So this continues our journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Unfortunately we don't have many photos from this point onwards. As I mentioned in my last post, Ryan had his camera stolen when we got to Madrid and he had not backed up the photos from this part of our trip yet. I was a little 'churched out' so was relying on Ryan to take photos for us.
Also a warning to my food loving readers, there aren't many food photos in this blog post. There are only so many photos of falafel and shawarma that I can take (and eat) which seemed to be our staple diet while we were in Israel. I know that there's more to Israeli food but well, it seemed to be the cheapest and fastest option when you're feeding 100 plus hungry young people at the same time. Don't get me wrong, the falafel and shawarma in Israel is fantastic, but it does get a little boring. The main reason for this trip was a spiritual pilgrimage after all so it wasn't about the food. We do get a bit more culinary freedom in Madrid but Paris is where Ryan and I go crazy eating. Blog posts to come eventually...
We start our day with a visit to Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist and site of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:43). The Church of the Visitation is quite beautiful inside...
We then cross over into Palestinian territory into Bethlehem to visit Jesus' birthplace, at the Church of the Nativity.
The Church of the Nativity is built over the stable where Jesus was born, now known as the Grotto of the Holy Manger. There are actually two churches on this site. The Orthodox church and the Catholic church. The Grotto lies beneath the Orthodox church. Mass for the day is held here.
It's a huge contrast between the two churches. The Orthodox church is quite extravagant with their embelishments and icons throughout the church. They love their candle holders and lanterns, and bling.
We queue up with the crowds to go down into the grotto. It is very cramped down there and there is a lot of pushing and shoving to get down. It's nuts. You don't really get a lot of time down there either, a couple of seconds and then you are pushed on. Not very much time at all to reflect on the significance of this site. There is a star which marks the spot where Jesus' crib was supposedly placed.
Gloria in excelsis deo - Glory to God in the highest.
Our next stop is the Shepherd's field to remember the appearance of the angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night.
It's lunchtime! We head to Sababa Restaurant for more falafels! These were actually quite tasty. Nice and fluffy and not at all dry. We also had chicken shawarmas (again) and a whole heap of delicious sides. And yes, that says Manger Street, we are in Bethlehem after all.
After lunch it's back into Jerusalem and we visit a scale model of Jerusalem as it was back in the time of Jesus.
The top photo is taken from the coach of one of the streets we pass by that is full of street vendors. The bottom photo is one of the entrances into one of the quarters of Old Jerusalem city within the walls. It's quite a journey to get through the walls into the old city.
We head to the Mt of Olives to visit the Church of the Pater Noster (meaning Our Father). This is the site where Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer, as a group we pray the Lord's prayer together.
View over Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives. The golden domed building is an Orthodox church.
Our last stop for the day is the garden of Gethsemane. These old olive trees are believed to have been from the time of Jesus so are thousands of years old. It's possible that they were witnesses to the events that unfolded when Jesus was captured. We also spend a little bit of time in the Church of Agony on the site of the garden.
We then head back to our accommodation to rest up and have dinner before a small group of us return to the Church of Agony for some silent prayer time. It had been one crazy week and a half in Israel, especially Jerusalem where our days seemed to be even busier than before. This time out gave us a chance to reflect on all the things we had seen and experienced on our journey thus far and to have some spiritual time out.
Our last day in Israel seems to be a blur now (and even blurrier without photos) as it was just absolutely jam packed with activities. By this time of the trip, I was struggling to remember and truly reflect on the significance of all the sites we were visiting which is quite unfortunate but I do remember the main ones. I also remember the Church of St Anne, the amazing acoustics of the architecture of the church. Instead of praying we sung inside the church and it sounded amazing. Next to the church is the site of the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralysed man (Jn 5:2-9).
Mt Zion is where King David's tomb is, and also where the Room of the Last Supper is. The site of King David's tomb is a Jewish site which means that the men and women have to go through two different entrances, it was quite large from what I remember.
I saw some street vendors which caught my attention (I know, my mind is always on food). Looking at the photo now I'm wishing I stopped to try some. I think I was still wary about health and hygiene even though we were told Israel was pretty safe compared to Egypt.
We participate in the Via Dolorosa - the 'Way of Grief' or 'Way of Suffering'. This is the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross on his way to the site where he will be crucified. There are 14 stations where we stop for prayer, commemorating each event that happened leading up to Jesus' death. It was quite a tough journey walking through the narrow crowded streets of the Old City following the path which lead us to the Church of the Holy Sepulchure where Jesus' tomb is. Taking photos was the last thing on my mind during this time.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was our meeting point and where we will be having mass for the night. We also get a chance to have a proper look around the church. The site of Golgotha (the Hill of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified) is also in this church. It is a very large church, built up around the site of the tomb and encompassing the site of the crucifixion.
Our final night in Israel is a very moving one, with mass held in the Chapel of the Apparition inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Not many words can describe the emotions moving through the chapel that night, it truly was special.
The next day we depart our home away from home in Israel and head off to have Mass one last time at the Church of St John The Baptist before we make our way to Tel Aviv airport. Then it's onward to Madrid for a week of festivities and activities in the lead up to World Youth Day 2011.
Oh and just a parting photo of our last meal in Israel - a McFalafel and a Big Texas meal from McDonalds at Tel Aviv Airport. The coke was HUGE and so was the burger and the falafel wrap. But it didn't taste too bad for fast food. Just goes to show we couldn't escape the falafel. They're just not the same back home in Sydney though.
We stumbled across this website which has some fantastic photos of Jerusalem, go and have a look. All the photos just take me back our journey, as if it was yesterday. Great memories.