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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 21 July 2012

ACADEMIC TRIP TO THE HOLY LAND from Oxford University




Dom Alex Echeandia is a monk of Pachacamac(click), Peru, and therefore a monk of Belmont, who is studying at Blackfriars, Oxford.  He is also a very good iconographer, a pupil of Sister Petra Clare (click) and, whenever he gets the chance, of Aidan Hart(click), an Orthodox iconographer of note.  Brother Alex recently returned from the Holy Land after a couple of weeks with Fr Nick King S.J. and Fr Henry Wansborough O.S.B. and a group of Oxford students.   This is his account of the pilgrimage. 

I was taken to Luton Airport, a place nearly undiscovered by civilization, no signposts on the road but plenty of people to ask. I think I stopped more than eight times to find the way to the airport terminal. I arrived three minutes before Mass began. At the airport chapel there were eight students from different colleges in Oxford and two priests as well who were about to begin the Mass.  Of course, there were some students missing because not all of us were Catholics. In the group of 14 Oxford students  some belonged to the established church. Mass began. Brother Cuthbert, a monk from St Louis in America read the first reading and I read the Psalm. Fr Henry Wansbrough read the Gospel and Fr Nicholas King was principal celebrant: it was the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

The time came. We all gathered together ready to fly over to the Holy Land. In the plane I sat by a Canadian student who was working on a thesis at Oxford on the hermits of the fourteenth century who were inspired by St Augustine of Hippo. We spent a good time talking  about this subject and at other times on monasticism and on French and English influence in Canada. Suddenly a voice came from the cabin saying: “Get ready, we shall soon be arriving at Tel Aviv Airport”. Of course, the voice also spoke in Hebrew. I was fascinated by the sound of the language – The only word I know in this language is “shalom” – It was, indeed, an amazing experience because it was basically the same language spoken by Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and the main figures in the Old Testament. It was a foretaste of what we were all to experience when we landed.

At the arrival we all were led to the hired minibuses that would be with us throughout the whole trip. We went right to Galilee. On the way I was amazed at the signposts on the road because they were written in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and English.   It made up for the lack of signs in Luton.It was already dark, something like 7:00 pm in Israeli time – two hours ahead of England – when we passed by Magdala towards the Sea of Galilee. I could not see much of the town, but I had a feeling of actually immersing myself in the Scriptures, as though I were going to  meet Jesus at home.   Historically, there are two thousand years between us, but faith makes us contemporaries. We arrived at the hostel, and after dinner we all gathered by the Sea of Galilee to introduce ourselves to the group and to get know each other better. 

The water of the sea is sweet and the temperature is at this time over 33 C,too warm for a really refreshing swim. People say that there are twenty-two species of fish founded in the lake, therefore the industry of fishing is important, as much as it was in the time of Jesus. Swimming in the sea of Galilee, scenes from the gospel came through my mind. After the resurrection Peter jumped from the boat to meet the risen Christ announced by John. It was the same place, the same sea in which God made his miracles and went from one side to another.  It was the land of the Lord and our encounter with God made man on earth!

We stayed in Galilee three days. First of all we went to a ruin of Solomon’s fortress which had been a military border. Then we moved to Caesarea Philippi. Here I saw a huge rock through which seeps water from the river Jordan. Here we read the quotation of Scripture in which Jesus calls Peter “rock”. This place immediately made sense of the text and what Jesus said about Peter. Then we moved to Hermon Stream. The Banias waterfall is ten metres high and the typical vegetation includes laurel and figs. It is here where I remembered the Psalm 133 that we sing in the office: “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion” on the goodness and pleasure of God’s people living in unity.

Then we moved to Tabgha, where the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes took place,  with the intention to celebrate Mass there, but it was closed at the time we arrived. Capernaum was our next stop. Here, I first saw the Church of Peter’s Primacy, or Mensa Christi – the Table of Christ. After seeing the shore we read  the passage in which Jesus showed himself to his disciples after the resurrection at the sea of Tiberias when they ate together on the shore, as is written in John 21:1. Capernaum was also the place where Jesus first met his first disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew. Then we went to see Peter’s wife’s mother’s house. All the houses were similar to one another. The roof is not as high as I thought. In fact, it would have been easy to remove the roof and to lower a sick person in front of Jesus, as we read in the Gospel. Then we went to see the remains of a first century synagogue thought to be that in which Jesus preached, which was very close to the town. There I also found some very interesting ruins of the ancient synagogue in which were depicted Jewish symbols and scenes, like, for example, the famous carriage carrying the Holy Ark of the Covenant.

