, by the way, surprised me. I’m not sure what I expected, but it looked like any other


One of the Qumran caves.

big body of water, with waves gently lapping at the shore. Raouf told that it gets shallower every year, and that in 50 years, if something doesn’t change, the Dead Sea will not only be dead, it will have disappeared. I’m glad it was still here for our visit. We had driven along its shore on our way to Masada through an area called En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in the Old Testament.

We planned to get a closer view of the Dead Sea but first we stopped at Qumran (spelled Kumran on the road signs), a desert


Old pottery kiln.

settlement of the monk-like sect called Essenes. The Roman army wiped them out in 68 AD, but not before they had hastily hidden their library of scrolls in clay jars in the nearby caves in the hills. In 1947 a Bedouin boy found one of the caves, and the resulting excavations located some of the earliest Old Testament books.

We walked among the ruins of the Essene community (John the Baptist was rumored to have been an Essene), and saw the remains of bathing pools, a refectory, and a kiln where they fired their pottery. The sun beat down on us, and it was hot. We’d left 40 degrees at 2,500 feet above E8BAEF1F-6E4F-4505-87C4-607F03356F10Sea Level, and found temps in the 70s and 80s by the Dead Sea, 1,400 feet below sea level.

Then we headed to the Dead Sea itself for some pure fun. Anyone who wished could either float in its waters, or at least wade along the shore, and they brought appropriate clothing to change into. I declined, figuring that a cane and gratzy knees wouldn’t do well with rocks and extremely slippery mud.

They say you can’t sink in the Dead Seas because of its high concentration of  

salt.90B23D45-9003-4FEE-A1C3-E1704BE714EE It’s also loaded with many other precious minerals. Those who went all the way in assured me that although they tried, the Sea insisted they float.

“It’s even hard to walk because the water wants to make your leg float,” one floater reported.

People smeared themselves with the black mud, let it dry, then went back In for a rinse before rinsing again in the public showers. A few took advantage of camel rides. Oh yes, we saw quite a few of those ships of the desert during our rides through the barren hills.

I satisfied myself with grabbing photos and marveling at the beauty of the barren hills that I’m beginning to appreciate. It’s not a land for the faint-of-heart, though.

This was, perhaps, a less reflective day. But it was still


Some of us rode a shuttle to the sea.

Jesus’ land, and I’m beginning to see that people who lived here could best understand His allusions to life-giving water, and to taking on his yoke that is less burdensome than what their religion, their culture and their land provided.

After the ride back to our hotel we headed to dinner and ate like wolves. Our current hotel isn’t kosher like the last one was, so the food and its combinations  are more familiar to us. I do think, though, that we’re more tired each day-and the toughest is yet to come. But that’s what pilgrimage is all about.

(We’ll be rising VERY early Tuesday morning, which will mean getting to bed early tomorrow night. If I don’t get a blog posted, I’ll get to it eventually. Promise!)

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Holy Land—Day 5

I thought I knew what wilderness is. But my vision of the wilderness where John the Baptist lived, and where Jesus spent 40 days fasting, was nothing like the real thing. I met the real thing today.

I also met the harsh realities of life today in an area where deeply embedded religious beliefs allow for no compromise when


A Bedouin enclave in the barren hills

deciding who lives where; where walls and divisions are a way of life.

We started the day by checking out of our hotel in Tiberias and heading south toward Jerusalem. The temperature was cool, and the rain meant we all wore jackets. The farther we went, the bleaker the terrain became, with rounded hills of solid rock and almost no vegetation. I found myself wondering why anyone would fight for such land. At the same time, we saw Bedouin dwellings huddled in the folds of the hills,


Fr. Brian blesses water for our renewal of promises.

ragged and worn and looking not fit for habitation, and people driving herds of sheep and goats in the seemingly fruitless search for graze. These people live in this land, close at hand to it, looking it in the eye each day, and surviving. This is the land through which Jesus chose to wander.

