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Catholic Pilgrimages & Spiritual Journeys to the World’s Holiest Sites with 206 Tours.

Bethlehem, Sea of Galilee & Jerusalem Pilgrimage

The following is a Pilgrimage Spotlight blog from Jenny Klaum, former Digital Content Manager for 206 Tours. Below Jenny recounts her 2023 Holy Land Pilgrimage.

In March 2023, I was privileged to be given the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After working at 206 Tours for five years as the Digital Content Manager, I felt as though I’d already been to the Holy Land due to the thousands of images and hours of footage I’ve worked with. But I knew that the feeling of actually being in the places where Jesus lived, can’t be conveyed in images. 

I went on a unique pilgrimage created for a Parish named after St. John the Baptist, so our itinerary focused on his life as well as Jesus’. We saw the sites in almost exact chronological order as they occurred, beginning at the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, and concluding at the Cenacle, where the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples. Monsignor Frank Schneider was our Spiritual Director – this was his 18th trip to the Holy Land and his 14th group! We were also accompanied by Deacon John Failla – I grew up listening to Fr. Frank and Deacon John and it was my a blessing to spend such special time with them. Rami was our guide (you may know him from this popular video with over a million views.) He is without a doubt answering God’s call – this is his vocation, and he is fantastic at it. 

Below I have compiled photos and commentary of my trip. Pilgrims go to the Holy Land to walk in Jesus’s footsteps and to bring the scriptures to life. Even with 5 years of experience under my belt, I was overwhelmed by the sheer context that came from being in these places. Rami is a walking encyclopedia. Listening to him I gained an understanding of the state of the world at the time of Jesus and the origins of of many traditions which brought new clarity to the bible, and closeness to the scripture. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my experience!


Day 1: Ein Karem – Bethlehem – Shepherd’s Field

Our first stop was the Church of the Visitation where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth. This is when both women were pregnant, and upon meeting, John lept for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.  This is a beautiful church set high on a hilltop, a few hundred steps above street level. It is home to magnificent frescoes depicting the Visitation. Then, fittingly, we continued to the birthplace of St. John the Baptist to venerate and reflect on St. John’s life and mission. 

We continued to Bethlehem’s Manger Square to visit the Church of the Nativity and venerate the actual spot where Jesus was born in the manger. Just as we were about to descend the stairs into the Grotto, we had to pause for the daily noon Catholic prayer service – it was an incredible honor to have a first-row look at the Priests whose duty it is to continue this service daily. They chanted beautifully by candlelight with incense. It was incredible to witness. 

We concluded our first day with the rare honor of celebrating Mass at the Shepherd’s Feild Grotto. Something that only 1 in 400 groups get the chance to do.

(CLICK an IMAGE to enlarge and open a slideshow)


Day 2: Caesarea Maritima National Park – Cana 

This morning we headed to Caesarea Maritima National Park to view the ruins of the Roman theatre, hippodrome, and palace built by Herod the Great. This area was also the site where St. Peter baptized the first Gentile convert, Cornelius. The Harbor sits on the Mediterranean Sea – this is the harbor where St. Peter sailed out to spread the word of Christ after the Resurrection. Just a few months ago, while doing some routine maintenance an archeological wonder was uncovered – a jail cell and tunnel leading to Herod’s Palace! Then we went to Cana to celebrate Mass at the Wedding Chapel where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. It was a blessing to celebrate Mass in the St. John the Evangelist Chapel and witness my own parents renew their wedding vows after almost 32 years of marriage. 



Day 3: Mount Tabor – Nazareth

The drive up to Mount Tabor is one you will surely never forget! The church is stunning and the panoramic views from the courtyard are amazing. We celebrated Mass at the Church of the Transfiguration. The mosaics and main altar here are mesmerizing. Then we went to Nazareth to see the Church of the Annunciation, which has the remains of Mary’s home and Joseph’s workshop.

For lunch, a few of the braver pilgrims in our group got the local specialty, St. Peter’s fish – a whole fish, fried. Their reactions say it all – and led to a lot of laughs. But they said it was delicious, and I’m kicking myself for not ordering the same – ‘when in Rome’ and all.

