Pope Francis prepares to visit Israel
Pope Francis announced that he will visit Israel during 2014, marking the 50th anniversary of another Papal visit – that of Pope Paul VI in 1964.
This announcement follows the Apostolic Letter of the previous Pope - Benedict XVI, that declared 2013 to be a Year of Faith following which hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims flocked to the Holy Land.
To be sure, few places are as moving and heartwarming to visit during the Year of Faith, as the land in which it all began – the land in which Jesus was born, the land where He preached and performed His miracles.
Any journey to Israel is an unforgettable experience, but many pilgrims try to schedule their visit to coincide with Christian holidays and dates of note.
Dozens of sites of importance to the Christian faith are located throughout the country, and sometimes during the holidays, one wishes it were possible to be in all places at once.
Christmas in Jerusalem, Nazareth and more
The Twelve Days of Christmas are filled with joy and excitement, as Christian communities in Israel prepare for the festive season. Shopping for holiday presents is on everyone's mind (minus the consumer frenzy that takes hold of the Western world at this time of the year). Processions are held on Christmas Eve, the biggest of them in Nazareth, in streets dazzling with decorations and Christmas trees, prior to the evening Mass at the breathtaking Basilica of the Annunciation. The Basilica, consecrated in 1969, marks the place that is traditionally associated with the Annunciation, and has replaced a Byzantine- and then Crusader- era church. At the lower level of the Basilica, the Grotto of the Annunciation is believed to hold the remains of the original home of Mary, Mother of Christ. Designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, the Basilica of the Annunciation remains the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.
Another exciting place to be in the Holy Land at Christmas time is Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. This small town is home to the Church of Nativity – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church is thought to be located precisely above the cave in which the birth took place, and is presumed to be the oldest constantly active Christian church in the world. Christmas is the most important event in the Bethlehem holiday calendar, and the town prepares accordingly to welcome thousands of tourists who gather to celebrate Christmas in this special place.
In neighboring Jerusalem and elsewhere throughout Israel, Christmas celebrations are held in dozens of churches.
The festive season doesn’t end on Christmas Eve
On the eighth day of the Christmas season – January 1 – the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God is celebrated. Epiphany follows on January 6. The place to be several days later is Qasr Al-Yahud, to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. This site in the Jordan River Valley is the spot where, according to tradition, the Baptism of Jesus took place. Qasr al-Yahud was recently re-opened to the public after renovation, and a visit to the site provokes an immensely powerful spiritual experience.
Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of the 40-day period that Jesus spent in the desert, praying and fasting, before the beginning of His public ministry. In 2014, Ash Wednesday takes place on March 5. Spending this important day of fast and prayer in the Holy Land is certain to leave a mark on any Christian. Walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, and you will see thousands of pilgrims with a cross of ashes on their foreheads following the Stations of the Cross. The ashes used in the ceremonies conducted in numerous churches across Israel are usually the remains of the previous year’s Palm Sunday palms, which have been burned.
The Holy Week
Holy Week includes Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This is Holy Week, when Christian sites in Israel are most crowded with Pilgrims.
Visiting Jerusalem is always a powerful spiritual experience, but on these days, with tens of thousands of Pilgrims in the Old City, it is a highly emotional event for them. This is understandable, given that the Pilgrims are walking on the same hills, in fact almost the same streets that Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. And especially during the Holy Week, when Christians commemorate the dramatic events that unfolded at this time two millennia ago, the Pilgrims in Jerusalem feel even closer to their faith and to Jesus.
Palm Sunday, itself a feast day, marks the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and exciting processions and blessings of the palm fronds are held in the all the churches of the Holy Land – and especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem. In 2014, Palm Sunday occurs on April 13. Morning mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre starts at 08.00 and is followed by a traditional palm procession. Thousands of Christians from all over the world pray and sing, as this amazing and colorful procession descends from the Mount of Olives, passes the Kidron Valley and enters the Old City.
Holy Thursday is also full of special events. Morning mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is followed by the afternoon Franciscan procession to the Cenacle (according to the tradition - the site of the Last Supper). The evening meditative Holy Hour, inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane – the site where Jesus was arrested. The impressive Garden setting includes olive trees among the oldest known to science. The Holy Hour is followed by a candlelight procession to the place where Jesus is thought to have spent the night after His arrest – the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. "Gallicantu" means cock's crow in Latin, and the name is meant to commemorate Peter's triple rejection of Jesus "before the cock crows thrice." A golden rooster overlooks the Holy City from the roof of the Church.
Good Friday begins at Calvary (Golgotha), where Jesus was crucified, and is followed by a procession through the Stations of Cross on the Via Dolorosa. The funeral of Jesus is re-enacted on the evening of Good Friday – a unique event that takes place only at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
The sorrowful and solemn Holy Week commemorates the Passion of Christ, along with the anticipation of the greatest feast day in the Christian calendar – Easter Sunday (April 20, 2014). Easter represents the fulfillment of the Christian faith, and Easter Sunday is the day that marks the beginning of a new life.
Liturgically speaking, a day ends at sunset; hence sunset on Holy Saturday marks the beginning of Easter and of the Easter Vigil.
