HOLY LAND / HOLY LAND PILGRIMAGE: SHARING AND SOME TIPS FOR BEING A PILGRIMAGE CHAPLAIN

ANDRES RAÑOA, OFM - COMMISSARY TO THE CUSTODY OF THE HOLY LAND

What I will share is one way of doing the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The example is the November pilgrimage of which I was chaplain. Our itinerary began in Jordan, then Israel and lastly Egypt. The sequence of visiting places changed due to hotel bookings but all the places as determined in Manila and more were actually visited.

 

May you use this as a means of informing prospective pilgrims as to what to expect during a pilgrimage.

 

Jordan


 


First Day. The long trip to Amman, Jordan was through Doha, Qatar because we used Qatar Airways. From Amman we proceeded by bus to Petra. Supper and overnight in the hotel.

 

Second Day. After breakfast, I celebrated the Mass for the pilgrims. On the way to the Treasury, a rose colored monumental building artfully carved out of sheer rock and the second wonder of the world and the location for the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, we stopped at the viewing deck where we could see the tomb of Aaron on top of the rocky mountain far away. Some regions mentioned in the bible were shown. Then, some went partly horse riding, others like me decided to walk all the way to the Treasury. Along the way there were other temples and tombs carved into the mountainside. After lunch, we traveled back to Amman. Through the long trip back, I led the recitation of the rosary. We got settled in our second hotel.

 

Third Day. We checked out of the hotel and drove to Mt Nebo, the spot from which Moses viewed the promised land before his death (Deuteronomy 34). We were fortunate to be early and had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the chapel. There we prayed the Pilgrims’ Prayer to begin our pilgrimage.

 

Israel


 


We then proceeded to Israel. After the border formalities of Jordan and Israel, we proceeded to Jericho. After the barrenness of the Desert of Judea, and the funereal waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the face of the earth, one appreciates more than ever what an oasis is. We had lunch here. Then we went to view the Mount of Temptation. Tradition, attested to by the ancient Greek Monastery that clings to the side of the mountain, holds that this is the mountain upon which Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-4 and 8-11).

 

Then we visited the site of an ancient Sycamore Tree. On his last journey Jesus passed through here on his way to Jerusalem and here also was the scene for the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

 

Then we proceeded to Jerusalem. The first stop was Mount of Olives where the panorama of Jerusalem could be viewed across the Kidron Valley. Then we visited the Mosque of the Ascension under the Moslems. The biblical text is not clear as to where the Ascension took place (cf. Mt 28:16; Lk 24:50). Then, the Pater Noster Church, under the Carmelites, a favorite spot for Jesus to bring his disciples. Ceramic plaques proclaim it in a multitude of languages (Luke 11:1-13; Matthew 6:9-15). The Tagalog version of the Our Father is inside the chapel, while many other languages including Ilocano were in the courtyard. While we did not go the Franciscan managed Dominus Flevit chapel, we saw its location as we were viewing the panorama of Jerusalem. This commemorates the spot where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 23:37-39; Revelation 21:1-4).

 

We then went to the Church of All Nations where there is the Garden of Gethsemane under the care of the Franciscans. The ancient trees possibly go back to the time of Jesus. In the center of the sanctuary a stone is venerated as the place where Jesus prayed the night before he died (Luke 22:39-53). We pilgrims were led by a friar to walk around the eight ancient olive trees in the garden. We checked in our third hotel.

 

Fourth Day. First in the day’s itinerary was Bethlehem. The city is under the Palestinian Authority, so custom formalities are usually required. That day, however, it was just like passing through a checkpoint. We visited the Church of the Nativity under the charge of the Greek Orthodox. To the right of the Orthodox sanctuary a staircase descends to the cave of the Nativity. The silver star beneath the Greek altar proclaims in Latin that “Here the Word was made Flesh” (Luke 2:1-7; John 1:18; Matthew 2:1-11). Ascending the stairs to the left brings us to the area where the Armenian Orthodox worship, and to the entrance to the Church of St. Catherine, under the care of the friars. The Christmas Eve Mass that is televised throughout the world is broadcast from here. At the rear of the church the staircase descends to other caves dedicated to the memory of the Holy Innocents, and St. Joseph, and to St. Jerome, who lived in his cave for almost forty years, studying and translating the Bible into Latin (known as the Vulgate). His statue is on a pedestal in the cloister in front of the church.

 

On foot we proceeded to the Milk Grotto, under the care of the friars. Tradition says that when Mary was nursing Jesus, a drop of milk from her breast fell to a rock and the rock became white. In the gift shop there are many testimonies as to cures of ailments and conceptions attributed to the powder of this whitened rock. We then proceeded to the Shepherd’s Field. We were fortunate to be accommodated to celebrate Mass in the cave chapel. It was different from the chapel donated by Canadian Catholics (Luke 2:8-18).

