Iglesia Episcopal 
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Notes on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land



By Isaías A. Rodríguez

What a joy when they said to me: "Let's go to the house of the Lord", that's how the psalmist sang (s. 122) a long time ago. So my heart rejoiced when I knew that I would go to the house of the Lord. It is a blessing for every Christian to set foot in the Holy Land that Jesus, the Nazarene, stepped on.

We landed in Tel Aviv, a biblical city mentioned by Ezekiel. The first impression was of order and cleanliness. New city, and of Jewish predominance. From there we went to Jaffa and Cesarea Maritima, both cities endowed with extraordinary beauty for being bathed by the Mediterranean Sea.

But it is necessary to turn back. The country of Israel (and Palestine), of time undated in the past, has been a crossroads and cultures, peoples and races, which have left their legacy walking through it. The most outstanding culture was due to the Hellenizing impulse given by Alexander the Great in the Greek Empire conquered by him. That culture taught the world how to think and live democratically, to maintain a balance between body and spirit, and above all, to taste beauty in art, sculpture, and architecture. The cities saw theaters, amphitheaters and temples, all of extraordinary beauty. And cities in Palestine that were encumbered in hills descended to the valley to accommodate temples, recreational and sports buildings.

This beauty, created by human beings, contributed to enlarge with great beauty a country endowed already with extreme beauty. A country of varied landscape with mountains and valleys, lakes and seas, fertile and desert lands.

Thus, we have the case of Herod the Great who, before Jesus was born, was raising a monumental kingdom, beautifying cities like Cesarea Maritima, Tiberias, Sepporis, Masada, the Herodium - palace fortress-, and above all, the temple of Jerusalem, very large of 36 acres; today stands out the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim monument built in 691. This confirmed Herod as one of the great builders of antiquity. However, now we saw everything in ruins with the only recourse to go to the imagination and contemplate everything in its moment of splendor.

Now, the pilgrim does not go to the Holy Land to enjoy the beauty created by the human being. The pilgrim wants to see the mountains that Jesus saw, the waters that he crossed in a boat, the roads he walked, the arid deserts where he meditated, and, mainly, the city he loved so much, Jerusalem.

"Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem," continues the psalmist. There we climbed after having crossed Galilee and Samaria. We ascended at night to the "compact city" of Jerusalem, where, in other times, the tribes of the Lord ascended.

How beautiful it must have been in this time of Jesus, this holy city! But in it, there was hardly any peace and quiet in any time. So the psalmist prays, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." And today more than ever, this city, badly damaged and mistreated by Romans, Muslims and Crusaders, needs our prayer.

In the Garden of Olives, where Jesus sweat blood, we also, the pilgrims, prayed and contemplated before us the eternal city, divided today in four parts, because human madness has divided it to maintain an artificial peace.

The history of this town began when Abraham, by divine mandate, left his land and went to the promised land, where he settled and, with himself, began a series of patriarchs, Isaac and Jacob, of leaders Moses and Joshua, of kings Saul, David and Solomon, of major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and a list of twelve other minors. All of them happened, in flashback, for our memory.

The pilgrims ate in the biblical cities of Bethlehem and Jericho. This one, we were assured, is the oldest city in the world, at least, of the Middle East. However, it was the collapse of the walls before the resounding sound of Joshua's trumpets, which came to mind. And more recently, was pointed out the sycamore that Zacchaeus climbed on, because of his diminutive stature, to see Jesus pass by him. Today Jericho is a city without personality and very dirty.

In Capernaum, we sat in the synagogue erected over the one in which Jesus would have probably once taught, to listen now to our learned guide Sam. A few steps away, he assured us, was Peter's house and his family. There Jesus resided whenever he was in those parts.

Other sites visited: the Golan Heights, Megido, Caesarea Philippi, the Church of the Annunciation, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Transfiguration, Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea, the Church of the Gallicantu, the Via Dolorosa that took us to the Holy Sepulcher, -and a lot more places. For me, a Carmelite at heart, was emotional the visit to Mount Carmel, the origin of the Order of Carmen and it assumed the zeal of the prophet Elijah, who in a clear contest defeated the 450 prophets of Baal, with help of fire from heaven…

Anyway, what can we think of these holy places where we are told that Jesus lived, taught and preached? We must remember that it was the mother of the Emperor Constantine, Helena, who in the fourth century built monumental churches in these places. Later, many were destroyed by Muslim fanaticism and later rebuilt by the Crusaders. Today it is not possible to determine the exact historical point of the same, but a certain approximation.

The trip was an authentic pilgrimage, with time to pray and reflect, to the tune of the deliberate and realistic meditations directed by Father David Roseberry, spiritual guide of the group. We had three Eucharistic celebrations: on the lake of Galilee, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and in the desert of temptations, we even renew our baptismal promises and carry out two baptisms in the Jordan River.

The most important star of the entire trip was the guide Samuel Macarios. Sam, an Arab Christian, knows the Bible in detail and the history of this country. He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, English and Spanish, thus illustrating us with the origin of certain technical words. The passion with which he taught us flowed from his heart. He conquered all our admiration.

We recommend this pilgrimage to anyone who wants depth in the knowledge of the Bible, and especially in love of Jesus. Without a doubt, it will be beneficial.