In the afternoon we had an incredible boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. We read from the scripture and prayed together on a 40-minute sail overlooking all of Tabgha, Tiberias, and more.



Day 4: Capernaum – Caesarea Phillipi – Mt. of Beatitudes

Waking up to the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee is the epitome of tranquility. Capernaum was next on the agenda. On several of Fr. Frank’s many trips, he spent weeks at a time living in Capernaum. It was so special to visit this place with him – just by looking at him, you could tell how it holds a very special place in his heart. Capernaum is the town where Jesus lived during His ministry. It’s incredible to see the ruins of a whole ancient village and think that Jesus walked here, healed the paralyzed man here, and taught in the Synagogue. We celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Memorial which was built over the house where he lived with his mother-in-law.

The next site we visited may have surprised me the most, just because it was the only site I wasn’t familiar with. Caesarea Phillippi or Banais may be the least biblically significant site on our itinerary but it was a stunning natural wonder. The waterfalls and streams here feed the Jordan River. A temple once stood at this site that is mentioned in the Gospels of both Matthew and Mark. Some ruins and sacred niches remain. Recently, the Mosaic tile floor of the temple was unearthed! There is a huge gaping cave which was also known to many as the “gates of hell” mostly in pagan tradition. Personally, I found it so beautiful, unlike anything I’d seen before. If you didn’t figure it out already, photography is my favorite hobby. But more specifically, nature photography. I never feel more spiritually connected, then when I quietly explore some beautiful nature.

We got more nature at the Mont of Beatitude high over Galilee. Flowers were just starting to bloom, and a thunderstorm in the distance could barely be heard. We took private time for prayer, contemplation, and exploring the grounds and gardens.


Day 5: Magdala – Primacy of St. Peter

In the morning we toured Magdala, which was a fishing village and hub of trade, travel, and business as well as home to Mary Magdalene. Towns like this were extremely important in spreading the word of Jesus, as it was a stop for anyone passing by. The Boat Chapel here is incredibly unique and photogenic.

We celebrated Mass at the Primacy of St. Peter which sits directly at the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee and is comprised of a handful of outdoor amphitheater chapels. We celebrated Mass in a Chapel dedicated to St. John Paul II. We had the opportunity to put our feet in the Sea of Galilee and collect a pebble or two. With the sun shining and our group enjoying the view, it was such a joyful moment. Then we visited the simple, but beautiful Benedictine Basilica of the Loaves of Fishes, where the miracle occurred. This concluded the sites of Jesus’ Ministry for our group. We completed the day with a long drive through the countryside to Jerusalem to rest up before beginning the second half of our pilgrimage.



Day 6: Mt. of Olives – Mt. Zion

Today we began our journey through Jerusalem with a visit to the Pater Noster Shrine – the Shrine of the Our Father. Here, while our guide Rami was explaining the history of the church, I suddenly felt a warm hug on my right leg. I looked down and saw a little boy. Worried he could be a pickpocket, I calmly said ‘Hello’. He must have been 3 – he looked up at me with his adorable face and was shocked – he had simply picked the wrong leg, and his mother, a Japanese woman next to me was laughing hysterically. It was a very sweet moment, that could be enjoyed regardless of a language barrier, in a place where the Lord’s prayer is displayed in every language. As Fr. Frank would say – there are no accidents on pilgrimage.

Next, we walked way, way up to Dominus Flevit, the Church where Jesus wept. Before celebrating Mass there, Rami sat us down to discuss the sites of Holy Week while overlooking the entire Old City of Jerusalem so that we could really conceptualize Jesus’ last week on earth. Our Mass at Dominus Flevit was a tear-jerker for all. Fr. Frank’s homily was so eloquent, so resonating, and yet, it’s fuzzy in my memory. What’s not fuzzy is how deeply connected I felt to my fellow pilgrims, and humanity in general. He perfectly touched on our relationship with grief, time, and lost loved ones. I wish I had recorded the whole Mass. 

