A PILGRIMAGE to the Holy Land is probably on the bucket list of most Christians – but this is something my Mother had put off before deciding to make a go at it the year she turned 75.
When an offer came up that was perfectly timed with Holy Week this year, we joined a group ably led by doctors James and Annabelle Guardiario, and it made for a truly memorable and pleasurable experience.
We landed in Amman via Dubai. Our guide collected all our passports upon arrival so we did not even have to appear at the immigration counters. His name was Nasser and he was Palestinian. After settling in the bus, we headed to Madaba, an ancient town in Jordan known for its sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land which can be found on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. This was my first realization of just how intertwined Catholicism and the Orthodox Church are in this part of the world. But what really matters, for the purposes of this story, is the fact that we are all Christians who venerate the Holy Land because Jesus Christ lived his life and met his death there.
The next stop was Mount Nebo. On the way there, we passed by Moses’ Spring – purportedly the site where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water gushed forth for the thirsty Israelites. The spring still flows and is now housed in a simple building.
Mount Nebo is famous for being the site where Moses viewed the Promised Land of Canaan after having been told by God that he shall not cross over there. Today’s pilgrims can see the panorama Moses viewed and also visit the Church that was built to commemorate the end of Moses’ life. What started as a small church monks built in the third century has now expanded into a Basilica decorated with Byzantine mosaics. Since it was Holy Thursday, our group chaplain performed the washing of the feet ceremony.
It is believed that Moses died on this mountain, yet his burial place remains unknown. Outside the church is the Brazen Serpent Monument where we all stopped for a group photo – with the view of the Holy Land right behind us.
The next day, we left our hotel early for the drive to Petra, Jordan’s most famous archaeological site that dates back to around 300 BC and was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom. Accessed via a narrow canyon called Al Siq, it contains tombs and temples carved into pink sandstone cliffs; hence the nickname Rose City. Its most famous structure is the Al Khazneh, a temple with an ornate Greek façade known as The Treasury. This temple is believed to be the tomb of King Aetas IV and was constructed at the time when their population peaked at 200,000 inhabitants.
Due to a steady decline brought on by wars and the development of sea trade, this place was abandoned by the early Islamic Era and was rediscovered only in 1812 by Johann Burckhardt. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985, its spot in the New 7 Wonders of the World list was the result of a popularity poll.