On Easter Sunday, a mass is again celebrated at 08.00 at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, including a procession around the tomb of Jesus.
On Easter Monday a morning mass at the Church commemorates Jesus’ meeting two of His disciples on their way to Emmaus, and a special service takes place at Emmaus itself.
In the Footsteps of Jesus
Almost every major event in the life of Jesus is commemorated in stone, a majority of them at the very place where, according to tradition, the event occurred.
And so, a Christian Pilgrim to Israel has the chance to visit many churches and shrines, among them:
- The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus.
- The Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
- Qasr Al-Yahud, just north of the Dead Sea, where Jesus was baptized.
- St. Peters' Church in Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee,over the house of St. Peter and close to the synagogue, where Jesus prayed and preached.
- Church and Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany (Northern Israel), where Jesus resurrected Lazarus.
- Church of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, near the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus performed one of his most famous miracles.
- The Church of the Transfiguration, on Mt. Tabor in northern Israel, at the site where Jesus was transfigured and became radiant.
- The Church of Dominus Flevit in Jerusalem, where Jesus wept over the future destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
- The Church of All Nations in Gethsemane Garden (Jerusalem), where Jesus prayed before his arrest.
- The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, in Jerusalem commemorating Peter's triple rejection of Jesus.
- The Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, following Jesus' footsteps towards his crucifixion.
- The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
- The Chapel of the Ascension, in Jerusalem, the site from which Jesus ascended to Heaven.
And many more!
The tiny State of Israel tends to surprise its visitors with the wealth of things it offers to do, see and experience. One can spend months in the Holy Land and return home wanting even more.
Christian Pilgrims are no exception to this rule. While some individuals have such busy schedules that they can allow themselves only a week or so for their entire trip to Israel, others spend at least a week in Jerusalem and its surroundings. You can spend a whole day in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher alone!
And bear in mind that Jerusalem is also the center of the Jewish faith and an important city to the Muslims as well, a vibrant cultural capital, and a fascinating metropolis with a population of nearly 800,000. There is so much to see!
Another center of Jesus’ Ministry is the Galilee. Galilee was the center of Jesus' life for many years. His family resided there, He returned there after being baptized, preached in the Capernaum synagogue, met his disciples near the Sea of Galilee and performed a multitude of miracles in various places.
The Galilee is one of the most beautiful regions of Israel, and visiting the Galilee while on Pilgrimage to the Holy Land imbues the visit with an entirely different atmosphere. You will need a week to fully experience the Galilean ministry of Jesus.
The Jesus Trail
If you are looking for a very special experience, you can find it on a 65-kilometer hike along the "Jesus Trail," which connects various important sites from the life of Jesus and other religious and historical sites in the Galilee. You can walk these 65 kilometers the way Jesus and the Judean population walked it 2,000 years ago, (even wearing the same kind of clothing, should you desire it!). It will probably become one of the strongest spiritual experiences of your life.
The Year of Faith will be truly memorable and meaningful
if you spend part of it in the Land of Jesus – the Holy Land.
You are guaranteed to fall in love with it.
|| For your convenience in planning your trip to the Holy Land, EL AL has listed the|
dates of all the Catholic Holidays in 2013:
Mary, Mother of God - Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Ash Wednesday - Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Palm Sunday - Sunday, March 24, 2013
Holy Thursday - Thursday, March 28, 2013
Good Friday - Friday, March 29, 2013
Holy Saturday - Saturday, March 30, 2013
Easter Sunday - Sunday, March 31,2013
Divine Mercy Sunday - Sunday, April 7, 2013
Ascension - Thursday, May 9, 2013
Pentecost Sunday - Sunday, May 19, 2013
Trinity Sunday - Sunday, May 26, 2013
Corpus Christi - Thursday, May 30, 2013
Assumption of Mary - Thursday, August 15, 2013
All Saints Day - Friday, November 1, 2013
First Sunday of Advent - Sunday, December 1, 2013
Immaculate Conception - Sunday, December 8, 2013
Christmas - Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Catholic Holy Days in 2014
Mary, Mother of God - Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Ash Wednesday - Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Palm Sunday - Sunday, April 13, 2014
Holy Thursday - Thursday, April 17, 2014
Good Friday - Friday, April 18, 2014
Holy Saturday - Saturday, April 19, 2014
Easter Sunday - Sunday, April 20, 2014
Divine Mercy Sunday - Sunday, April 27, 2014
Ascension - Thursday, May 29, 2014
Pentecost Sunday - Sunday, May 19, 2014
Trinity Sunday - Sunday, May 26, 2014
Corpus Christi - Thursday, May 30, 2014
Pentecost Sunday - Sunday, June 8, 2014
Trinity Sunday - Sunday, June 15, 2014
Corpus Christi - Thursday, June 19, 2014 (Transferred to Sunday, June 22, 2014)
Assumption of Mary - Friday, August 15, 2014
All Saints Day - Saturday, November 1, 2014
First Sunday of Advent - Sunday, November 30, 2014
Immaculate Conception - Monday, December 8, 2014
Christmas - Thursday, December 25, 2014