 

We motored back to Jerusalem and proceeded to Mount Zion. St. Peter in Gallicantu is the church of “St. Peter Where the Cock Crowed.” The doors on the sides of the sanctuary of the upper church lead on to a balcony with a splendid view of the original Zion at the juncture of the Jerusalem valleys. To the left of the church is the stone staircase leading down to the Kidron valley which Jesus likely trod on Holy Thursday night on his way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:1).

 

Excavations beneath the property have uncovered what may have been the quarters of the high priest where Jesus was denied by Peter, mocked, scourged, and spent the night in prison (Luke 22:31-34; Luke 22:54-62; Psalm 88).

 

The Basilica of the Dormition Abbey under the Benedictines commemorates the “sleeping” of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. Here the statue of Mary in repose is surrounded by mosaics of great biblical women (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). We then went to the nearby Cenacle, the Upper Room, under the Israeli government (John 17:20-26; Matthew 26:26-30; John 20:19-28). Below the Cenacle is the Tomb of David. The legend locating the tomb here is of comparatively recent origin. King David, the Messiah of the Lord, was actually buried in the old City of David, down the hill, opposite the Temple Mount (Psalm of David 110:1-4; Acts 2:29-33).

 

Inside St. Stephen’s Gate is the Church of St. Anne, standing just as it was built by the crusaders. It is now under the White Fathers of Africa. The basilica is very cavernous so that when we sang the echoes were reverberating. Nearby excavations have thrown light on a passage of the Fourth Gospel – Jesus’ curing of the sick man at the “pool with five porticoes” - the pool of Bethesda. Since this provides the setting for Jesus’ cure of the sick man, an event which capsulizes the animosity against him and leads to his passion, it can be considered spiritually what it is geographically, the preface to the Via Dolorosa (John 5:1-15).

 

Church of Flagellation (Litostratos) is located at the Franciscan Biblical School. This is where we started the Stations of the Cross. For the remaining Stations we had it in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the Calvary. Due to the crowd and an activity involving the Equestrian Order of Malta, we were not able to see the tomb. On coming out into the courtyard once again, one has the evocative experience of emerging from the darkness of the tomb into the brilliant Jerusalem sunshine.

 

Then we ended the day with a visit to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The Western Wall is highly venerated as the only remaining vestige of the temple destroyed during the Roman Siege in 70 A.D. Prayerful petitions are inserted between the stones. From there we just viewed the Dome of the Rock and the El-Aqsa Mosque. Both were constructed in the seventh century. The whole area is considered a sacred sanctuary (Luke 2:22-39; Luke 2:42-51; John 2:13-23).

 

Fifth Day. We returned to the Holy Sepulchre for the Tomb and again, we were fortunate to be accommodated for a Mass at the Chapel of the Resurrection. The large double door ahead opens to this beautiful Latin Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where the Eucharist is reserved. 

 

We then proceeded to Ein Karem to visit the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist. To the left of the sanctuary is the staircase to the cave which was thought to be part of the home of Zachary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:57-79). Various texts of the Benedictus are all over the courtyard. Leaving the church and crossing the road, we climbed to the Church of the Visitation. The gates open on to a peaceful courtyard where the Magnificat is inscribed on ceramic plaques in a multitude of languages. The lower church marks the home of Elizabeth. The modern church, reached by an outside staircase, is a poem in stone and a celebration of color and light (Luke 1:39-56).

 

Then to Nazareth. It is here where the Angel Gabriel appeared before Mary and where Jesus spent his boyhood. Dominating the town is the Basilica of the Annunciation, maybe the most beautiful church in the Holy Land. In the crypt can be seen the cave which was part of the house of Mary, where the mystery of the Incarnation took place (Luke 1:26-38). Exiting through the right side door of the upper church we come to the Terra Sancta College, and the Church of St. Joseph. In the crypt are cisterns and storage areas showing that this was the business and commercial area of Nazareth (Matthew 1:18-25). We then proceeded to the next hotel in Tiberias.

 

Sixth Day. The first activity was a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus spent most of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Events in the life of Jesus that are associated with this route are the healing of a leper (Mk 1:40-45), the disciples plucking ears of grain o the Sabbath (Mk 2:23-28) and the parable of Matthew 13 (Parables of Sower, Weeds and Wheat, Mustard Seed, etc). The “sea” or lake is about five miles wide and twelve miles long (Luke 5:1-11; Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 14:22-33 33).

 

We traveled by land to Capernaum where there are still the ruins of a 5th century Synagogue and St. Peter’s House. This was Jesus’ favorite town, and he considered it home. Here he preached in the synagogue and here he gathered his disciples (Lk 7:5). Also Mark 3:1-6; John 6:26-59). Not far from the synagogue is the Byzantine octagonal church and sacristy. Graffiti on the stones of the earlier levels indicate that this was venerated as a sacred spot, very likely as the Home of Peter and his family, where Jesus stayed (Mark 1:29-33; Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 17:24-27).