Our next stop was Bethsaida, the home town of Philip, Andrew and Peter. The name beth-tsaida means "house of fishing".  Then, we went to Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured, the highest mountain of the area. From a distance I could appreciate its beautiful shape and I felt awe and wonder. From there one can see Nazareth, Samaria and Galilee.  I could not stay for a longer period because there was another group waiting to celebrate Mass and our time was reduced to a few minutes. I couldn’t even see the Benedictine ruins built at the time of the Crusaders. Now it belongs to the Franciscans. Apart the Basilica they have built a large monastery and a hospice.
After lunch-picnic made of pita-bread, tomatoes and other vegetables, we went to Megiddo to see a ruin of Solomon’s stables together with some buildings dated around the time of King Jeroboam II (8th century BC). We were on the “mountain of Megiddo” that is the meaning of the word “Armageddon”.  Again, this word reminded me of Rev. 16:16 where  it is the place of the battle to end all wars. Then, we went to Sepphoris, north-west of Nazareth, an archaeological legacy that shows Assyrian, Hellenistic, Judean, Babylonian, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader and Arabic cultural influences. There we went to the Synagogue  of the fifth or sixth century BC. We also went to the Roman Villa in which I found the mosaic floor of the very well known "Mona Lisa of Galilee". The mosaic, for the most part, is devoted to Dionysus, god of wine, and of socializing. He is seen along with Pan and Hercules in several of the 15 panels.

After eating our traditional “picnic” with pita bread, vegetables and humus, we then went to Acre, a Crusades’ port  which was one of the best harbours of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, important as a military and commercial port.  Akko, as it was first called, is a very ancient place and was very important strategically until Herod the Great founded Caesarea in the 10BC. We all went into the great Mosque which the Muslims rulers built  n 18-19 century  over Christian ruins. In fact this area was the place where the Knights of St John used to live. We visited this fortress that seems to be all in Turkish, and I even I was invited to take a Turkish bath. We were in a hurry, otherwise I would probably would had time to experience that relaxing therapy.  We went into the fortress and the incredible and magnificent building of the Knights Hospitallers was truly amazing. The cloister, dormitory and refectory were huge.

Back in the minibus, we started on our journey to our next stop: Nazareth.  We travelled on to the city where many miracles took place. I heard that in the synagogue of Nazareth one can find the book in which Jesus learned his ABC and a bench on which he sat with other children, but I couldn’t find them. After unpacking our cases in the convent of Sisters of Nazareth, we went to the Basilica of the Annunciation. The modern massive basilica can be seen from anywhere in the town. In the front, above the gates are those words in Latin central to my faith: “The Word became flesh, he lived among us” (Jn 1:14). I was very touched by that experience of being in the place where God became man, especially because my monastery in Peru is dedicated to “The Incarnation”. I entered into that modern basilica and I focused my view in the sunken area round the Grotto of the Annunciation. In the front of the altar it is written: “Verbum caro hic factum est.” I prayed intensively for a few minutes with an image in my mind of an icon I saw some time ago. Then, from the basilica we went to the Greek Orthodox Church of St Gabriel, also known as Mary’s well; but sadly it was closed at that time. Back to the convent where we stayed, one of the sisters took us down below the ground under the convent.   We saw a sepulchre, from the first century, similar to that in which Jesus was buried. I was impressed by the size of the rock that shuts the mouth of the grave. A round flat stone, no more than 1:50 cm hight. Entering through the  hole into the chamber, we saw three tombs, excavated inside the rock to give space for one person. We couldn’t stay more than three minutes. It was the first time I have seen a first century tomb, probably as a preamble to what I was going to experience in Jerusalem.

