Is The Dome Of Rock In Old Or New Jerusalem A Pilgrim’s Journey to Israel

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A Pilgrim’s Journey to Israel

The time is near. It is midnight as the El Al Israel plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport amid the joyous songs of the Israelis on board. Shalom…shalom…Our journey to the Holy Land begins with a Hebrew song…

This is our first trip to Israel. What is an encounter with “God’s people of the Old Testament” like? Amazing! The combination of “olive skin, green eyes and dark hair” of young Israelis is extremely attractive. As a homecoming, they gather together as soon as the “fasten your seat belt” light goes off. I remember the divine origin of this race in the Bible. “They are Israelites, to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is Christ.” (Romans 9:5)

Today, Israel is made up of various cultural groups – Lithuanians, Moroccans, Yemenis, Poles, Germans, Turks, Russians, Americans and Ethiopians, who make up the Jewish community; and the Palestinians, Bedouins, and Druze, who make up the non-Jewish community. How does one begin to describe a place where past and present meet? The land of Israel defies the imagination.

“Welcome to Israel”, our taxi driver greets us. “Where are you ladies from?”

“The Philippines,” my sister and I reply in unison.

He turns to us smiling. “And how is everything in the Philippines? Is it peaceful now? No more revolution?”

This is our introduction to Israeli hospitality. I couldn’t resist asking him the same question about Israel. I must admit that his answer surprised me. Could this be the feeling of the young Israeli generation?

“There will be peace”, he affirms. We want peace with the Arab world, and with the rest of the world as well.”

We begin our journey to Jerusalem passing through the port city of Haifa, climbing to the top of the Elias Carmel Monastery on Mount Carmel. What a breathtaking view! We had a panoramic view of Haifa, the Mediterranean Sea, the fertile valley of Jezreel filled with thousands of olive trees and the city of Nazareth in the hills of Galilee. Our tour guide recounts the biblical incident at Carmel, where the prophet Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a test of faith. Like Elijah’s sojourn on Mount Horeb, I felt God’s peaceful presence in the “murmuring of a gentle breeze” on top of Mount Carmel.

Today’s Nazareth, our next stop, is an Arab city with a population of 60,000 – half Christian, half Muslim – living together in a harmonious existence. It is Sunday and our guide points out the closed Christian shops. The town has a rustic quality: Muslim men and women in traditional dress walking the streets, young men selling postcards to pilgrims, women making pita bread by hand. In the distance we can see the gray tower of the Church of the Gospel.

Inside the church we visit the cave that served as Mary’s residence and where the Annunciation took place. The cave lies near the altar of the church, which was built in 1966. Next to this church is the church of Saint Joseph and in another cave, his carpentry workshop. Although I was raised in a Catholic school and knew the origins of my faith, seeing the caves where Mary and Joseph lived before Jesus came into their lives is something I will never forget. It is a humbling experience.

From Nazareth, we continue to Ginnosar, on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee (Kinneret). This freshwater lake receives its water from the Jordan River and is the country’s main reservoir. Here, we have an unforgettable experience of sailing on a replica of The Jesus Boat for half an hour. Like Saint Teresa, we will never forget the impression the sea makes on us. We can’t take our eyes off her. Instead we imagine the apostles casting their nets into the sea. “…and Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land full of great fish…” (John 21:11).

We anchor in Tiberias on the western shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee and have a local delicacy called St. Peter’s Fish for lunch. At $15 each, I wonder if even St. Peter’s will find the price excessive. No doubt.

From Tiberias, we travel to the surrounding towns where Jesus preached. In Capernaum, we see the memorial of St. Peter, built on the ruins of St. Peter’s house. We continue to Tabgha, the place of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Next to the altar of this church lies an ancient mosaic of loaves and fishes. Here Jesus showed his humility, love and generosity when he performed the miracle of multiplication twice.

Then, we remember the Beatitudes when we enter the chapel on the Mount of Beatitudes. With its blue-gray dome, white semi-circular arches and floral flora in full bloom around the church, it is truly a wonderful place to retreat to. No wonder this hilltop retreat is Jesus’ favorite place for meditation. We end the day with a visit to the place of baptism of the pilgrims in the Jordan River known as Yardenit. Although not the actual site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, this is where pilgrims renew their baptismal vows by immersing themselves in water flowing from the Jordan River.

At the end of the day, I understand that the events and places in the Bible are real. I thank the early Christians for preserving the monuments of Jesus and the apostles. In my heart I felt their holy presence in the places we visited. I couldn’t wait until we got to Jerusalem the next day.

