Friday, January 3, 2014

Israel cont.

Day 2-

Fr. Guido: Our spiritual guide. He was a native to Holland, but had lived in Jerusalem for 7 years from 1997-2004. I think this gave him an exceptional outlook and advantage to other priests had we been on another tour. His homilies and meditations were out of this world!

Nasser: Our guide. A interesting melancholic to be sure! Alex and I found him a wealth of information and quite a kick in the pants. He was a Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli Citizen. He would say, "No doubt, you come here and are confused about my country. When you leave, if you are still confused.....then you understand my country!" Although we learned an entire college class of information on the pilgrimage....Nasser was still right!

     We started the second day with a visit to Caesarea. Caesarea was a Mediterranean town built by King Herod the Great. Herod was the King of Judea appointed by Rome. He was of Jewish descent, however, because of his murderous acts and love of power the Jews hardly considered him of Jewish faith. He was not a venerated king among them.
     King Herod built Caesarea in 12 years which would be phenomenal even in todays standards. The city was considered very modern for it's time. It boasted an amphitheater and running water. 12 miles of aqueduct brought water to the city from the Mount Carmel Mountains. A palace was erected next to the the sea, that even sported an 'infinity' pool. The pool was built at a slightly higher elevation than the sea, but with underground channels that allowed water to flow in at the pools' bottom.
     Herod named the city after Caesar and gifted it to him. His purpose being: to gain favor with Rome.  His was neither liked by the Jews or Romans, hence looked for ways to please both peoples.
     Caesarea is important in Christian history because it was the place where the first gentiles converted.

Ruins of the palace.

What was left of the swimming pool.

C'mon AJ...jump in! The water was sooooo warm.

I simply love the Mediterranean!

The amphitheater. 

Remains of the aqueduct.Yes.....that is Alex.

Really....I just wanted to go swimming.....

     We continued on to the city of Haifa where lunch was hosted by the Carmelite sisters. Prior to lunch we visited the House of Grace and the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 
     The House of Grace was founded in 1985 by Kamil and Agnes Shahade to help convicts, battered women and children regardless of religion.  As a young man Kamil possessed a fiery temperament and violent nature. However, after spending a year at the Madonna House in Canada he came back a changed man, a man with a vision to minister to the out casts.  Kamil had since passed away but the house was still ran by his wife and 4 sons. One of his sons gave us the tour. He spoke of how he grew up with convicts sleeping in the next room and yet not once was their family robbed or hurt. It was a beautiful story! Fr. Guido explained that this was one of the few ministries in all of Israel that reached out to all people whether Jewish, Arab, Muslim or Christian. We were blest to visit the House of Grace because Fr. Guido had known Kamil and the family. Most tours do not stop there. 

The entrance to the House of Grace. Our fearless guide is on the right. And those yellow hats.....that's our group!

The church(restored) that had been the abandoned building were the House of Grace started.

Our next stop in Haifa was Lady of Mount Carmel. The church was supposedly built upon the cave where Elijah hid when Ahab and Jezabel wanted to kill him. 

Right in the middle of Haifa were the Bahai Gardens: a place of worship for people of Bahai Faith, which frankly I had never heard of. 

Haifa- Driving through Haifa we saw neighborhoods completely abandoned. Nasser explained that these empty houses were the result of the 1948 Palestinian Exodus. During the civil war around 80% of the Arab inhabitants where expelled from their homes in Israel. The causes are just one of the many disagreements between Arabs and Israelis. But factors involved were Jewish military advances,  voluntary self removal, collapse of Palestinian leadership and unwillingness to live under Jewish control. The Palestinians considered it ethnic cleansing, while the Jewish government would dispute that. 

     Our first stop in Nazareth was to the Sisters of Nazareth. Again, we only had this opportunity due to Fr. Guido's connections. Sister Irish was the little old sister who gave us the tour. And before I launch into the details, I must say that I can find nothing on the internet that reveals the story of Sister Irish. Moreover, if I asked any pilgrim where the site of the Holy Family's house was he/she would reply, "Under the Franciscan church next to the Basilica of the Annunciation." 
     However, this was Sister Irish's story: The Sisters of Nazareth came from France to Israel around 1900. They acquired a pricey piece of land in Nazareth to build their convent on. During the 1960s when repairs were being made to the foundation a large cavern was found under the convent. Further excavation uncovered a very old well and a cave which housed an altar and tomb. The tomb contained the skeleton of a man buried sitting up right and a ring was on his finger. This indicated he was a bishop. He was not buried facing the altar but towards the door of the cave. The sisters continued digging in the direction the bishop faced. They found what appeared to be a remains of a church, which was built on top of an old dwelling dating to Jesus' time. Beneath the dwelling was a tomb. When the seal of the tomb was opened, burial incense filled the entire vault and Sister Irish said they smelled it for days. The burial place had two chambers, most likely for a husband and wife. In the first century often the loved one was buried beneath the home so that the spirit would remain close by.
     Of course, this is not factual, but the sisters had to wonder if this indeed was the Holy Family's home. It seemed odd that two churches had been built near this ancient cave dwelling, a bishop had been buried facing that cave dwelling and that two tombs indicated a married couple. 

The marks left from the rope used to pull the bucket up from the well. This well also dated to Jesus' time.

The church were the bishop was buried. Terrible picture! The altar is in the center, but I didn't get a picture of the bishop's tomb. 

The steps leading up to the church which had been built on top of the dwelling. (Tom and John on the right....they were some of our favorites on the pilgrimage.)

The possible home of the Holy Family.

The burial chamber under the house. Notice the rounded rock to the right.....very similar to what would have been rolled in front of Christ's tomb.

This is Nazareth. It was built on a hill and in Jesus's time would have only been a town of approx. 400 people. Most of  the houses would have been caves hewn into the hill side. 

Our second stop in Nazareth was the Basilica of the Annunciation: Built over the supposed cave that Mary received the message from Angel Gabriel that she would conceive Our Lord. 

Behind the people is the spot venerated as the site of the Annunciation.

We concluded our second day at a motel on the Sea of Galilee.