On the Palm Sunday path, we stopped for a group picture from a local photographer who is skilled in more ways than one! Anyone who has been on this pilgrimage will know what I’m talking about, but let’s keep it a surprise for those who have yet to go. I was personally surprised by how incredibly hilly Jerusalem is – I was prepared for the walking and cobblestones and I knew it was hilly – but the steepness of the hills was more than I was expecting.

Walking through the Garden of Gethsemane, touching an olive tree with roots that date back to Jesus’ life, is surreal. It’s hard to fully comprehend – I still don’t think half of the things I experienced have really hit me yet. The Church of All Nations is probably the most ornate church we visited, right up there with the Church of the Transfiguration. Seeing the Rock of Agony just in front of the altar gave me chills, and called to mind this homily from a 2019 206 Tours pilgrimage.  There is so much beauty to see in this Church, but the thing that stuck with me most was an extremely intricate and painfully emotional olive wood crucifix of Jesus. Its simplicity and realisticness are jaw-dropping and really made me feel the pain and sorrow of He was suffering. 

Rami expertly rearranged the itinerary a bit to optimize our time based on the weather. Shuffling put us at this Western Wall on a Monday, when Barmitzpha’s are celebrated there. It was another blessing getting to see a different culture and watch many parties come in, all singing and dancing. Finally we visited Mount Zion to see the Upper Room where the Last Supper was held, and in turn the first Mass. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples here as well after His Resurrection. Unfortunately, the Church of Dormition, where Mary ‘fell asleep’ was closed for renovations, but even the exterior was stunning.

 


Day 7: St. John in the Wilderness – Mt. of Temptation – Jericho (Jordan River & Dead Sea)

Fr. Frank began the day by saying that we were going to a unique, rarely visited monastery that was, “a little off the beaten path”. That was the understatement of the Pilgrimage for sure! The monastery, very remote and secluded, is breathtaking. It’s modest, but sits in to a mountainside, encased in lush bushes and flowers.

We made a stop at the foot of the Mt. of Temptation for some local dates, juices, and camel rides! Hesitant as I was, I knew I would be disappointed with myself if I didn’t try it. Once again, steepness took me by surprise! When a camel stands, it stands first on its front two legs, leaving the back two on the ground, making you dip quite far back! The same is true for the descent, the front two legs go first tipping you significantly forward. It’s kind of like nature’s roller coaster, but boy does it lend to some pretty funny faces! (at least for me, as you can see!)

Next, we drove through Jericho, the oldest and lowest city in the world. After stopping for a beautiful breezy outdoor lunch (and the best banana I’ve ever had) we went to the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows. Anyone who knows Fr. Frank, knows that when it’s time for a Holy Water blessing, every pew is in the splash zone. That trademark blessing held true, and all in our group were joyfully soaked and reminded of our baptismal vows.

Finally, we ended the day at the Dead Sea. A true natural wonder, it’s like nothing else. I knew that it was the lowest place on earth – I didn’t know that it would be such a destination. There were shops, juice bars, eateries, multiple bars, cabanas, and more. On our walk down, down, down to the water, we took in the view. Once we got to the beach, it became evident that there was no option to simply “stick your feet in”. The water is and has been receding – we encountered about a 4-foot drop-off or cliff, separating the beach from the sea. A small “boardwalk” has been built to allow access. I highly recommend wearing flip-flops all the way as the last few feet before the boardwalk are quite slippery and rocky. On the boardwalk, there are no steps or ladders, so everyone (using mostly body language since people are from all corners of the world) helps each other in and out of the water. Once in, I found it incredible – my body simply relaxed completed, cradled by the water. It was different that the weightless feeling of floating, the buoyancy provided a supported, comfortable feeling. I rubbed the mud all over my face and skin, and retreated back up a ways to have a local Taybeh beer at the “lowest bar on earth”, just so I could check that off my bucket list.


