Today’s post is a guest post and the guest is my 12 year-old son, Daniel. After our recent trip to the Holy Land during March of this year, Daniel put together his own words on what he thought of it all. The only edits I have made to this post is some spellings and some punctuation but the content is all his. I hope you enjoy it.
I recently travelled to the Holy Land with my Mam and fifty other pilgrims from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Our Lufthansa flight left Dublin Airport on Thursday, 15th March and we all made our way to Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt airport was huge. It had a monorail system and some of the staff even had bicycles for getting around. Our plane to Tel-Aviv was also Lufthansa but much bigger. It had built in TVs, headphones, pillows and blankets, and I got a free football magazine in German. We arrived in Tel-Aviv at 3am on 16th March and got the bus to our hotel in Tiberias. We slept for three hours and were back on the bus with Abraham our guide to visit Ein Gev, a Kibbutz (Jewish community). Then, we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and I got a chance to steer the boat. As we sang a hymn which included “rolling thunder” a storm actually happened with thunder and heavy rain, which was amazing. To finish this day we had Mass back in Tiberias.
Saturday, 17th March was my birthday. I was twelve. We took the bus to Mount Tabor and I had a choice to climb it or take the taxi so I climbed it with my Confirmation sponsor. When we reached the top, the view was stunning. We had Mass in the Church of the Transfiguration and we met with an old friend, Yousef, a Maronite priest who celebrated Mass with Fr Michael. After Mass we took the bus to Nazareth where we got to eat what would have been a meal at the time of Jesus. We toured a replica village of Nazareth where we saw a 400 year-old olive tree, Joseph’s workshop and a tomb like Jesus’. I was first to go into it. We visited the site where Mary heard the message from Gabriel and the home of Joseph. We returned to the hotel in time for dinner, dessert and my birthday cake. I shared my birthday with another woman on the pilgrimage. Then we watched the rugby match: Ireland v England, which we lost with a shocking result of 30-9.
On Sunday we got on the bus and headed for the Mount of Beatitudes. At the top there was a garden and a Church. Inside the Church a security guard walked by me and spotted my Ireland jersey. He told me he was from Mayo. After that we went to the Primacy of Peter site at Tabgha for Mass. A few yards away from the site was the Sea of Galilee and I had a small paddle in it. When I dried off I collected some shells as there were millions of them. Next we visited Capernaum where Jesus performed most of his miracles. Over the ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house was a spaceship-like Church with a glass bottom to see the debris of the old Church underneath. We also visited the Jesus Boat, which was 2,000 years old. The river Jordan was the last site of the day and when we arrived, people were being baptised. We saw ducks, big catfish about a metre long, an animal like an otter and some seagulls. While my Mam was occupied I went to Fr Michael and asked him to bless her birthday medal I bought for her. It was going to be her birthday in three more days. That night we went to a spectacular water fountain and light show in the town.
On Monday we left the hotel. We got on the bus and the first place we visited was Qumran where we watched an audio video and then went outside to see the ruins. Of course, this was the desert so the sun was beaming and it was a scorching morning. We had lunch beside the Dead Sea and then went swimming. There was muck everywhere and walking in it was impossible. When lying in the sea you couldn’t get up. Our next stop was Jerusalem. We went into a tunnel and the driver started a CD with the song Jerusalem on it and when we came out the other side we saw the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Garden of Gethsemane, meaning oil press. We had Mass at Dominus Flevit and paid a quick visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. Last but not least we went to the Western Wall where men were separated from women to different parts.
We got up early on Tuesday to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was packed but we got to see the tomb of Jesus. I knelt down and said a prayer while touching the stone Jesus was laid upon. We visited the Zion Gate, which was huge and the Upper Room where the Last Supper and Pentecost happened. We also visited the Dormition Abbey, King David’s tomb and Oskar Schindler’s grave. Abraham asked us to guess which grave was Schindler’s so I guessed it was the one with loads of stones on it left by other visitors and I was right. Then we walked the Via Dolorosa meaning the Way of the Cross. I was one of the Cross carriers. Along the way we did Stations one to ten and then arrived back at the Holy Sepulchre for stations eleven to fourteen. After dinner back in the hotel we went back to Gethsemane for holy hour, which was very special.
Wednesday was my Mam’s birthday and we went to Bethlehem with a different guide because we were entering Palestine. First we visited the Shepherd’s Field and the cave where the shepherds heard the message about Jesus. Mass was in the cave and I was glad to get out of the scorching rays of sun. Next we visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. I was at the front with my sponsor going into the cave but before we went in there was an Angelus procession which we got to watch. Then we saw where Jesus was born and the space where his manger was. After that we went to the Milk Grotto where we saw a painting of Mary feeding Jesus. Last was the Bethlehem University where we got a presentation about Palestine and a tour of the university.
The next day, Thursday, we went to the Israel Museum where we saw a model of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. The model was gigantic and took fifteen years to complete and here was I thinking it would be small as if we were giants to it. It was hot outside but we went inside another building to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the tunnel were archaeological discoveries like pots, coins, oil lamps, knives and parchment that were found with the Scrolls. Our next visit was to the Yad Vashem memorial, the Holocaust Museum. We entered a tunnel and inside you couldn’t see anything so you had to hold a railing and feel your way. Children’s names were being called out. They were the names of over one million children who had been killed during the Holocaust. Only children over 14 were allowed into the main memorial so I waited with some others who didn’t want to go in. In the afternoon we visited Ein Karem, the birth place of John the Baptist where we had Mass and the site of the Visitation.
Friday was a free day to do what we wanted but we all got on the tram to go to Mass at the École Biblique with Fr Brendan. A few of us went back to the Holy Sepulchre and it was packed. We walked through the Armenian Quarter to the Zion Gate and to the Dormition Abbey for lunch. My Mam and I separated from the others for the afternoon and decided to walk the outskirts of the city, where we looked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane; we visited the pools of Bethesda and then returned to the hotel. It was a great day with my Mam. Saturday was our last day and we went to Jaffa, where we had Mass. I had so much fun with all the other pilgrims and will never forget my trip to the Holy Land.