4/16/2014 12:45:00 PM Cumberland couple walked in the land of Jesus
Prayers offered at the Wailing Wall in the old city of Jerusalem.
A Cumberland couple who have walked in the land where Jesus walked shared their Holy Land experiences at a recent brown bag lunchtime event at the Cumberland Public Library. More than 50 people attending followed Bob and Audrey Held through a slide show as they walked in the footsteps of Jesus. The Helds, along with Bob's brother and wife from South Dakota, were among 50 tourists on the weeklong pilgrimage conducted by Peter's Way Tours last October. Audrey Held, who narrated the slides, prefaced her remarks by saying she was a tourist, not Bible authority. She said it was helpful to have three priests and a deacon in their group to help fill in any blanks left by their tour guide, an Italian who was married to an Israeli. Held said she expected to see the manger, Calvary's hill and the tomb from which Jesus rose from the dead, but found that chapels have been built over many of the holy sites. She said some sites were authenticated; some were possible sites and archaeological study continues. "I walked where Jesus walked," Held commented, "That was enough for me."
First footsteps At Nazareth, the Israeli city where Mary was born and raised, they saw structures built in her honor-the Church of St. Anne, the mother of Mary; the Basilica of Annunciation, the site visited by the angel Gabriel; and the Church of the Dormition, built where some believe Mary went to sleep and was taken to heaven. Next to the Church of St. Anne is the Bethesda Pool, where it is recorded that Jesus healed a paralytic. At nearby Ain Karem (aka Ein Karem), the tourists saw the Church of the Visitation, which honors the visit paid by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Inside the church and displayed in 42 languages is the Magnificat, the earliest Marian hymn, the words of which were spoken by Mary in response to Elizabeth's praise of her faith. The Jordan River, where John is believed to have baptized Jesus, has Israeli and Palestinian sides. The tourists could renew their baptismal vows by putting their feet in the water on the Israeli side. Armed guards with machine guns stood guard on the Palestinian side. The stretch from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 80 miles. As their tour bus approached Bethlehem, now the largest city in Palestine with a population of 40,000, they saw signs of caution. One said, "This road leads to a Palestinian village. The entrance to Israeli citizens is dangerous." In the time of Jesus, Bethlehem had a small population that swelled at census times. Now the majority of residents are Muslims, with less than 4% Christian. It was a 3-4 hour wait for the tour group to get into the ornate Church of the Nativity, the famed site of Jesus' birth that includes a grotto or cavelike dwelling, where the holy family may have lived. While the temple no longer exists in Jerusalem where Jesus "was about his father's business" at the age of 12, there is a model on display of what it looked like. As the tour bus continued on, the guide pointed out the Mount of Temptation, a temple pinochle that at the time of Jesus was the highest point in the Kidron Valley. It is believed to be the site where the devil tempted Jesus after his 40 days in the wilderness. The tour also included a visit to Cana Church, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. Appropriately enough, there is a wine shop at the Cana Church. The Helds saw Capernaum, where Jesus performed many miracles; and Jericho, the oldest known walled city on earth. Throughout their travels, they saw many synagogues, the foundations of some which date back to the time of Jesus. The tour group discovered that the Sea of Galilee is not really a sea but a lake. They took a boat ride on the famed water, where it is believed that Jesus calmed the wind and waves and, along with Peter, walked on the water. A trip highlight for Held was getting chosen to raise the U.S. flag and lead the "Star-Spangled Banner" on the boat. On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee lies Tabgha, the Church of the First Feeding, thought to be the site where Jesus fed the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread and had 12 baskets of remnants leftover. Mosaics of the fish and loaves are everywhere in Israel, she said. On the pagan side of the Sea of Galilee, Decopolis is thought by some to be the site of a second feeding of multitudes, where seven baskets were left representing the seven nations that were expelled and invited back into a new covenant. They also caught sight of Mount Carmel, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea on the northern border of Israel, and believed to be the site where Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal. The Helds said the view was green and beautiful from the Mount of the Beatitudes. "Israel isn't all stone and rock," she said. "It was beautiful there." They saw sycamore trees, perhaps an offshoot of the one that Zacchaeus climbed; and olive trees believed to be 2,000 years old. West of the Sea of Galilee on Mount Tabor is the Church of the Transformation, supposedly where Jesus underwent transfiguration as he met with God. The three disciples he took with him record the event in the gospels. On the Mount of Olives near the Syrian border , the tour group saw the Shrine of Pater Noster, thought to be the location where Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer and one of the possible sites of the Ascension. At the shrine, plaques of the Lord's Prayer can be purchased in 150 languages. Bob Held bought one in German, which is his nationality.