Our first stop was the Jordan River, in which Jesus was baptized. We learned that because any running water is considered holy water and can be used for ritual cleansing, the Jews often dipped


Me, Fr. Carl & the Jordan River. 

themselves into the Jordan on their way to Jerusalem. So, the sight of John the Baptist immersing people in the river was the link, just as he was, between the Old and New testaments, since his baptism had a twist—it was about forgiveness of sin. This immersion, in which Jesus participated, was both old and new.

I think it was bittersweet for all of us to see that river and remember that holy event, while passing rows of fencing with signs warning of land mines. “Don’t stray off the path,” our guide told is. We were on the West Bank, in Palestinian land occupied by Israel,


An orange sign warning of land mines.

and right across the river was the country of Jordan. The government of Israel had opened this little corridor  through the electric fencing just so people like us could experience the river for ourselves.

A visitor center at the river’s edge made the visit more friendly, but once we walked down to the muddy waters, none of that mattered for the moment. This was the river that had played such a role in Jesus’ life, and I was looking at it. 

A few yards from us, a church group had donned some


The Baptist’s cave—and modern stairway.

of the thin garments for sale at the center, and had waded into the river for baptism. Since we’ve already been baptized, we instead were led by Fr. Carl and Fr. Brian in the renewal of our baptismal promises. Some of us collected small samples of the water to take home.

But the day had only just begun. Our next stop was the Mount of the Temptation—or at least, the one that has carried that reputation for hundreds of years. To one side was the cave where supposedly John the Baptist had lived. Seen like that, it’s no wonder


Orthodox monastery

people thought he was strange. There was once an Orthodox monastery at the very top of Jesus’ mount, but it was destroyed by the Persians (the Iranians of today). The monks who were forced out lived in the caves in the rocks until the 1800s, when a new monastery was carved out on the slopes. The sight of it provided a whole new appreciation for total dedication to God.

As he did at all the stops we made, our guide Raouf read from Scripture and fleshed out the background, explaining the little details that we may tend to gloss over because “you had to be there.” Raouf is neither Jew nor


Mosque and minaret.

Arab, but another ethnicity from—Turkey? I can’t remember. The point is, his perspective isn’t particularly weighted toward one side or the other. We learn a lot from him. He’s also a deeply committed Catholic.

From there we traveled to Jericho, a Palestinian town that I frankly found quite unattractive. It’s built in that wilderness, but a major spring has allowed people to thrive there. Raouf said there has been some sort of settlement there for 10,000 years. It’s a vacation destination for wealthy people from Jerusalem, some of whom have built large homes. I won’t say beautiful—although some are—but the architecture tends to be as stark and spare as the landscape.

Mosques dot that landscape. While we stood in the courtyard of the Church of the Good


Today’s Mass in Jericho.

Shepherd, which is attached to a Catholic school, the call to prayer sounded loudly from the minaret looming over the roof of the school. It was a reminder that this is an Arab town, and that we were very much in the minority. Minutes after the call ended, we entered the church for Mass. They have their call to prayer, we have ours—the Angelus. I’m inclined to pay more attention to that prayer now, which celebrates the incarnation of God. How blessed we are to have a God who would do that for us.

We eventually ended up in Jerusalem, passing through yet another military checkpoint.

“Do NOT take pictures!” Raouf warned. Old newspaper reporter that I am I could feel my shutter finger twitching. But the tone of his voice made it clear this was serious, and since I’d like to get home to George and Tillie eventually, I restrained myself.

Just beyond Jerusalem is Bethlehem, almost like a suburb, and sporting no angels on high nor any of the humble mien of the Bethlehem of Scripture. We stopped there at the shop of a Palestinian Christian to buy gifts to take home, and then went back to Jerusalem to check into the hotel where we’ll stay for the rest of our pilgrimage.

But after today, in a way I find hard to explain, I understand the enormity of Jesus’ countercultural call to emerge from arid rigidity and letter of the law spirituality to life-giving discipleship from the God-man who provides living water.