And evening passed and morning came. We were prepared to move to Caesarea Maritima.  In the Acts of the Apostles it is mentioned that Caesarea was first introduced to Christianity when Peter baptized Cornelius the Centurion, his household, and his soldiers. Caesarea is an ancient and extraordinary place, especially for me because I was brought up on the coast of Peru. We went to the harbour built by Herod the Great about 25-13 BC. I heard that after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Caesarea was the provincial capital of the Judaea Province. The harbour was very impressive because it is the largest artificial harbour built in the open sea. The floor mosaics again were exquisite. One of them is decorated with animals, geometric shapes, animals and trees, forming a beautiful picture. . Another mosaic depicts obedience to the authorities, and a Latin inscription calls us to remember the words of St Paul in Romans 13,3 : “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good.” A good thought for a monk, I thought.  Then, we went to see first the hippodrome and then the remains of the Roman Theatre, the Foundations of the City wall from the Early Islamic Period (9th-11th AD .), followed by a break of relaxation in a “gelateria”, tasting a delicious ice cream, no more expensive than 20 shekels, of course. Then we went to the remains of the ancient Roman aqueduct, under which we had our usual “picnic”. Then we went swimming. I can say that the Mediterranean Sea is very clean and clear, a nice place to enjoy swimming under a blue sky and radiant sunshine.


Back in Nazareth, having thanked our Sisters of Nazareth, we moved to Fauzi Azar Inn, a guest-house near by to spent our last night in Nazareth. We went to see a first century synagogue. Then, after Mass that we joyfully celebrated everyday, followed by dinner, all gathered together for our usual discussion on the things we  had experienced during the day. We also celebrated Fr Nicholas Kings’ birthday, much to his surprise. 


And evening passed and morning came. We got up early to have a typical breakfast which I enjoyed very much, especially with fried eggs and mint.  After breakfast, we went to the Monastery of Lady Mary at Tell Istaba, near Bet She’an, in which one can appreciate the wheel of the zodiac on the floor mosaic. It combines the representation of figures of the Old Testament like Sarah and Isaac, and in the centre a large Zodiac with the names of the months written in Hebrew. Having arrived at the ancient city of Bet She’an in the Jordan Valley, Fr Henry Wansbrough and Nicholas King showed us the archaeological places like the theatre and the Roman baths and bathhouse toilets, the ruins of Silvanus Street built first by the Romans and then repaved in the Byzantine period (sixth century AD.) but then destroyed in the earthquake of 749.

We, then, went to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Gerasimus, which is known to being one of the oldest monasteries in Palestine.  Saint Gerasimus lived in the fifth century A.D. and was known for his austerity and prayer which he practised in a Laura as a hermit. A story tells how St Gerasimus of Jordan became a friend of a lion by removing a thorn from its paw. A cave in this monastery was known by tradition as the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus found refuge during their flight from Herod.

The following stop was Qumran, another monastic place and a very important site for Scripture research and pre- Christian documentary. I always wanted to see the place where the community of Essenes lived, described by Josephus, especially as it is supposed to be the place where John the Baptist lived before he appeared publically.  Also it interested me because of the discovering of the well know Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947-1956.  I saw the Dead Sea for the first time on our way to Qumran. An extraordinary view of the sea which was increased by ways of claiming the mountain. At the very beginning, before we started the claiming, we could appreciate the caves inside the hills in which the scrolls were discovered by some Bedouin shepherd boys. Also we walked by the different areas, now ruins, where members of this community lived: The reservoir, the watch-tower, the cisterns, the steps leading to the ritual baths, the dining room, kitchens, a potters’ kiln, a scriptorium where they copied manuscripts and the cemetery. Having seen these magnificent ruins, we went up to the top of the mountain. It was a very demanding climb and quite exhausting one. Thank God I had a bottle of water with me. The heat was at its height:  I felt like a roast potato in an oven. From the top of the mountain, I appreciated the delightful view of the Dead Sea and the hills around. After a few minutes on top of it, we started the descent. Down in the valley, we  went to the museum site and we were able to admire some copies of the manuscripts discovered there, notably part of the Isaiah Scrolls.

