DAY 9 – HIS FOOTSTEPS FOLLOW OURS

IMG_1159IMG_1160IMG_1161IMG_1162Today is a day of thanksgiving. We have indeed received many blessings and graces on this pilgrimage. We have experienced the Bible in a dimension privileged only for those who come to Holy Land. At the sites and in our sights, through the voice and person of Fr Angelo, from the open sharing of this group, through the people we met and in the silence of our personal reflection, we have heard His footsteps. We have encountered Him.

 

IMG_1164

We visit Yad Vashem to remember the victims of the Holocaust. We visit the Israeli Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

We go fittingly to Emmaus. A lot had happened to us over the last 8 days. We have a conversation with our inner self. We quietly ask our inner self, what is happening and what are we to do with this experience? We have come to follow in his steps, where are his footsteps leading us to? Do we want to continue following? 

IMG_1194We celebrate our last mass in Holy Land in a chapel at St Peter’s Church, Jaffa. This is also the home of Fr Angelo. From here he gave us blessings for our journey home. Yet our spirit do not want to leave. The Holy Land is home to our spirit. But we must go as we are sent to continue to live the life given personally to each of us. We will continue to walk the path of our life but now with renewed hope, strength and courage. We must allow the life we live to proclaim the Good News. 

We have come to follow is his steps but from today we walk on, knowing that his footsteps follow ours.

 IMG_1100

 

Advertisements

DAY 8 – O EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US

20150827_103842

        IMG_0953IMG_0939

We went for Christmas mass in the Manger grotto where Jesus was born! We rejoice! As in many occasions on this pilgrimage we found ourselves truly blessed! God has been generous with his gifts for us and seem to go out of his way to give us the experience. We are first at the Grotto. It is not yet opened to the public. We have the once in a lifetime opportunity to take our time and venerate the star that mark the place where our Saviour was born. He shares with us the humble moment of his birth in the humble surroundings of the cave and manger. We seek the humility to open our hearts to let Him in. 

IMG_0982IMG_0967IMG_0989

Today is our day off; a rest day before we continue ‘our walk to Emmaus’, to come home and allow this pilgrimage to change our lives.

We go to Bethany to catch up on the schedule of holy sites. We visit the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. We easily identify with Martha as we are city dwellers always not having enough time to dwell in the Lord. 

IMG_1044 IMG_1045 IMG_1046 IMG_1047

IMG_1031In the compound we find a mustard plant and hold mustard seeds in our palms. They are the tiniest seeds we have seen. Is that all God ask of our faith for mountains to be moved? Indeed, to believe and to give ourselves to him is to rise from our personal tombs of darkness just as Lazarus rose from the dead and emerged from his tomb. 

We visit the Franciscan Church of St Saviour before we let ourselves free to enjoy the sights and shops of Jerusalem, City of God. 

IMG_1063We thank God for the many graces we received on this pilgrimage. We found graces in the passion of Jesus identifying with the cross he carried to the challenges of our life. Our crosses do seem quite small. We regained the meaning of coming for mass, the splendour and beauty of its meaning, and the intimacy we felt with the Eucharist in the small chapels and grottos we celebrated mass in.  

We found love, mercy and forgiveness waiting for us in this Holy Land. We found humility to be poor in spirit, to be more and more dependent on Him. We find some strength to surrender more to his will. We found answers, though not yet complete, to what we are seeking spiritually but confident that it will all be revealed to us, like the little ‘yes’ in Mary that eventually made all these possible. We found our answer in the generosity of his love; to use this love to love others. We find Jesus present in each other from the time more than a year ago when we made preparations to the nightly personal sharing of the steps we have taken to follow in his steps. 

We are indeed grateful for this opportunity on this pilgrimage to renew ourselves and be at peace. In following his steps, He walks with us.

DAY 7 – HE LOVES US

We woke up knowing that the day ahead will be intense. We walked more than 20,000 footsteps following in his steps in this holy city. Our spiritual pulses were racing.

