Blogging from the Holy Land: Day One

When Our Sunday Visitor Editor Gretchen Crowe offered me the opportunity to blog for OSV during my trip to the Holy Land, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because I knew that the best way for me to convey what’s going on right now in the Holy Land is through personal account, not straight news reporting.

I’ve been here in Israel since the evening of Tuesday, May 20, with members of the Catholic Press Association. We’re guests of the Israel Ministry of Tourism in order to tour the Holy Land and cover the meeting between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I on May 25. The pope will be in the Holy Land May 24-26, and we have a couple of events in common that I hope to tell you about in coming blogs.

For now Israel waits.

During the waiting, my colleagues and I have been visiting the holy places of Israel. In just these few days, we’ve already experienced Nazareth, Cana, Tiberias, Sea of Galilee and Mount of Beatitudes, among others. We’ve tried a number of Israeli foods and gotten to know a bit about Israeli culture. And it has all been wonderful.

But, as I follow our tour guide, I’m not really here. As I take in all the fantastic information and education he shares with us, I’m back in Jesus’ time, seeing in my mind’s eye what he would have seen as he lived, loved, worked, taught and healed in this region. I try as best I can to piece together how this land would have looked, felt and sounded in Jesus’ time. With a combination of grace and imagination, I manage to do a pretty good job.

One of the things that most impressed me is the difficulty of the terrain. When we read the stories in the Bible, it makes it sound as though everything is just a hop, skip and a jump away. It’s not. Many of the places Jesus visited required days of walking and steep climbs to get to. For example, the incline on the Mount of the Beatitudes took some serious effort to ascend. That gave me a deeper appreciation of the strength and stamina Jesus needed for his ministry.

Peering into the Grotto of the Annunciation was profound. A church — the Church of the Annunciation — has been built over and around the grotto, but the grotto itself is small and plain. When I stood before this little stone structure, I could imagine Mary kneeling there in prayer, her astonishment at Gabriel’s appearance, and her humble response to his greeting and request.

As I knelt and prayed in the Church of Cana, I could picture Mary, Jesus and the disciples among the guests at the wedding banquet. I could hear the chatter and laughter and “see” Mary asking Jesus to help the wedding couple and instructing the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them. There are six stone jars adorning the back of the church’s altar, and in my imagination, I lined them up and placed them before our Lord, who with his gentle touch changed the water inside them into wine.

With our hectic schedule that keeps us moving from early morning to late at night, there isn’t as much time as I’d like to meditate, pray and imagine at each of the sites. So, my prayer, that prayer I’ve been repeating like a mantra, is, “Jesus, show me.” In the brief moments I have in the important places of Jesus’ life, and want him to make every second as fruitful as possible. And he has, bit by bit.

Marge Fenelon is a freelance writer for OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @MargeFenelon.

Read Blogging from the Holy Land: Day Two