In the afternoon we all went to stay in Jerusalem at “Maison d’Abraham”, which had been a Benedictine monastery. From the terrace one can admire the old city of Jerusalem, which is only a few minutes walk from the house. It was evening and personally I was exhausted after the very demanding walk up the Qumran mountain. After dinner and some clothes washing, we all went to the city for first time. I remember passing by the Old City Walls and the original steps that Jesus and his disciples used every time they went to the Temple.
Walking inside the Holy City, I stopped at the point when I saw a good number of Orthodox Jews wearing large circular black hats, long black coats, black trousers and hair ringlets which swung in some in front of their face, sometimes were tucked behind their ears. They were coming and going to the Western Wall built by Herod in 20 B.C. It was an admirable  and moving the way the Jews prayed  so faithfully. 


Early in the morning, on next day, I went to the Mount of Olives with the Garden of Gethsemane. There are found a good number of very old trees. We went into the Church of Gethsemane also call “the Church of all Nations” and we prayed there, looking at the rock on which it is believed that Jesus prayed. I imagined how easy it could have been for Jesus to run away from the soldiers and the Jews who wanted to arrest him. He could have easily left the place by the other side of the mountain towards his friends in Bethany, but we know the story. In this moment there I meditated on Christ suffering, not only for the crucifixion, but also for the desolation he experience staying alone, without his friends.


 As was the custom, the  next morning, we began our walk towards the city of Jerusalem by way of the pool of Bethesda. Walking through the market alongside the city, it was clear to me he differences between Jews and Arabs. You cross a line and you can  see a different style of clothes and souvenirs, among other things. Nonetheless, they try to live together here. I was in a hurry because the group needed to meet outside the market. Leaving the city wall, I looked back and I saw the main entrance of the Old City of Jerusalem, Damascus Gate, a magnificent gate built in the XVI century A.C. Beneath it and in a side remains a Roman gate, expanded by Adrian and that served as the main entrance to the city in the first century. Then, in the free time – two hours maximum – I went to see the well-known German Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition, located on top of Mount Zion, commemorating the "falling asleep of Virgin Mary. I went down to the crypt. It holds a good number of small chapels covered with beautiful mosaics.  Among the other chapels, I was very impressed by the one at the end of a long pillared hall. It shows a mosaic of Mary sitting on a throne and with the twelve apostles standing to her right and left.


Having met the group, we all went to the place I have always desired to visit: the Holy Sepulchre. The first thing that struck my mind and heart was the Stone of Anointing where Jesus was  placed after being taken down from the cross. It is located a few metres inside the main entrance. On the wall, behind and over the Stone of Anointing, there are mosaics in which are depicted scenes of Jesus after his death, three moments: Jesus being taken down from the cross, Jesus being anointed and Jesus being taken to the sepulchre. – It was very precious moment in my pilgrimage, and I was deeply moved, all the more because  I am in the process of writing the “Epitáphios Thrēnos” icon – Then, we all went up to Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. It was very crowded, and hundreds of pilgrims wanted to kiss the rock where the cross was planted which is located under the altar. Sadly, I could not stay longer there, and there wasn't the opportunity to do so later. We then were taken down, underneath the altar, to the Chapel of Adam where the Golgotha Rock is behind a window. The rock has a crack that was produced, according to tradition, as a result of the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion.


 Passing by the Holy Sepulchre  where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead, I saw that there was a very long queue waiting outside, we went to see the tomb of Nicodemus behind Jesus’ tomb door. I was waiting for the opportunity to visit the tomb of Jesus, but people from every place was arriving and filling the church. Then, we went up to St Antony's Coptic Monastery, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. After it, we went to see the columns remaining of what was the market in ancient times. We passed by the Jewish Quarter and then to the Israel Museum where there is a model of Herod's Temple. We went to another museum, a very impressive one but one that made me feel sad as a human being. Yad Vashem is the Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. I saw the Jewish shoes of different sizes, all in one big box taken from them before their execution, and there were childrens' toys in another room. What else can be said about it?


In the afternoon we went to Bethlehem. When I was approaching to the Palestinian border,  I stopped  by  a big wall, 8 metres tall, of concrete, constructed by State of Israel. Everyone was checked out. In a way, it was easier to cross the frontier for non-Palestinians. One of the arguments I heard was that the barrier was necessary to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism.  Arguments against the barrier maintain that it is an illegal attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security, violates international law, has the effect of undermining negotiations (by establishing new borders), and severely restricts Palestinians who live nearby, particularly their ability to travel freely and to access work in Israel. The situation is very difficult at the moment.