IMG_0617

IMG_0538We started at Calvary venerating the foot of the cross, inserting our entire arm into a hole that held up the wood of the cross. As deep as our arm went, this spiritual experience tore deep into our hearts. This is the depth of his Love.

We entered inside the Tomb of Jesus. Here, on where he laid before he rose, we celebrated mass. In here, the angel sat and told Mary of Magdala to tell others that He Has Risen. In here, John saw and believed. In here, He rose from the dead to become the meaning and reason for the life we live. This is why we have his footsteps to follow.

This is the ultimate privilege – to be here and have mass celebrated for us, hopeful that this experience will lead us to love others the way he loves us. 

IMG_0572      IMG_0583 IMG_0590

 

IMG_0516 IMG_0697 IMG_0710 IMG_0699

We retraced our steps to start to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. Just before, we went to the birthplace of Mary and sang her a praise song in the perfect acoustics of St. Anne’s Church. The notes of our hymn lingered on sweet and beautifully; just like the love of our Blessed Mother. We visited the Pool of Bethesda where we prayed for healing; for others and for self.  

IMG_0723 IMG_0648 IMG_0661 IMG_0749

We began at the first station at The Chapel of Flagellation and walked slowly through the old city on its worn stone paths, smoothened down the years. The bustling old city is a distraction but we found solace in the chapels at each station. We enter again The Holy Sepulchre to complete the journey of our redemption at The Tomb. We prayed in the Chapel of Adam and Stone of Anointing, the sin of man now redeemed.

We are somewhat lighter as the joy of the Resurrection begin to take its place in our hearts. We are ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we enter the Upper Room (Cenacle). Here we beckoned the Spirit to come. Come sweet Spirit, come. 

IMG_0804 IMG_0796

On the way to St. Peter at Gallicantu, we visit Dormition Abbey to remember Mary’s death. At Gallicantu, we again felt forgiveness as we realised the number of times the cock has crowed in our life. We looked at the Macabee steps reminding ourselves of the steps we are taking, as these steps were most definitely walked on by Jesus.

IMG_0825 IMG_0845 20150828_142139      IMG_0856

IMG_0883 IMG_0865 IMG_0892 IMG_0905

We moved on to Ein Karem where we echoed Mary’s song of praise, The Magnificat at the Church of the Visitation. Like Mary bringing Jesus to her cousin, we are hopeful for this pilgrimage that we will begin to bring Jesus to others. On the eve of the Feast of St John the Baptist, we visit his birthplace. We too can be St John the Baptist as we make the paths straight for others to encounter Jesus in the mission to reach out to returning Catholics.

We went back to Jerusalem to visit the Wailing Wall and prayed for unity and peace for all people and all faith. 

IMG_0924 IMG_0923 20150828_195626 20150828_205629

Our long day ended with Holy Hour in the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane. After encountering Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we venerate the very stone he prayed on to his Father before his arrest. On this stone, we see the will of the Father fulfilled; from Mary ‘yes’ in Nazareth to Jesus’ ‘yes’ in Jerusalem, “Let thy will be done”. On this stone, we prayed for courage and strength to allow for God’s will in our lives.

DAY 6 – OUR DOOR OF HUMILITY

We caught sight of a donkey as we started off, prophetic of the day ahead. It would be a day of contrasting emotions, ending like that of the donkey, head bowed, just moving on, lumbering along its journey in humility.

20150827_095750We head towards the town where hope was born. We leave the desert joyful in expectations. We sing carols as we enter the little town of Bethlehem. We enter under the roof of the place where our Saviour was born, by bending low to get through the Door of Humility.IMG_0278

We went out to the fields surrounding this cave just to feel the privilege the shepherds must have felt on that first Christmas night; the first ones called to adore Him. Our spirits sang joyfully in the Chapel of the Angels giving glory to the Most High.

IMG_0300 IMG_0292 IMG_0303 IMG_0321

We enter Jerusalem. The city is busy, the pace of life picks up. There are distractions. Holy sites come one after another. But this is also typical of our personal spiritual journey as we head towards our spiritual Jerusalem.

