Sunday, July 2, 2006

Free Day and Good-byes

by Steve Ray on July 2, 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006
People like to have some free time to absorb the Holy City of Jerusalem. So we decided to add an extra day onto the pilgrimage. We offered an option trip to Masada where the Jews made their last stand against Rome in 72 AD, to Qumran where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls, to Jericho to see the Sycamore Tree of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:4) and the Mount of Temptation where Satan took Jesus to show him the kingdoms of the world (Mt 4).

The lunch in Jericho was – in my estimation and others as well – the finest lunch we had during the whole trip.

Dead Sea sm.jpgAfter lunch we did what everyone was waiting for – swimming, or should I say, bobbing in the Dead Sea. The temperature was over 100 degrees and every one that joined the trip (a little over ½ of the pilgrims) had a great time floating in the water with their heads, arms and feet sticking up in the air as they each bobbed in the water, unable to sink. A great time was had by all.

We arrived in time to give them 3 free hours. The rest of the pilgrims spent the day visiting the Old City, praying at the Holy Sepulchre, viewing the archaeological sites (especially the Davidson Center with Fr. Gerald). Everyone enjoyed the free time and I even suspect a few might have taken a nap knowing the plane would leave early in the morning.

Fr. Gerald offered Mass at midnight and then everyone climbed the bus and headed to the airport. There were many hugs, even tears and kind words for everyone. It was very sad to see the bus pull out. I stepped on one last time and thanked everyone for trusting Janet and I and not letting fear keep them from the Holy Land. The tail lights disappeared around the corner and it was all quiet.

Thank God for a great pilgrimage and we look forward to continued correspondence and friendship. We will keep everyone in our prayers as we plan our next trip. Blessed be God forever.

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Carrying our Cross

by Steve Ray on July 2, 2006

Thursday, June 29, 2006
We had breakfast at the Notre Dame Center and were on the bus at 8 AM. This group was very prompt and which allowed me to give them several hours of free time at the end of each day in Jerusalem. I decided go to Mount Scopus before starting on the Mount of Olives. Mount Scopus is north of the Old City and the Mount of Olives is on the east of Old Jerusalem.

We stopped at my favorite lookout point where I can give a quick overview of the story of salvation where I started our documentary on David/Solomon. Looking over the Jordan Valley and mountains of Moab (Jordan) beyond, I help everyone understand the story in context.

After our salvation story overview, we drove to the Mount of Olives and stopped at the Chapel of the Ascension which is actually a Moslem property. I gave a short talk on the Ascension and then on to my friend Mazen’s shop next door.

(By the way, do you know the difference between the Ascension and the Assumption? If not, and you want to know, write me at

Why go to Mazen’s “Mount of Olives Bazaar"? Three reasons: 1) they have good products, especially the best selection and prices for Dead Sea mineral products; 2) they have helped me so often with my Footprints of God videos; and most importantly 3) they provide a camel for everyone to ride! What fun everyone had. You will see the pictures soon posted on my site

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem is famous and most everyone has seen the pictures of crowds strolling down the steep hill carrying Palm branches. We shuffled down the steep hill seeing where Haggai and Malachi were buried and shortly came to Dominus Flavit where our Lord wept over Jerusalem. Soon we were at the Grotto of the Arrest at Gethsemane. Mass was in the Church of All Nations and we all sat around the huge rock where Jesus wept drops of blood while his disciples slept.

We then walked around the Garden of Gethsemane where some of the Olive trees are over 2,000 years old. I think a lot of pilgrims were very moved at the Garden of Gethsemane and I reminded them to think of Mel Gibson’s movie – and discussed why Jesus may have suffered more pain here than he did on the Cross.

Lunch was eaten on the Promenade which is one of the very best views of Jerusalem – high above the city from the south. I told the pilgrims this was their final exam as I asked questions, asking them to point out strategic locations. Looking over the city as if it were in our hands, I gave an overview of the Passion of Jesus in preparation for our afternoon Stations of the Cross.

After lunch we started from Herod’s Gate and walked to the beginning of the Via Dolorosa to follow the footprints of Our Lord from the trial of Pilate in the Antonia Fortress to the Cross and the Tomb. We carried crosses though the crowded, busy streets. It was very similar to the time of Jesus with people buying and selling and us pushing our way through the noisy narrow streets. Very few pilgrims walked this sorrowful way without tears in their eyes.

Everyone had time to enter the tomb to pray and then Janet and I gave the pilgrims a tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From 3 PM on everyone had free to visit the Old City, pray at the Tomb or take a nap.

My “man in Israel,” Raji Khoury, treated the pilgrims to dinner at the Seven Arches with huge windows. We ate dinner, gave a few farewell speeches and watched the sun set on the Old City of Jerusalem.

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