Day 8 of the Catholic Digest Holy Land Pilgrimage with Steve and Janet Ray from the Footprints of God pilgrimages.
Today there was an optional day to visit the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea.
We were able to visit a small-scale model of the old Jerusalem city. Our local guide, Amer gave a history of the city and pointed out major landmarks where Jesus would have walked. Next we walked through the Dead Sea scroll exhibit and viewed fragments of the original scrolls and the ancient pottery that preserved the scrolls.
We then traveled to the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. As we traveled in the hot desert I thought about John the Baptist living out here and the great distance the people would have come to see him.
There were many groups being baptized in the spot where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River (Mark 1:9-11). Many pilgrims filled bottles with Jordan River water to bring home. Steve Ray explained that Jordan River water does not need to be blessed because Jesus stepped his foot into the waters.
It was a powerful moment of the trip when Fr. Berkhout asked the group the affirm the truths of our faith. “Do you reject Satan?” We all answered with a resounding, “I do.”
Next we traveled to Jericho, the most ancient city in the world. The city of Jericho was established and continually inhabited for 8,000 years before the time of Christ. Jericho has springs and fertile soil so the climate is like one big green house. Jericho is also believed to be the place where Zacchaeus climbed the Sycamore tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
Near Jericho we were able to see the cliffs and the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were originally discovered. The scrolls were hidden in 11 different caves.
Amer pointed out that the desert is the site of God’s drama. The desert has very difficult living conditions. People who live under such extreme conditions learn to become very become dependent on the Lord. It becomes a place of retreat because you need God every second of your life.
Many revelations happen in the desert. David wrote the Psalms in the desert. Dead Sea scroll writers lived in the desert and this is the place where Jesus fasted for 40 days and then was tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12-13).
The temperatures were extremely hot and I was happy to be traveling in the air-conditioned bus!
We then traveled to the Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world. The Dead Sea has no outlet and is extremely salty. On the way down to the waterfront there are explicit instructions about how to enter the water. It is not a body of water that you can dive into and swim around in. Steve recommended that you go into the water about knee-deep and then turn around and sit down into the water. The water is so salty that you just float! It was fun to take pictures with both our arms and feet in the air. Many of the pilgrims rubbed the Dead Sea black mud on our skin and face too.
On the way home, one of the pilgrims read a beautiful thank you to Steve and Janet. I know that this trip has been such a blessing for everyone. As we traveled back to the hotel to pack our things and get ready for the flight home, I was reminded of the readings at Mass from this morning.
We had Ascension Thursday Mass at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus instructs his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak.’ … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11).
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that the “Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. … Then he blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:46-53).
Fr. Frans Berkhout reminded us that we are celebrating the Ascension of our Lord in Jerusalem. We truly are witnesses of these things. As our Holy Land pilgrimage comes to an end, we must go home filled with joy just was the disciples were. Why were the disciples filled with joy? Because the Resurrection had changed them. Let the joy of the resurrection change our lives and let us go home with joy as witnesses of all we have seen and heard in the Holy Land, announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the world!