We ascended Mount Olives to stand on the ground Jesus last stood on this earth at the shrine of the Ascension. This was the place of his last footstep. We came to follow in his steps and from here on we must follow in his spiritual footsteps. There is a reverence about this place especially when we hear that He will be with us till the end of time.

IMG_0331 IMG_0338 IMG_0359 IMG_0353 IMG_0364

       IMG_0384 IMG_0381 IMG_0391 IMG_0418

We recite the most meaningful Our Father for a long time at the Pater Noster. We descend lower to Dominus Flevit. We share Jesus’ sorrow as he wept over this city, prophetic as her troubles has continued from then till now. The sight of the city from this vantage point provoked the response, “O, Jerusalem!”

20150827_151442

IMG_0443

We visit the Garden of Gethsemane at the Church of All Nations and celebrated mass with a heavier heart in the Grotto of the Betrayal of Judas. Here was also the grotto where the disciples were found asleep as Jesus prayed. Can we do better than the disciples?

IMG_0478 IMG_0449 IMG_0469

We visit the Tomb of Mary to end a contrasting day when joy and sorrow co-existed. We retraced the spiritual footsteps we have taken in our life and find ourselves in need of direction, affirmation, healing, reconciliations, encouragement, empowerment, assurances to take our next spiritual step.

It was a day of humility, humbled to be here, humbled by his birth and death. Heads bowed we try to take our next spiritual step; that of humility.

DAY 5 – WE HEAR THE SHEPHERD CALLING

20150826_080731

We leave the peace and tranquillity of the Galilee to begin our journey towards Jerusalem. Our spirits had already been stirred over the last 3 days; there is a spiritual call to move on, to continue searching to quiet our hearts. It does feel like we are being prepared to confront our own Jerusalem but now with rays of hope; even the sun spoke through the clouds.

IMG_0212IMG_0199IMG_0207We returned first to the start point of our faith life. By the banks of the River Jordan, we reminded ourselves of our baptism when Jesus marked us with the sign of the cross to claim us as his own. We in turn desired to lay claim to our full Catholic identity and avail ourselves to the love of God. 

IMG_0221

The landscape has altered. We find ourselves travelling through the desert. For all of us, this is not familiar terrain. But deep in the valley of our spiritual selves we know this terrain too well; when we are spiritually dry, where there is pain and hurt from issues yet to be reconciled or when we are simply lost in this world. 

This is the landscape, the terrain, the hot desert, the wilderness, the nothingness where Jesus wandered. We wonder how.

       IMG_0232 IMG_0241

IMG_0253In the middle of this desert stands the old city of Jericho. In the middle of this old city stands the Church of the Good Shepherd. Long time ago, in the middle of this harsh desert a shepherd left his 99 sheep to go in search of the one he lost.  

IMG_0257 (2)This is how we felt today. We hear the call of the Shepherd. We wished to be the lamb he cuddles but felt more like the sheep jealously tugging at him for attention. We want to follow but there is so much in life in the way. We are lost sheep needing the shepherd. 

Yet this is a desert we must cross. They tell us that the best dates are from Jericho. Unforgiving desert conditions but yielding the best. Life can sometimes be a desert for us due to the harshness of our personal life. But it is a desert we must cross. We know from today that we will come out better for it. 

IMG_0229Indeed, once Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree and saw Jesus, he was keen to reconcile, and keen to channel all his resources to know Him better. Like Zacchaeus, we have gotten a glimpse of Jesus and are now busy preparing to welcome him into our home. We are dead until he comes into us. 

We travelled from the waters of the Jordan that gave us life. We entered a desert and ended up in waters where nothing can live – the Dead Sea. Here we wait for hope to be born. We enter Bethlehem tomorrow.

