FOR us Christians, the story of Jesus is “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” As narrated in the New Testament, his life on earth was dedicated to the salvation of mankind.
During my childhood years, I loved best the Christmas story... of the God-child born in a manger... of the angels announcing the birth of the Savior to the shepherds... of the three kings guided by a star bringing gifts to the Holy Child... The entire narrative appealed to my young mind like a fairy tale.
Fast forward to my school years at St. Theresa’s College... The story of Jesus took on a more profound meaning and I found myself getting more and more fascinated by the gospel stories. However never did it enter my mind to go to these places mentioned in the Bible. I never thought I would get the chance to visit the different settings of the riveting and timeless tale of Jesus’ life on earth.
My first trip to Israel was in 2012 and that first visit awakened in me the desire to further explore the place Jesus called home. I promised to be back one day.
The opportunity came when Korean Airlines (through its super sales executive Ann Momongan) organized a trip to Tel Aviv (one of its new destinations) for its top travel agents. Cherry Lynn Callelero of Grand Holidays coordinated with Meteor Phils. Inc. (represented by Ligaya Tabirao and Mai Ibay Hasan) for an eight-day tour arranged by Israel’s Eternity Travel. We were a total of 40 pilgrims on the trip with Fr. Joseph Yntig of Mandaue’s Gethsemane Parish as accompanying chaplain.
Excitement was in the air as we set forth for our very first destination during the pilgrimage - Yardenit by the River Jordan for the reenactment of baptism where we dipped our feet in the river waters. So thrilling for us because we envisioned the baptism of Jesus by his cousin, John the Baptist in these very same waters. It brought to mind the dove (the Holy Spirit) descending on his head and the voice of God the Father heard saying, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am pleased.”
More excitement came as we proceeded to the little church in Cana where the couples renewed marriage vows during the wedding mass officiated by Fr. Yntig. Our group mates led by Ann, Cherry and Cookie (Chan) saw to it that we had a “wedding” to remember with bridal headdresses, bouquets and all. Cana was where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine upon the plea of his beloved mother during a wedding feast. We saw a replica of the jar that held the water which then became wine.
Going to the different places touched by the presence of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem, among them, as narrated in the gospels, simply meant visiting churches. Yes, churches have been built over the historical and holy sites which marked distinct episodes in their lives. It was actually a challenge trying to imagine how things exactly looked before the churches were built.
With the melody of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” ringing in our ears, we made our way through dry, dusty and barren hills to the Church of the Nativity. We had to bend to enter the small door that led to the Star of Bethlehem which marks the birthplace of Jesus. Awesome feeling as we knelt down and kissed the star.
There were so many churches to see each day, some made us somber and reflective; while others gave us a lighthearted feel and these were:
- St. Anne’s Church, considered the birth place of the Virgin Mary;
- St. Gabriel’s Orthodox Church which has a little spring said to be part of the well where Mary fetched water;
- the Church of the Annunciation housing the small grotto where the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would become the Mother of God;
- the chapel atop a little hill called the Shepherds Field where the shepherds heard angels announce the birth of the Savior;
- the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes with its 5th-century mosaics;
- the modern Franciscan Church in the site of the house of St. Peter in Capernaum with the ruins of an old temple across it;
- the Franciscan and Greek Orthodox churches at Mount Tabor also known as the Mount of Transfiguration where a glowing Jesus appeared with prophets Moses and Elijah;
- the Church of the Primacy of Peter (Mensa Christi) by the Sea of Galilee which shelters part of a 4th century church;
- the Church of Beatitudes where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount.
Our guide Rami emphasized that the sites we visited may not be the exact locations of the happenings as mentioned in the Bible but they are widely recognized as such by history and tradition.
(First of two parts)
Next week: Jerusalem and Jordan