So, here are a few more highlights from this week’s pilgrimage. Let’s start off with an early morning view of the little town of Bethlehem, which isn’t so little. Here’s a video I shot Monday morning.
Our hotel is pretty terrific: the Paradise Premium Hotel. It opened in 2020, then promptly shut down because of COVID. Now it’s bustling with pilgrims.
I snapped this shot of Father Anthony, our priest, at breakfast.
Tuesday, we hit the road to visit the baptism site of Jesus on the Jordan River — but first, we had to leave Bethlehem and pass through a security checkpoint at the wall that surrounds the city.
A soldier bearing a rifle boarded our bus and asked to see every passport and temporary visa. Siobhain was the first to show her documents. The soldier looked at her, then at her papers, then nodded and said we could pass through.
After 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the Jordan River, where we had access to a small outdoor chapel to renew our baptismal promises.
Then it was on to the Jordan River, descending a flight of stairs to the shore to behold water that was, frankly, disgusting.
But still, some of the more courageous in our group waded in. (My wife and I elected to stay on the shore and watch.)
After that, it was on to Jericho, the oldest city in the world, for Mass. Deacon Dennis Kelly from Seattle served and preached. We’re blessed to have terrific deacon preachers on this pilgrimage, and I couldn’t be happier or more proud to have them lend their voices to our liturgies.
While in the neighborhood, we also stopped for a view of what is traditionally considered the mountain where Jesus was tempted by Satan during his days in the desert.
Before we left, a camel offered an affectionate welcome to Rose Marie, the 86-year-old wonder who is confounding us with her energy and high spirits. I want to be like her when I grow up.
After that, it was on to our next aquatic adventure: a visit to the Dead Sea and the lowest place on earth, hundreds of feet below sea level.
I floated in the Dead Sea 23 years ago, during my last visit to the Holy Land. I didn’t need to do it again. But others couldn’t resist.
We concluded our day with a brief stop to view the incredible St. George Orthodox monastery, now home to three monks in the middle of the desert.
The monastery sits alongside the ancient road connecting Jericho and Jerusalem — and it is the road that the Holy Family likely traveled to visit Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. When the family made the journey back to Nazareth, and discovered he was missing, one of the great fears they must have had was that the boy had fallen off one of these cliffs. Look at the image below and you will see our guide, Khalil, gesturing toward the road. Under his arm is some lush green vegetation. The road snakes through the middle of that.
While we were there, a Bedouin rode the path on his donkey.
All in all, an amazing, awe-inspiring day.