20844175244_3881abfa07_o

DAY 4 – PERSONAL ANNUNCIATION

IMG_0023

Coming to Holy Land is coming to visit sites where our faith was born, where it first took root. Today’s journey into our inner selves reached a road sign at a junction on our spiritual path. It asked, “Where do YOU want to go?”

The words of Mary and the silence of Joseph at their personal annunciations searched deep in our hearts for what Jesus is trying to tell us on this pilgrimage. What is our personal annunciation? We strained to listen for the answer from our hearts, here now barely audible as we find ourselves lost in the events of our personal lives.

IMG_0006The day began with the last words of Mary found in the bible. At Cana she said to “do whatever He tells you”. It was here too that Jesus performed his first miracle. And it is here today that we heard the first words in our group prayer that will lead us to the healing Jesus want to give us. For some of us, our life transformed would be a miracle in itself.

IMG_0026IMG_0030IMG_0109

Mary did whatever she was told and her little ‘yes’ gave us salvation for all man. The Basilica of The Annunciation is huge and hugely impressive, somewhat like a big cave trying to house the exploding effect of a little ‘yes’, now with the glorious splendour the “yes” has consequently created. In front of the small grotto where the angel appeared to Mary we knelt in silence, awed and touched.

IMG_0060We went to where Mary went; to the house of Joseph to contemplate his annunciation and celebrated mass. St Joseph, patron of the worker in us, queried about our conflict in our work and faith lives.

IMG_0139We went on to Magdala, the only place where 1st century stone structures were never built on and over. Here was the place of Mary of Magdala, one chosen to be privileged to be first to encounter the Risen Christ. Here ancient stones spoke. Here, history, present and future is one because the Risen Lord lives!

0IMG_0170 IMG_0182 IMG_0178

IMG_0066

In our sharing of our personal annunciation, our personal history was made relevant in the context of our present spiritual life. Fused together we could see that it formed a path on which the Risen Christ had walked all along with us. We are now at this crossroad pondering on where we now want to go. We want to take up the invitation of Jesus to come closer to be loved and healed, to know him better in scripture that has come alive before our eyes, to say “yes” to the calling in our hearts to transform and to change our lifestyles so that we can embrace our annunciation as a call to mission, simply to make his love known.

We seek to be rooted in faith so that through us will sprout shelters of love.

       IMG_0019 IMG_0086 IMG_0100

 IMG_0186 IMG_0071 IMG_0085

DAY 3 – INTRODUCING JESUS, AGAIN

1.2

There is something about the Galilean landscape. The hills are alive. They are speaking to us.

5Our mass on the gentle slopes of Mt Beatitudes came alive as the very words of Jesus were proclaimed, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. We found ourselves like one in the multitude sitting on the grassy slope, eagerly listening to the Sermon on the Mount.

     9 10

We were then spiritually transported, and physically too, onto the slopes where we were eager to be fed, our eyes feasting on the 5 loaves and 2 fishes and our sharpened sense of the Gospel opened our hearts to realise that our limited gifts and talents could also be multiplied if we only came forward to offer them.

IMG_0007 IMG_9998 IMG_0021

We then heard something else from Jesus, this time up in the Golan Heights at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do YOU say I am?” We had been asked this so many times before but today this question seem to have far greater weightage. It was ask of us by the very rock Jesus stood by as he told Peter, “you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church”. Today this question was harder for us to answer, hard like the very same rock Peter stood by, as it searched an answer deep within ourselves.

IMG_0112We pondered this when we returned to Mt Beatitudes, today a garden manicured by human hands offering us a landscape of peace and tranquillity. The breeze from the Sea of Galilee blows through, softening us. In this calm we begin to find some answers to the hard question.

The answers are not new but they have been extended to go deeper. Jesus is keen to introduce himself to us again, after today’s experiences no longer confined to the limited definition we have been giving him. The mighty rock illustrated that He is “Lord and God”, yet He is friend, a constant, always there, yet He is a God too. From our experiences collected over three days, this question was like a key to our hearts opening up the desire to say “yes” to the mission call of Jesus and to continue to walk our life with him, knowing that he will always shelter us.

