Via Dolorosa

On Thursday, we made our way to the Herod Gate to start The Way of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. Kitty’s approach has been to get there early to beat the crowds so that we can carry the cross, before the next tour groups, and the merchants open their shops.IMG_7634Thanks to Jay, Andree Barker’s son, a strong 24 year old back and willingness to help everyone,  he managed to bring our own cross to the Monastery of the Flagellation to start the effort. An interesting website is which will give you background etc.IMG_7607A few photos of our worthies on the Via….IMG_7620IMG_7628For more information on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, link to

The most amazing thing happened – no one was in line, and we walked right into the tomb. In my 5 plus visits, I’ve never seen that happen. We then headed to a beautiful chapel of the Franciscans in the basilica and were joined by 46 pilgrims from Indonesia who asked to join us. Our only common hymn was the Alleluia! The dome reverberated!

Below, Jack and Connie posed by the door mentioned in a CNN story below.IMG_7630

The entry door is subject of the following story on how two Muslim families are entrusted with the keys re opening and closing. There is an occasional scandal as Christian denominations contest certain parts  (a euphemism) of this polyglot basilica, Hence a 3rd party controls who begins the day!

We made our way to the Basilica of St Anne, the mother of Mary, and again we were joined by a group of Mormon students. Together we sang Amazing Grace in this most amazing acoustic-perfect church, property of France, run by the White Fathers of Africa.

The Pool of Bethesda is adjacent to the church. Up to the time of great archeological digs of the 19th century, it was believed to be somewhat exaggerated, a metaphorical fiction. However, as you will see in the article, sure enough  5 covered porticoes were discovered just as described in the Gospel of John. Here is the Johannine reference. . My own photo is indicative of this deep source of water. If I recall Fr James Martin SJ his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, mentioned this was one of his most moving sites.


Final item of the night. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at an undeveloped site on the Hebron Rd. No work has been done on it but a brush aside of dirt showed a mosaic, part of an extensive church ruins which was dedicated to the journey of Mary to register the family along with Joseph in Bethlehem, according to Luke’s Gospel. The amazing thing is that the entire countryside is a spadeful of dirt away form a major archeological find.




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Our day started (simulating Holy Thursday) by celebrating the Institution of the Eucharist and the washing of the feet in the Upper Room. Many of these locations are prefaced with the comment, “this is the place – or nearby – where Christians have been commemorating the Last Supper”. The point is not to say absolutely, “this is where it happened” but with a gap of over 300 years, we depend on the recall of these earlier Christians and the passing on of  memories through the generations. I always trust the good instincts of the late scholar Fr Jerome Murphy-Connor OP who wrote the “bible” of archeological comments on the holy sites. We celebrated Mass in this church, the guardians being the Franciscans who have been in the Holy Land since the visit of St Francis.

IMG_7584Gethsemane is down the southern wall of present-day Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, normally crossing a busy street into the Garden. With the heat of the last few days, we were thankfully bussed downhill. We had a memorable visit to ourselves locked in as we had a pass, that allowed any or all to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These gnarly old olive trees below could be 2,000 years old. We were privileged to spend an hour in this place of beauty and memory. The flowers frame the eastern wall of the Temple Mount.



IMG_7600Last stop of the day was the palace of Caiaphas, known as the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu. Jesus, now arrested by Judas’ betrayal, has been dragged across town to the “palace” plus Peter’s three-fold denial in the courtyard of the palace. All that is really left is a staircase from the site.

Below, Peter saying to the servant girl, “I do not know the man!!!!


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On to Bethlehem

It did not seem two years ago that I was here for a month of studies (June 2014) at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, a post-doctoral program. “But I don’t have a doctorate.” “That’s ok, if you can pay, you can come!”

For this year’s trek, we made a decision to stay in Bethlehem and leave some of our money in the West Bank. These people are immobilized by the wall that surrounds Bethlehem, and people who have work permits to move daily to Israel are subject to a daily security check. For most of us, we begin our day “how’s the weather forecast?” Here it is “how long is the checkpoint?”

First stop – the oldest church still active in Christianity – the Church of the Nativity. Originally commissioned by Constantine in 327 AD,  and built over the site that Christian memories stated that this is where the cave was. The first church was completed in 339, destroyed by fire in the 6th century, but rebuilt by Justinian the Emperor in  565.

We also went to Shepherds’ Fields and after Mass, we gathered at a tree from Canada and pinned stars on trees to remember our deceased family and friends. This one below is for Fr Clarence Lavigne OMI who died on his 89th birthday on June 4.

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Next stop, an orphanage of 60 little ones! Many are taken in by the sisters because the families cannot afford the upkeep. Most will never be adopted. Here is Irene below who generously donated bag and bags of clothes and toys. Many brought candy (Basil) and others had bubbles (Jay?), just little things to brighten up these kids’ lives.


Always get a kick out of copyright breaking in Bethlehem..

IMG_7572Last shot of the the wall…that surrounds Bethlehem..


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Dead Sea and Jericho…

A seemingly quick two hour drive down the Jordan Valley in itself was remarkable, going from Israel proper into the West Bank, and then on to the Dead Sea with Qumran and the Dead Sea Scroll memories closely. After a deep theological discussion, we decided that the human side of Jesus sought to have a little frivolity in the Dead Sea with his mates, where the salt content has to be at least 25%. Scholars please correct! All who went in, lost 10 years of their skin surface in the direction of our body 10 years ago, due to the expensive minerals in the water, e.g. Dead Sea Salts and Mud!!! I don’t think it improved this body. Notice the weight loss from the previous day’s stomach bug.

