The day started early with a 6:45 a.m. meeting time to give the group time to attend the 7 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation, which we had visited during our first day in Nazareth. While the Mass was in Arabic, one of the great benefits of belonging to a universal church is knowing the ritual even though we don’t understand the words. It was comforting to begin with the Sign of the Cross and knowing the same Scriptures we heard in Arabic were the very same our families back home were hearing at Masses this weekend.
While celebrating the liturgy in front of the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I couldn’t help but reflect on how truly awesome it would be to call this or any of the other parishes in the Holy Land home – to be someone who shares in the legacy built on the very foundations of Christianity.
|Many Catholic journalists took the pluge, float rather, in the Dead Sea. (Chronicle photo by Angela Kessler)
Much of the rest of the morning was spent driving through the West Bank from Nazareth to the Dead Sea. The terrain changed from lush farmland to the brown sands of the desert very quickly. During the drive, our guide pointed out the mountain where Jesus was tempted by the devil and later directed our attention to the most likely place John would have baptized Jesus.
We learned about the lives of the Essenses, a sect of people who lived communally in the desert to live according to the rules of God, and away from the influences of secular culture of the time. They spent days together transcribing all of the books of the Bible (except Esther), sectarian texts and other Jewish literature from the period. These transcriptions became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found only relatively recently. The site of the Qumran National Park includes archeological finds, including rooms where the Essenses worked and took ritual baths.
Even though it’s Sunday, our group took a little side trip from the purely religious experiences of the past couple of days. Any visit to this part of the world would not be complete without at least a quick float on the Dead Sea. The sea is the lowest point on earth and because of its high mineral content, a person literally floats in shallow water. The feeling is difficult to explain, but it was enjoyable. The most surprising and difficult part of the float was trying to stand up again in the water. A mud bath completed the trip.
A quick camel ride was enjoyed by many members of the group as we made our way into Jerusalem for the evening. Because of the hour, we have not yet explored the city, but were able to arrange a brief meeting with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York. The archbishop is in the Holy Land on a pilgrimage with 50 priests of his archdiocese. So far, the contingent visited the Mount of Beatitudes, toured northern Israel and renewed their baptismal vows in the Jordan River, the archbishop said. This is the third year Archbishop Dolan has made a pilgrimage-retreat with priests. He says it is the best way to get to know the clerics.