IMG_0053The intense heat, the cloudless sky, the midday sun leaves no shadows on the desert plains. There was one tree and many cows huddled below it seeking its shelter. Even the cows are speaking to us.

   1 4 2

DAY 2 – GOD IS ALLOWING US TO EXPERIENCE HIM

IMG_9745

Excitement, awe and wonder led us through the day. Today we went onto the land Jesus really walked on. At each site, beneath our natural excitement, and the draining heat, each of us began to hear a personal message. Today felt like a day Jesus started to talk to us in a very special way; through these holy sites where his Gospel began to take shape so as to shape all our lives.

IMG_9721

IMG_9730We were high at the first site; high on a mountain, high in spirits and spiritually high. Petitions carried by us for family and friends were expressed vocally at mass, our raw emotions met by the consoling touch of the Holy Spirit. This mass at the Chapel of Elijah in the Church IMG_9731of The Transfiguration atop Mount Tabor will always stay with us; somehow there is now meaning to the routine, mundane celebration of mass. We were falling deeper into our faith life.

IMG_9796Descending the mountain, ascending in spirituality we moved on to St. Peter’s Primacy. Though we did not have breakfast with Jesus, we fed on his love and forgiveness for his disciples and pondered on the mission call to feed the sheep.

20150823_145038

We went onto the Sea of Galilee floating for a storm. The wind really blew, strong enough to get an idea that a miracle is needed to calm it down. We took in the physical landscape of Galilee and imagined the footsteps of Jesus, the lolling hills indeed ideal for a sermon. We were greeted at Capernaum with a sign saying “the Town of Jesus”. He was here, with Peter in his house, and was there in the synagogue. We are here to follow in his steps.

IMG_9821 IMG_9825

IMG_9839 IMG_9855 IMG_9843

His steps led us on a climb again. We are up on Mount Beatitudes. It is beautiful, calm and tranquil. Peace is with us for the next three nights.

IMG_9863 IMG_9899 IMG_9918

We had a night-cap acknowledging the spirit. Today was a cocktail of various graces; a mix of love, gratitude, joy, forgiveness, transformation, thanksgiving all served to a personal preference.

20150823_173812

DAY 1 – GOD’S WELCOME

20150822_164115

We were asked at the end of a long day, “How did you feel about, or experienced God’s welcome to Holy Land in the things we did or through the people we met? Our reflection question was a welcome to go even deeper into why we all came.

happyadamThe long flight did not at all affect the excitement of finally stepping onto Holy Land but gradually being exposed to the sun along the Mediterranean coast at Caesarea Maritima sapped away at our energies. If left unchecked, we will perhaps not see God’s welcome at all!

CeasareaMaritima4 CeasareaMaritima3 CeasareaMaritima2 CeasareaMaritima1

MassStellaMarisAnd so, Mary continued to be the star leading us on this pilgrimage. We arrived at Stella Maris at the Carmelite Monastery to celebrate the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, having left Singapore on the wing of the blessings received on the Solemnity of the Assumption. MassStellaMaris2She is determined that we pilgrims mark each day with an awareness that God is indeed present in the little details of our personal life.

20150822_142433We felt God’s welcome at Istanbul airport when we finally linked up with the person of Ding who we had shared preparations with through Facetime from her base in London. God’s agents of a warm welcome in Tel Aviv came in the LunchPortCafepersons of Fr Angelo and the still awesome Mr Issam. The very pretty setting and the sea breeze and the wonderful food at lunch was God’s ‘disguised’ welcome, as how often do we take the nice things for granted?

And so it is. Having come with ‘eyes opened’ we are now journeying into our itinerary with ‘eyes searching’, searching for the deeper meaning of the ‘why’ we actually came and opening our hearts to welcome Him in as He welcomed us in.

Basillica at Mount Carmel2 Basilica at Mount Carmel3 Basilica at Mount Carmelj

CeasareaMaritima5