 

We proceeded to Tabgha to the Mount of Beatitudes atop the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee and across from the Golan Heights. Matthew has here gathered into one sermon the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5:1-16). Mass was celebrated at the lower chapel of the Chapel of the Beatitudes under the care of Italian Franciscan Sisters. Here a townmate of mine who was in another group recognized me as I was celebrating the Mass. Then to the Basilica of the Multiplication of the Loaves under the care of the Benedictines and constructed to mark the traditional spot of that episode, but also to preserve the fourth-century mosaic from the Byzantine church, depicting the miracle of the loaves and fishes, as well as much of the flora and fauna of Palestine (Mark 6:30-44). We then proceeded to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter (John 21:1-17), entrusted to the Franciscans. It is indicated to pilgrims by a stone located within a chapel, the same one that Pilgrim Egeria visited in the fourth century and that was rebuilt in 1933. Here on the lake shore Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection and singled out Peter to feed his sheep (John 21:1-17).

 

After lunch, we proceeded to Mt. Tabor to visit the Church of the Transfiguration, under the Franciscans. The Mount of the Transfiguration rises majestically above the plain. The steep road was accessible only by taxis. The views from the observation posts at the sides of the church are breathtaking (Matthew 17:1-8). We then continued to Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine. There was renewal of marriage vows and prayer for married couples in the Franciscan run Church of Cana (John 2:1-11; John 4:46-54). Back to the hotel.

 

Seventh Day. After checking out of the hotel, our first itinerary was the Yardenit, a baptismal site in the Jordan River where we renewed our baptismal promises (Matthew 3:13-17). We then drove to Qumran to see the site of the scrolls hidden in caves near the Essene community quarters. Then to the Dead Sea where some soaked and floated on the sea. Then the long travel to Eilat to cross the Egyptian border and ended in St. Catherine for the climb to Mt. Sinai. Overnight at the hotel there.

 

Egypt



 

Eighth Day. Nobody went for the very very early morning mountain climb to Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses. Instead there was a Mass celebrated before breakfast and the long trip to Cairo. We passed by Moses’ Spring and crossed the Suez Canal.

 

Ninth Day. The morning itinerary began with a visit to another wonder of the ancient world, the Pyramids of Giza and the nearby Sphinx. After lunch we visited the Coptic Church of St. Sergius with an underground place where the Holy Family took refuge, and the Hanging Church, because the church’s foundation were two towers. Then to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, housing the gold treasures of Tutankhamen. Then a dinner cruise and show at the Nile River. Return to hotel for overnight.

 

Tenth Day. We visited the Pharaonic Village to see how the Egyptians lived during the olden times. After lunch we passed by the El Khalili Bazaars for last shopping for souvenirs and then to the airport for our flight to Doha and finally to Manila, arriving home the next day.

 

Preparations for the Being Pilgrimage Chaplain

 1. Attend the orientation seminar for all those going on the pilgrimage. It is the first occasion when you would meet most of the pilgrims. Initial contacts and questions regarding the spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage will be given. Travelling tips would be given regarding airport formalities, and the following:

 2. What to bring:

a)      travel documents such as passport and ticket. It would be advisable to photocopy your passport and data therein, visas, arrivals and departures. Since this is a group tour, the visas are given at the border and pre-arranged by the travel agency. A photocopy of the first page of the passport was then needed.

b)      Personal daily medicine, pain reliever, for diarrhea, colds, etc.

c)      Money in dollars: lose change for tipping, use of toilets, etc.

d)     Charger for one’s cellphone: ask the voltage of the electricity and also the kind of electric jacks needed for the sockets in the hotels.

3. Clothing: ascertain the weather of your destination. But bring jacket, umbrella, sunglasses, hat and comfortable shoes. Rain or shine, the tour goes on!

4. Baggage: 1 checked in of not more than 20 kilos. Remember you are going to buy souvenirs and other items, so think of your return flight. 1 handcarried that is light.

5. Hotels: usually checking in is by the tour guide, together with your baggages. Be always with the group in the lobby for the instructions. But in checking out, make sure that your baggage is placed in the bus. Return the room key to the reception desk.

6. Regarding water: you will be informed if water is safe for drinking. Provide with a small bottle for mineral water during the pilgrimage.

7. As chaplain, prepare ahead of time the copies of prayers which you will think the pilgrims will need: the Angelus, the Mysteries of the Rosary and the prayers used like the “O my Jesus” after the Glory be, the litany and prayer, the Hail, Holy Queen, etc. I also provided them copies for the morning and evening prayers for each day. Also, the Way of the Cross. The Mass formularies and a small mass kit. In Israel there is no need for Mass kit and vestments. The proper Mass formularies and readings are in the local missal. But you may have to prepare the Prayer of the Faithful. But be ready to celebrate the Mass in the hotel if unable to get a reservation in the holy places. The Mass kit will be needed outside of Israel.

8. Regarding the prayers, a booklet would be preferable. But for this occasion I produced the common prayers on one page and the Way of the Cross on a separate sheet. Then I distributed every morning the prayers for the day.

 

I have descriptions of most of the places to be visited, courtesy of guide books. I also prepared possible reflections on each site. I omitted them in this account for brevity sake. But if you will be a pilgrimage chaplain, I will be more than willing to assist you in orienting you to the place and to the preparations.