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Holy Land—Day 4

The older I get, the more I love to look at ruins. Maybe it’s a need to remind myself that, in comparison, I’m just a young whippersnapper. Today, I could have regressed to the egg and still had room to go. We went to Bet She’an.

This was a crossroads town at the intersection of Israel’s two main valleys. In the days of King Saul it was controlled by the Philistines. E142F02A-6983-4173-9596-ABFCBB786236Today, archaeologists have excavated the remains of the commercial area, with its rooms, public baths and shrines to various gods . There’s a theater with its rising rows of seats topped by doors to the vomitoriums. Yep, bulimia made respectable.

We all went into giggles over the public bathrooms—side-by-side pairs of marble slabs meant to be straddled—and no evidence that men were separated from women. We took turns straddling and photographing


What a way to “go.”

and howling with laughter at the indignity of it all.

Bet She’an was fascinating, but not nearly as moving as the Church of the 

Primacy of Peter. Inside the church is the rock which tradition says Jesus, after his resurrection, ate breakfast with the apostles and told Peter he was the rock upon which Jesus would build his church. I actually touched that rock- maybe even the spot where Jesus sat. You never know.

We strolled along the Sea of Galilee and picked up rocks and sand to take home with us. Some waded in the water.


My friend Donna & I at the Sea of Galilee.

I scooped up a handful to bless myself with. I could almost, but not quite, tmake out a fishing boat with the impetuous Peter dropping nets at Jesus’ direction.

Our priests and deacon celebrated an outdoor Mass there, and we could hear other groups holding their Masses, too. The universal Church that grew from that motley crew of 12 who answered Jesus’ call. In this humble spot, with the Sea of Galilee lapping at its shores, a holy place that moved me to


Diane picks a Sea of Galilee rock.


We all decided that God was with us today, since the predicted rain never showed up, and when lunchtime arrived and our restaurant was full to the brim, we were upgraded to its sister establishment just down the road. It was a classy place, and we were served—what else—St. Peter’s Fish. We had to look our fish right in the eye, because they were served with heads on and bones within, deep fried and crispy. Definitely not much of a Friday Lenten penance. For dessert: fresh dates and little cups of espresso. 

Next we traveled to the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes at the Church of the Heptopegon,


The black is from Jesus’ synagogue.

the seven springs, overseen by the Benedictines. There our guide Raouf pointed out that Jesus instructed his apostles to distribute the bread, which multiplied as they did so, foreshadowing their role as priests, distributing the Bread of Life. The current church was built in 1913 on the ruins of a Byzantine church built in 462 but later destroyed by the Persians. Some of the original floor tiles remain.

Then we were off to more ruins, but very special


Ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house.

ruins, that of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, the headquarters for Jesus and his apostles, in Capernaum. Those ruins are now straddled by a new church, which is raised so that we could peer at the rooms where Jesus likely ate and visited with his friends. Nearby is the ruins of the late 4th century “white synagogue” built over Jesus’ synagogue. The black, basaltic rock foundation still shows, foundation Jesus very likely saw when he went to preach his


Fr. Carl, Fr. Brian, Dan. Mark at Mass.

Good News.

At supper tonight someone with a FitBit said we’d walked over 5 miles today. My knees weren’t surprised. That’s why we appreciated our last stop: the Sea of Galilee, where we took a boat ride and those who were so inclined learned to dance the Hava Navila. 

“Do you suppose,” I asked Fr. Carl, “we could be gliding over the very spot where Jesus calmed the waters?” He assured me it was entirely


St. Peter’s fish—and fries!

possible. I like to think it happened.

Tid bits: 

  • “Sea” is the only Jewish word for a body of water, even if it’s fresh water, as is the Sea of Galilee. We would have called it a lake.
  • 27 species of fish live in it, but the biggest are the catfish because they aren’t caught. Jews eat no fish without scales or backbones.
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