Final footsteps Bethphage is known as the place where Jesus sent his disciples to find a donkey upon which he would ride into Jerusalem. At the Church of Bethphage, informally called the Donkey Church, tourists can pay to have their picture taken beside a donkey. Halfway down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, is the supposed site where Jesus wept for the fate the city. Prophecy foretold of destruction that was fulfilled 40 years later. The Church of the Dominus Flevit is a tear-shaped chapel commemorating Jesus's grief. At Jerusalem, also known at Mt. Zion, the tourists saw the Cenacle, which is the Upper Room where the Last Supper and foot washing took place and later where Jesus appeared to Thomas and believers gathered to wait for the descent of the Holy Spirit. On the foothill of the Mount of Olives is the Basilica of Agony, designated as the site in Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before he was betrayed and arrested. The tour guide pointed out that the palace house of the high priest Caiaphas can be seen from the site where Jesus and his disciples watched and prayed. Held said their tour group climbed the authentic steps where Jesus walked to face Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor; and saw the courtyard of the Chapel of Flagellation, where Jesus was flogged. At the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which means "cock's crow" in Latin, they saw a three-sided statue of Peter commemorating his triple denial of Jesus. The denials are believed to have occurred in the courtyard of the high priest. The tourists heard the proceedings called "a mockery of justice" because the trial took place in the high priest's house, not a high court; it was held at night, not in the daytime as usual; and women testified, which was unheard of in that day. They also saw the "sacred pit" where Jesus was lowered into after the trial. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre recalls both Calvary's hill and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus body was laid. One of the most meaningful experiences for Held was not only seeing but touching the Stone of the Anointing, which is supposedly the stone where Jesus was lain after he was taken down from the cross. She touched it and said it was rubbed with myrrh or some such spice that had a nice aroma. Held said they did not get to see the Road to Emmaneus, south of Jerusalem, where the resurrected Jesus appeared to two men, according to recorded accounts.
Footnotes The Cumberland couple observed that many of the so-called mounts were not mountains at all but rather hillsides or small knolls. Because of large crowds, the tour group did not see the Dome of the Rock, which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Neither did they get time to visit all the eight gates in Old Jerusalem, but they did see the golden gate that is sealed and awaiting Messiah's return. They also got to view the ruins of Masada, one of Herod's palaces. On a visit to the wailing wall, where prayers are left in its cracks, the men in the group were furnished with and required to wear a kippa as they approached the western side of the wall. Women pray on the eastern side of the wall. Some of the tourists waded into the Dead Sea, observing some people plaster themselves with mud, expectant of healings when they wash it off. They also saw the Qumran, an archaeological site in the West Bank under the control of Israel where the Dead Sea scrolls are hidden. The couple advised those interested in taking a trip to the Holy Land not to travel there in the fall, like they did, when their tour bus was among 3,000-4,000 tour buses at the holy sites each day. "Crowds were unmanageable in my opinion," Held said. "We had long lines; we waited 3-4 hours to get to the sites at that time of year. I felt very rushed." Her recommendations: "I would advise people to avoid October for a visit, take sunscreen and a head cover of some sort, do some research before going and make sure the itinerary matches your expectations." Held added, "My most memorable spiritual experience was celebrating Mass every day at a different location, especially at the Church of the Visitation at Ain Karem." As for her husband, she said, "Bob has no favorite memory but notes that the Scriptures come alive so much more now because he can visualize where the passages actually took place."