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Journey through the Holy Land & Jordan – 10th September to 25th September 2017 – Edwina Mallia, Rheom Travel

It’s hard to believe that planning for our journey started 18 months in advance. I was introduced to Fr. Joe Shibu from Holy Spirit Parish, and we started putting plans in place together for a trip full of spiritual and like-minded travelling companions.

I tried to keep a sort of diary and here are some extracts:

“We are now in our 4th day of our Journey, the group has settled in well and they seem to be enjoying every minute we are together.

Fr. Joe is quite a character and very IT savvy.  He set up on WhatsApp a HSG and we all share our photos, but he is the prolific one!  I do not seem to find the time to download the photos in between emails and looking after everyone.”

“Yesterday we started our journey in Jaffa the ancient port, where medieval pilgrims started their 2 day trek to Jerusalem.  The heat increased with every step we took especially when we arrived at the city of Caesarea, ingeniously built by King Herod to please the Roman Emperor of the time. By the time we arrived at Mount Carmel and Muhraqa where we did a lot of walking we were glad to get back on the air-conditioned coach and snooze through the one-hour drive to the hotel at the Sea of Galilee.

On arrival in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee after a very long day travelling from Tel Aviv, we attended at St Peter’s Church just around the corner from our hotel and one could see and feel the happiness which emanated from Fr. Joe being in this area and celebrating Mass.  We were all very grateful.”

“Another exciting day at Cana with all the couples in our group renewing their vows in the Chapel of the First Miracle in Cana.  Fr Joe said a special Mass and made it a very moving experience for everyone even for us standing on the other side of the altar”.

The wonderful relaxing cruise, in a replica of a 2000-year-old boat, round the Sea of Galilee and listening to some beautiful music and with Horiato and Jassu giving us an impromptu singing performance was one of the highlights of the trip. The atmosphere was magical.

“We are having Mass every day Fr Joe always has a smile and is so pleased to have been given this great opportunity.  The group loves it too.”

“Yesterday we had a wonderful day starting with Mass at the Church St Peter Primacy which is surrounded by beautiful gardens and overlooks the Sea of Galilee.  Mass was held outside in the garden Fr Joe was so excited.  At each Mass we have singing and it creates such a holistic atmosphere.  After Mass we had time to go around the gardens and down to the Sea of Galilee, where we all took off our shoes and waded in. To me it was so symbolic”

“Our visit to Capernaum was quite enlightening in a lot of ways, historically, religiously and archaeologically this was followed by an even more interesting place, the Roman and Byzantine ruins of Bet She’an.

In spite of the heat we walked and climbed up through the ruins and down a 2000-year-old cistern and learnt a lot about the more recent conflicts of Israel as we were very close to the Golan Heights and Syria just over the mountain range.  We travelled past some kibbutz communities which were entirely not what I expected.”

There were a few episodes when I experienced “teary eyes” and one which I shall always treasure is the arrival into Jerusalem.  The driver put on some music “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” we all knew it and sang along when all of a sudden, the golden dome and the city of Jerusalem appeared from nowhere.  It was quite emotional for everyone; a few tears were wiped off.

I was worried when it was the day to visit Bethlehem which is Palestinian territory, but it when it went so smoothly I was relieved. We visited the Church of the Nativity which is a byzantine church built over the grotto where Jesus was born. This was an anticlimax to me, there were too many people waiting to go in the Church which was being renovated and we had limited time to see the grotto and “manger”.  So, once we got near the narrow entrance to the grotto it was push and shove, paparazzi and not much respect to this holy place.  The “easy” climb to The Church of the Visitation, built over the home of St John the Baptist made up for the disappointment of Bethlehem.  The tour finished at “Garden of the Tomb” which to me was a little controversial to the scope of our journey.

I thought it was a splendid experience for everyone having dinner at the hotel on the eve of the Sabbath. We were the privileged group to be seated in the same dining room as all the Orthodox Jews who were staying at the hotel for the night.  We witnessed their custom of prayer before the meal, the dress worn by the men and women and their manner of eating the meal.

“The only incident up to now is that Helen has lost her purse with 2 credit cards and some cash plus her exit Israel Pass.  All is under control; credit card banks have been notified and Holy Spirit Group will assist her in whatever she needs.  I am sure the Pass will not be a problem because it is all electronic and can be checked.  Thank God she was not carrying her passport.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit of the Holocaust Museum with the “singles group”.

It was time to say goodbye to Jerusalem and off to Jordan. The journey through the border crossing was uneventful, thankfully.

The city of Petra was absolutely beautiful and mysterious; definitely one of the Wonders of the World, I wish we had more time to explore. There are lots of photographs in my camera to remind me of the extraordinary visit and coupled with that, the journey through Wadi Rum makes for a magnificent experience of that part of Jordan.

The moment that I feel, was most meaningful to me was the walk through the bushy passage from the ancient chapel of the baptism of Our Lord to the Jordan river. We were all so silent and contemplative, then Fr Joe put on the most beautiful hymn to which we all sang all the way to the bank of the Jordan river. I recorded this and each time I play it, I get tears in my eyes.

An unexpected visit to Madaba, the home town of our Jordanian guide, was another highlight. We would not have seen the underground labyrinth beneath the church.

The best hotel on this trip, for me, was the Marriot Dead Sea Hotel & Spa, wish we had another day to enjoy the facilities of this hotel.

The lowest note of this tour, for me, was the last hour before we left for Amman; I missed the very last and important Mass of the journey!

I am so grateful to everyone who shared this experience with me, it was truly a wonderful group of people and I am so proud to have made this journey with them all.

Edwina Mallia