Saturday (March 14)

israel12-022 I am happy to report that all of our pastors returned safely to Atlanta after a very long trip from Israel on Friday. Everyone seemed well and in good spirits (although Fred’s ankle gave him problems in the airports). I hope that the rest of the day’s travel also brought everyone to his or her individual home! The group from North Carolina arrived on time to a wonderful reception by family at the airport.


We will continue to post notes and pictures to this blog as our group looks forward to reuniting on retreat in June The pastors made this pilgrimage a success through their wonderful spirit of fellowship, collegiality, and worship. Fred and I thoroughly enjoyed leading this group of outstanding ministers through a spiritual retreat in Israel and Palestine.

Check again soon for more pictures in the “Gallery” section of this blog.



Pilgrimage Poetry

Mary offers this passage of poetry from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”:

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England

March 12 (Thursday)

Today is our free day in Jerusalem. Some of our pilgrims are visiting the Holocaust Memorial (Yad VeShem) for a poignant remembrance of European genocide against the Jewish people. Other groups will visit museums, tour the City of David archaeological site, pray at the Garden Tomb, and walk the streets of the Old City one last time. Who knows what else our pastors might do today?israel10-104a1israel10-109

We opened the day with prayers and will close it with Eucharist. Tomorrow morning at 1:30 am, we depart the Notre Dame for the airport for our long journey home. John wisely prayed that we might receive “the strength of the people of Joshua,” who endured the long day when God made the sun stand still.israel12-004

March 11 (Wednesday)

Today our band of pilgrims traveled to the Dead Sea regionisrael11-008 to experience the rugged wilderness.

We began by exploring the ruins of ancient Jericho in the West Bank. Jericho is the world’s oldest inhabited city, with over 10,000 years of continuous habitation by Canaanites, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. It is the site of ancient Christian monasteries and the traditional Mount of Temptation (Matt 4:8-9).

We also saw a sycamore tree which we were assured was the very same one climbed by Zacchaeus (Luke 19)


We next toured the site of Qirbetisrael10-135a Qumran, home to an Essene monastic community during the Second Temple period, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947. We ate lunch there before heading to the shore of the Dead Sea for a quick dip.

The mineral-rich water makes it easy for people to float (and almost impossible to submerge).  Pictures will added later today.israel10-199

March 10 (Tuesday)

Tuesday was our day to visit Bethlehem, in the West Bank. We began with a visit to Herod’s palace at the mountain-top Herodion,israel10-005 with its tremendous vistas of the Judean hill-country. We explored its ruins and descended its ancient watercourse.

israel10-040We then toured the Church of the Nativity, which marks the cave-front stable in which Jesus was born.

After that, we met with Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian minister of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Between the “security wall” and the economic problems in this area, Bethlehem was a sobering reminder of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Palestinian territories.


Tonight marked the beginning of the Jewish festival of Purim, a carnival-like celebration of religious freedom based on the book of Esther. Children wear costumes and many games are played. A group of pastors enjoyed the festivities at the Western Wall before returning to our hotel for prayers.israel10-213israel10-216

March 9 (Monday)

Today was a busy day of experiencing diverse sacred places that defy easy description. We began the morning excursion with a visit to the Haram esh-Sharif (or Temple Mount), where the holy Muslim sites of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque sit above the Old City. dsc08053

The Muslim mosques are excellent examples of architectural artistry that date to the seventh century CE

We descended from the Temple Mount so see the Jewish Western (or “Wailing”) Wall,israel9-145a constructed by Herod the Great in the first century BCE as one of the retaining walls of his great rebuilding project. This massive wall is all that remains of the Second Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. This precinct is revered by Jewish worshipers as an open-air synagogue and an especially sacred place.  Many Orthodox Jews who live in the area pray at the Wall throughout the day.

We next visited the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (the crowing cock).  The church is built on the traditional site of the house of Caiaphas, where Peter denied Christ three times and where Jesus was imprisoned in a dungeon for the night.  We then drove out to the traditional site of Emmaus at Abu Ghosh, an Arabic village with a natural spring, to see the twelfth-century Crusader Church.israel9-106b Before reading scripture there, we had a wonderful conversation with a Canadian nun, Sister Michaela.

Everyone in the group is healthy and doing very well. We are enjoying Jerusalem and its rather hectic pace.

The Notre Dame

We are staying at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem,dsc_1140 a Catholic conference center, directly across the street from the New Gate to the Old City.  Here is a photo of the view from the roof.dsc_1139