The next day we went to Hebron. First, we stopped at the Abraham Mosque. We were able to see the where Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac and Jacob were honored. Then we took a tour of the old city of Hebron. We learned the history of the economic ups and downs of the city as well as different plans to reconstruct Hebron. We could not leave Hebron without a stop at a blow glass shop. We were able to see two men making different pieces right in front of our eyes. After purchasing a couple souvenirs, our next stop was the Tent of Nations. Passing numerous settlements, we had to stop due to a blockade of rocks in the middle of the road, so we had to get out and walk to the top of the hill. There were gardens and a cave, which was painted with vibrant colors on the inside. We were served coffee and learned how the Tent of Nations strives to educate Palestinians on sustainability and how to be active in constructive and peaceful manners.
After a tasty lunch of salad and falafel, we drove to a Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. A former Bethlehem University graduate, who now lives and works with the people in the camp, led us through the camp. It was eye opening to walk through and see the people living there within those walls. Everyone was respectful of us wandering through their neighborhoods. There was no electricity and it was getting dark quickly. For dinner, we ate with the students of Bethlehem University at the Tent Restaurant in Beit Sahour. The dinner was delicious, and we were entertained by traditional Palestinian folk dancers. Afterwards we all got up and danced with a big group of Palestinian boys who were also eating there. It was a wonderful way to end the night on a high note!
On New Year’s Eve, we drove to Jericho and learned it was the oldest inhabited city in the world. We climbed around Wadi al-Qelt. Although it was tiring, it was a spectacular view! We later were able to take a cable car ride up to the Mount of Temptation for lunch. After seeing the city from up high, we drove down to Qumran to see the exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. After a rigorous day, we relaxed and floated in the Dead Sea.
On January 1st, we walked through the Old City of Jerusalem, through the Via Dolorosa and saw where the Last Supper would have been. After navigating our way through the Quarters of the Old City, we were able to smell, hear, see, all of the history and shops that were on either side. We eventually reached the Wailing Wall and were able to pay our respects. After a relaxing lunch, we entered the Western Wall Tunnels. Being able to touch and see the temple in different stages through history was very interesting. We then had free time to explore, and so my small group went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. After an amazing day, we ended with Mass in Hebrew.
Unable to reach the Dome of the Rock the previous day, we all woke up extra early to get in line. Luckily, we were able to go and see the Mosque, everyone praying, and of course, the Dome of the Rock. After that, we visited women who worked for a center set up by Catholic Relief Services. It was touching to meet them and help support their work. We then went to the Yad Vashem Museum. It was an incredibly well put together space. Although we were familiar with the topic, there was so much more information to absorb. The architecture was astounding especially at the end by looking out onto Jerusalem. At our next hotel in Tontur, we were lucky enough to have an inter-religious dialogue, which allowed us to hear from all three sides of relevant issues. It was especially interesting since we had spent so much time in Bethlehem with Palestinians who not only were welcoming but very hospitable and respectful. It was interesting to hear the Jewish side on certain issues such as the Wall.
The next day, we had a walking tour across from the Old City, from the top of the hill to the bottom, and ended at the Church of All Nations. It was incredible to see the denial of Christ by Peter. The Kidron Valley was beautiful to see especially with all the tombs around the area. The best was being in the Garden of Gethsemane and walking into the Church. There we were able to place our hands on the rock where Jesus wept. We also were lucky enough to celebrate Mass in Italian. The view of Jerusalem from this side was brilliant especially at sunset. Seeing and imagining Jesus’ last days across this land brought the Bible to life. This was my favorite day of the entire trip.
The next morning we traveled to the north. We went to Caesarea Maritima. The water looked so clear. We visited excavations that were still preserved. The sarcophaguses that were still standing were so intricate and monstrous! It was sunny and warm, and seeing the water instantly uplifted the group. We then traveled to Haifa seeing Mount Carmel and the Baha’i Gardens. After exploring and taking pictures, we went to Nazareth. This was a long anticipated stop. The Basilica of the Annunciation was breathtaking. Thinking about what it must have been like for Mary to hear the Angel’s words where it would have happened was surreal. We were able to drink the water by Mary’s Well. The day was filled with a focus on Mary. We then were brought back to our next hotel where we relaxed and settled in.
On January 5th, we had Mass at Tabgha and then visited the Mount of the Beatitudes. It was so peaceful and the air was light. Seeing where Jesus would have performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes was astounding. I could imagine Jesus preaching from a boat or talking with the disciples. The weather the whole time was great especially on our boat tour of the Sea of Galilee. After a great morning, we were able to eat at a restaurant that served St. Peter’s Fish. We ate the fish right off the bone! We then traveled to Peter’s home. We were able to see the octagonal church and home. Seeing what was still there was amazing. We skipped rocks on the Sea of Galilee, and then headed back to the hotel. The hotel was right on the water, so we were able to see the sunrise over the Sea.
On our last day, we traveled to Tel Aviv. We had a walking tour and saw Saint Peter’s Church in Jaffa. After lunch, we walked and rode bikes along the Mediterranean back to the hotel. Tel Aviv was modern but still had a rustic feel, which was different from cities in the United States.
This was a trip of a lifetime and on behalf of the entire group we are so thankful to everyone who were hospitable and made traveling so easy. I learned so much about the culture, politics, and history of this beautiful land. I hope and pray I can come back but in the meantime, I know the rest of the group and myself will be telling as many people as we can how amazing Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Galilee are. Thank you and God bless!