IMG_7514Onwards towards Jericho, and the sycamore tree made famous by Zacchaeus. Of course, somewhere nearby there must be a commemorative plaque for Blind Bartimaeus also associated with Jericho. possibly the oldest city on earth.

IMG_7524 Local merchants who are poor Palestinians, with so few pilgrims, and the “low season” due to the heat are happy to see our busload of 14 pull up.


On to Jerusalem, but first a stop in the Valley of Death for a prayer for all our deceased relatives the friends. Just that day Basil and I received emails that a good friend Fr Clarence Lavigne OMI had died on his birthday June 4, and Jill Forester chaplain at St John Paul II CSS sent on word that Glenda Ann Crocco and Carolyn Passafiume’s mother had died. They along with our long lists were remembered, and thanks to the kindness of a bedouin brought us under his tent to get out of the heat. In keeping with the Jewish custom, we placed a rock on the ground rather than flowers.

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Got way behind…..Sunday submissions

A stomach bug got the best of me on Sunday, June 4, but I managed to catch the sites visited. A quick review…We had an outdoor Mass at the Benedictine monastery property on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.  However, the first photo shows some nasty stuff that took place a year or so ago, when ultra-religious Jews tried to burn down the place. Luckily, they didn’t know church architecture so it was only the outer court.IMG_7506The second photo shows our band of 14 less Sheryl the photographer, having just celebrated Mass.IMG_7488

Onwards to the next site…impressive archeological preservation are (below)IMG_7509 (1) the early Christian mosaics, possibly 5th century are the breads and fishes in the floor before the present altar, near the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes…followed by more mosaics left by the early Christians following the Edict of Constantine. Extremely well-preserved!IMG_7510

Further below is good friend Basil Wren checking out an old olive press, which could be 20 years old, or 2000 years. Take your pick! One thing you quickly learn is that often we don’t know the age of what are called antiquities unless someone does a carbon 14 test on it. Finances play a role in deciding if this item worth the cost of carbon dating. Another factor to keep in mind is that at all these sites, we generally say “this is the site that Christians commemorate from earlier times when Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples, his first post-Resurrection even in Galilee.”

Further below, onwards to the Church of Mensa Christi..where we commemorated our chaplain’s ministry by blessing him! The heat did a number on Connie Walker’s head!!! over 90F. Generally, it has been a hotter than expected week, but tonight we may need a sweater here in Bethlehem. IMG_7512IMG_7497

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Sea of Galilee

Today was spent on the northern shore of the Sea, also known as Tiberias, Kinnereth. First stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes. Kitty McG  our narrator, organizer, has the keen instinct to get us in first, no other buses, almost an hour ahead of anyone else; hence a great time to reflect at this momentous site. One can readily imagine the half moon bay with a natural amphitheatre.

An experience ….sailing on the Sea of Galilee

On to Capernaum, Jesus’ second home. There are etchings found in the archeological dig that indicate that early Christians perhaps the second generation, indicated that this Peter’s home or his mother-in-law’s dwelling. Capernaum is described as the place of healings, Peter’s m. in law, Paralytic (palsy) at Capernaum  …Man with a withered hand in Galilee….possibly Capernaum  …. Women with issue of blood (hemorrhaging) healed
at Capernaum during first preaching tour through Galilee ….Two blind men at Capernaum.

“And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:13–17)

Finally on to Mt Tabor, site of the Transfiguration, a glimpse of glory with Jesus’ three main men, Peter, James and John.

Below….sunrise on the Sea of Galilee, June 4, followed by the Mount of the Beatitudes, associated with the Sermon on the Mount.

Yours truly along with Jack English who taught at Blessed Mother Teresa HS, and ended his career as a chaplain in high schools in Durham Region. Lastly walking up to the Church on Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration.IMG_7441IMG_7444IMG_7450IMG_7476


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The puzzle of a pilgrimage!

All of us have been on trips, holidays, cruises, cottages, road trips etc. Often when our kids were young, on returning from a trip, we’d ask, “what did you like the best?” They were puzzled and not sure how to answer. We know they enjoyed seeing so many sites, but to pick out one, perhaps it is we the adults who are asking the wrong question.

Likewise in a trip to the Holy Land. Realistically, it is such a multi-dimensional experience, with our senses coming alive, but our spiritual sensors somewhat confused, numbed, in overload. Something is happening albeit somewhat puzzling because the ability to describe what was new and fresh, often escapes us. And then it is possible to feel absolutely nothing akin to a peak experience! In fact, often the opposite.

Often, it is only on our return home when something falls into place and a new insight is relished. Perhaps some will be able to quote what moved them even in three days, for instance, what one pilgrim had to say about renewing our commitment vows in the church at Cana, or having water poured on our heads in the Jordan. For all of us, marriage is a commitment, a project that hopefully lasts a lifetime. A commitment to a sick parent, perhaps unappreciated, is borne with the head and heart being in conflict. The life-long commitment to a handicapped child needs grace and prayers.

What I am getting at, is that even in this Holy Land, in God’s good time, not ours, that we see with new eyes and ears, etc.

Some of today’s photos…..

1, Our first view of the Sea of Galilee, looking towards the east shore, known as the Goland Heights

2. commitment ceremony in Cana, a son for a mother, a mother for a son, and likewise a mother and daughter for each other

3. A ceremony to remind of us our baptism,

4. Jay  Barker, our youngest pilgrim playing the role of John the Baptist in the Jordan, with Fr Ed Keays being Jesus!

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