After having crossed the border, we went to the Church of the Nativity, considered to be the oldest continuously operating Christian church in the world. We had Mass there in the crypt beneath. There Franciscan Friars provided us with everything needed for the Eucharistic celebration. Finally, we went to buy a few souvenirs, especially cribs made of olive wood. In the shop they told us of the difficult situation they are living in at the moment and how so many people are leaving the country to find a better place to live with their families.


Coming back from Bethlehem, we went to Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the water system. The Canaanites built a huge tower over the Gihon spring, and they tunnelled a channel through  the rock to a large pool.  Then, we went back to the city of Jerusalem. A free time was given and I was able to return to the Holy Sepulchre again. I wanted to go into the cave where Jesus was buried and rose again. Good news!!! It was empty for the first time, a very few in number were waitning to go into the Holy Sepulchre. Very quickly I was able to go in and touch the place where Our Lord was buried in an atmosphere of prayer. It was 3:17 p.m. on Friday and it was empty, just as it must have been on the first Good Friday, at the very moment that Jesus was buried by his mother and disciples. I was captured by God and wanted to stay there for a very long time. However, I needed to leave, but I still retain in my mind that very moment.  I think it has marked me for life.  I went out and I continued praying for almost twenty more minutes in that holy place.


Coming back to earth, the next day the whole group went to Jericho. It was a long walk from Jerusalem. On the way we read the Good Samaritan passage. I realised that it was a very challenging decision for that good Samaritan of the parable to carry that sick person, because it really was a long, long distance, a very hot day and without inhabitants nearby. On the way, we arrived at St. George, a fifth century Orthodox Monastery. Very kindly, the monks offered us some refreshments and biscuits and a very hot tea. In was an excellent place to stay after our long walk through the desert. Some minutes later, we started again our walk towards Jericho. On the way we met a friend who accompanied us through the whole journey with his donkey. He had six brothers and sisters and was a member of the Bedouin tribe. We were invited to his home and the family offered us a glass of water, a very hot tea and  friendly company. I experienced how people can offer everything they have, just like the widow in the Temple.


We arrived at the modern Jericho. After having a usual picnic, we went up to see the Jericho wall at the archaeological site. I was able to touch that very ancient wall we read about in the Book of Joshua, of how the Israelites destroyed the wall of Jericho by walking around it with the Ark of the Covenant for seven days, on the last of which they blew trumpets of rams' horns and shouted to make the walls fall down (Joshua 6:20). The events of the account are suggested to be dated at around 1400 BC. During our return, we saw a  Greek Orthodox Monastery of  the Temptation which was located on a hill, but we could not visit it for lack of time. We had enough time for a quick  look round the city.  There I saw how two men were smoking the typical Arabic “Shisha pipe”. It is smoked through a flexible tube where water is used to cool the smoke that is produced by burning fruit-scented tobacco. I saw this also in Jerusalem.


Then, we continued our journey to Nebi Musa, an ancient Holy Muslim site located on the side of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is dedicated to Prophet Moses who, according to Muslim tradition, is buried here. Inside were rooms on two floors. In the centre of the cloister there were two wells which supply water to the pilgrims. There is a mosque which was not opened to us. We left the buildings, ready to go in the minibuses. I saw a camel right in front of the vehicle. Everybody was in the bus, ready to go, and I felt a curiosity to ride one.  On the spur of the moment I asked Fr Henry to wait for me to spend a few minutes on the camel. He agreed and I was able to ride it for the first time in my life. It was a nice experience.

We went back to Jerusalem to spend the night there, before getting ready for our next expedition: Masada. The place is best known for the violence that occurred in the first century AD. One of the final events of the First Jewish–Roman War, the Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire, led to the mass suicide of the rebels. We began to climb the mountain to the top. It was very exhausting, but I think that by this time we were getting used to climbing high mountains. The heat was very intense, but the view was impressive from the top. Masada was fortified by Herod the Great. In it I saw ruins,  
cisterns that were refilled by rainwater,  a synagogue, bathhouses and storehouses.