Passing through Jericho, we finally arrive in Jerusalem, meeting the city’s late afternoon traffic. It’s easy to fall in love with Jerusalem. Located in the hills of Judea, almost all the buildings have facades of limestone quarried from the surrounding hills, giving the city a warm and golden appearance. From the Old City established by King David 3,000 years ago to modern government buildings and luxury hotels, it’s like seeing two different cities at once.

We first detour to the nearby town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, six kilometers south of Jerusalem. The beauty of Bethlehem is more heartfelt than visual. The terrain is hilly and the city remains as humble as it was 2000 years ago. Its inhabitants, who are mainly Christians and Arabs, depend mainly on pilgrims for their livelihood. Religious items such as wooden crosses, rosaries and nativity scenes are made from olive wood grown in the area. Looking at the rows of wooden crosses, I remember reading in a book that Jesus’ cross was made of olive wood. Legend has it that when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, they were allowed to take an olive branch with them. The same branch they planted when they reached the Mount of Olives became the cross that Jesus carried 2,000 years later!

We head to the Church of the Nativity built by Constantine in 330 AD This is the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Entering the small gate, we find no bench inside. We walk up to the Orthodox altar, past the chipped columns and mosaic below the stone floor, and down a flight of steps to the manger site. Here, we kneel in homage before the silver that marks the place of Jesus’ birth. It’s a touching moment. Like magi, we traveled from far and wide to pay homage to our King. This time there are no material gifts. Just the gift of our lives, our hearts.

From Bethlehem, we return to Jerusalem to retrace the passion of Jesus. We begin in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kidron Valley, on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. Here, we come across an orchard of ancient olive trees glistening in the morning sun. At the heart of the garden is the Rock of Agony, a sizable rock mass that marks Jesus’ agony on the night of his arrest. We find this rock inside a modern church known as the Church of All Nations. I remember the suffering of Jesus, how he sweat blood.

Legend has it that the legions of Lucifer (and Lucifer himself) surrounded Jesus on the night of his agony, and in his anguish, Jesus saw in a vision how he would suffer and die for man. Even the angel who came down from heaven to comfort Jesus felt great regret. It is said that Jesus died for the sins of man for all time; the sins of the past, present and future be carried out until the end of the world.

Leaving Gethsemane on a somber note, we enter the Old City of Jerusalem through the Dung Gate. We stroll past the Western Wall to the right, where we see devout Jews praying the Sidor. The Western Wall or “Wailing Wall” contains the Herodian stones of the Temple Mount (Second Temple) built in 20 BC by Herod. We travel through narrow roads to reach Mount Moriah, the site of the Temple Mount during the time of Jesus. Today, the majestic Dome of the Rock stands at the foot of Mount Moriah’s highest point. We stand in line in the square, shoeless, to see the sacred rock inside. For Jews and Christians, Mount Moriah is the site of Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son Isaac (Gen. 22:2). According to Muslim tradition, meanwhile, Allah took his servant Muhammad on a night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (at al Aqsa) where he ascended to heaven from the rock, then returned to Mecca. Devout Muslims prostrate before the Dome of the Rock.

From Mount Moriah, we cross the road that leads to the Via Dolorosa where we begin the Stations of the Cross. There are 14 Stations of the Cross, nine along the narrow Via Dolorosa and five inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. From the Chapel of Scourging and Punishment (Second Station), we remember the scene of the brutal beating and flagellation of Jesus. It is said that Jesus was tied to a stake above the ground during the flagellation, and his cries resembled those of a lamb slaughtered in a nearby slaughterhouse.

In silence, we marched in procession along the cobbled streets of the Via Dolorosa, passing shops and vendors, and stopping and praying at each station. It’s hard to meditate amidst the noise and onlookers. However, I am grateful that we were able to indirectly experience the passion of Jesus in his actual setting.

We arrive at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher at the 10th station. Our guide tells how Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, traveled the Holy Land in 325 BC in search of the Cross and the Holy Sepulchre. She ordered Golgotha ​​to be excavated and discovered not one but three crosses. According to Christian tradition, Helena stopped a passing funeral procession and held the three crosses over the dead boy. When the shadow of the third cross fell on the boy, he stirred and came back to life! Likewise, Helena dreamed of the tomb buried under a pagan shrine at Calvary. She ordered the removal of the pagan shrine and the surrounding hill and built a church around the site. This is now the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher.

Inside we pray before the altars of the last five stations of the Cross, contemplating the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christian tradition says that an earthquake occurred when two angels carried the crucified body of Jesus from the tomb to the Father in heaven. There is no doubt in my mind that after all this time Jesus is still among us through the holy spirit. At some point in this pilgrimage, I felt my heart, bruised and broken by life’s painful experiences, begin to heal. The transformation is subtle; the experience is life changing. Time is short. Our journey ends with a prayer. Tomorrow is a new day, a new beginning.

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