Then we descended to get ready for our next stop: Egypt. On the way to the border, an accident occurred on the minibus where the other half of the group was. The wheel and the front transmission broke on the road. Nothing could be done, especially at the time when taxis were waiting for us on the other side of the border in Egypt. Well, eight of us went first towards the border and the others waited for a little while until they found a bus to come over. The damaged minibus was left closed ready for somebody from the agency to collect it. Finally we crossed the border easily, not without crossing through at least five control points. We went to stay at a nice place by the Red Sea in Egypt. After a nice dinner, I went to lie by the shore. It was very warm there. As I was lying on the sand, I contemplated the brilliant stars.


Next morning at four o’clock we began our way to Sinai. Thank God it was not very hot at that early hour of the day. Now the climbing was not an impediment. The view was extraordinary with round rocks and on the hills on either side of us. We were all very enthusiastic as we climbed to the top. Once there, I experienced another numinous moment. It was just being on the mountain where Moses was such a long time ago. After a few minutes, we started to descend on a different path. It was easier in a way and not so steep. Nearly at the bottom of the mountain, all of us began to prepare to enter into the Monastery of St Catherine, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. No camera was allowed inside the church; therefore, I was more able to pray in that Orthodox Church surrounded by the icons, very ancient ones. Then, I went out to meet the others who were already looking at the bush from which God spoke to Moses. The monastery possesses important historical documents from as early as the 4th Century, the oldest almost completely preserved manuscript of the Bible. Also, the monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Georgian, and Syriac texts. The thing I was looking for was the icon of the Pantocrator of the Sinai. As we know, this monastery has the best collection of early icons in the world, many in “encaustic” (hot beeswax painting, to which coloured pigments are added). I asked to one Arab man who became my friend, and he said he would be please to take me to the museum. Sadly I couldn’t accept that invitation because the group that came with me was already leaving the place. It was a shame because I was really wanting to go to the museum and seen the icons I have only seen before in books. Nevertheless, I was delighted to see what I saw and experienced in that wonderful place blessed by God.


Next morning all of us were ready to go to Jordan. It was incredible because I was in three countries in one single day: Egypt, Israel and then Jordan. We arrive at Jordan; then we moved to Petra, an historical and archaeological city. A tradition says that it was here that Moses struck the rock and drew water, as it is mentioned in Exodus 17. Anyway, this place was fascinating because of the shapes and colours of the rocks that made it a dramatic entrance to this ancient city. I was astonished by the things a saw around me and can judge by myself as one of the greatest wonders ever wrought by nature and man. It is not permitted for motorized vehicles to enter the site. All of us needed to walk, although horse-drawn carriages took some people inside Petra to visit the main attractions. Some tourists hired a donkey or a camel. I personally was delighted just being be there. At the end of the road appeared in front of us “The Treasury”,   a massive façade, 30 metres wide and 43m high, carved out of the sheer, dusky pink rock-face and dwarfing everything around it. It was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important king. Some of my friends reminded me that this place was the scenario for the 1989 film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” starring Harrison Ford. We then went to see other places like the Ad-Deir Monastery (high above the site of Petra), and the place of the high sacrifice. Also some archaeologists were excavating different areas around there. What we saw was probably less that half of what they will find in the future. People were selling everything they could. It did not matter the kind of currency: pounds, euros, dollars or their own dinar. Anything offered was very welcomed, although three dollars are the equivalent to two dinars, the price of a bottle of water (1.5L).


From Petra we went back to Jerusalem in Israel to prepare everything to return to England. In that very night, I went to see for the last time the city of Jerusalem. Near the place where I stayed, there was a fight between two Arab families for a territory. They were throwing stone at each other and burning bushes around. A man  came  up to me, attracted by the noise. He    told me that if the police arrived, these two families would probably fight against the police. Well, I understood that even in the Holy City there are disputes among men. It also was seen in the way Jews and Palestinians treat each other. It shows that the earthly Jerusalem has a long way to go before it mirrors the Jerusalem in heaven. 


Finally and overall, the experience lived during these days in the Holy Land have made a tremendous impact on my life as a Christian. It has renewed my faith in the depth of my being and it has opened ways of understanding  the Scriptures, as I read, meditate and interact with God’s Word.  This experience will also help me in my future ministry as a priest in service of the Church.  I want to thank those who have been with me on my journey, for their support and company and those who made my pilgrimage possible. 


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