Day 8: Jerusalem 

Today, our group of 23 headed into the Old City just before dawn to walk the Via Dolorosa before the streets crowd for the day. Of course, this begins Christ’s Passion and the most sacred and solemn moments of our Pilgrimage. We prayed and sang, “Jesus Remember Me” quietly between Stations. The sun was coming up, and other than some cats and pigeons, we were just about the only ones on the streets. Then we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and venerated Calvary, the rock where His Crucifix stood. Our group once again was incredibly blessed with a rare honor – we were allowed to celebrate Mass inside the Holy Tomb.  The Aedicule is the chapel structure that protects the Holy Tomb. Inside, there are two very small rooms, the first is a circular room, with a podium in the middle. We crowded around silently and stood for the readings. Then, Fr. Frank and Deacon John proceeded into the second smaller room, where the slab where Jesus was laid to rest becomes the altar for the Consecration. One by one, we were allowed to enter the room to receive the Eucharist, touch the slab, and process out. There is only one Catholic Mass allowed to be held here each day, and it must be only 25 minutes long. I was a bit concerned for our clergy, who are known to be eloquent and elaborative (mostly kidding!) At one point during Mass, my whole body experienced a sensation that felt almost like chills, that I am still trying to process. 

After returning to the hotel for breakfast we headed to the Pools of Bethesda and the Church of St. Anne’s which is the birthplace of Mary. This church is known for its superb acoustics, so many groups sing a song near the altar. Our group chose “Immaculate Mary” and it was beautiful. In the evening, we celebrated our time together with a wonderful, and bittersweet, rooftop farewell dinner.  

 


Day 9: Cenacle – Return Home

Today, we checked out of the hotel and headed to our final Mass at the Cenacle Church nearby the Upper Room. Our final Mass was the perfect conclusion to our journey. Fr. Frank gifted each of us with a specially made prayer card, with all of our names printed on the back. It was clear during our kiss of peace that we were all feeling a sense of sadness that our time together was coming to an end, but also great joy and gratitude for having met and experienced this all together.

On the ride to the airport, Rami expertly broke down everything that we should expect at the airport. Fr. Frank would first be pulled aside to answer questions about our trip like a security exit interview. Then one pilgrim would be randomly selected from the group, to essentially corroborate. I was the lucky random pilgrim – the agent was very tough, focused, and serious, but we had no issues getting through. I said my final goodbye to Rami and Israel and proceeded home.


Reflection

The common thread that was woven through every day of our pilgrimage was a wonderful tradition that Fr. Frank initiated. Before the pilgrimage began, he told us he would physically place all our intentions on the altar at every Mass. He provided cards and tied the stack up with a red ribbon. Each day the stack would get a little bigger. This beautiful gesture meant that our prayers and intentions were not only in our hearts, but were also touching the Holiest altars in the world. Much like our Faith – we were not praying on the scriptures just in our souls, hearts, and minds, but in person, physically standing in the places where Jesus was.

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for this beautiful image – Rami took it. Check out how you can see a reflection of our intentions on the Chalice.

I have worked in the Pilgrimage industry for 5 years – I could talk to you about it for hours. Where you’d go, what you’d see, etc. I even had enough feedback that I could tell people how they’d probably feel. But I never realized the benefit of the group aspect of pilgrimage. On a pilgrimage, you set out to leave your comfort zone and join strangers for 10 days of almost constant togetherness. Of course, there are moments for quiet contemplation, but for the most part, you experience everything with your group mates by your side. I can only speak to the Votive Masses in the Holy Land – but much of what was preached and discussed seemed to be based on humanity. Mary was a human who said the biggest “yes” in history. Jesus was a human who dedicated His life to His ministry and paid the ultimate sacrifice for us – He felt the pain just like any one of us, humans, would. All the scriptures deal with human emotions, conflicts, struggles, customs, norms and expectations. I felt like each day, we were reminded of our humility – reminded to learn from Jesus’ example, and from the example of those who supported him – Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, the disciples, Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene and so many more. In the Holy Land, I felt keenly connected to all people. I felt more at ease, my personal troubles seemed smaller, and I felt as though I was more receptive to God’s plan. I don’t think that would have resonated with me had I not been in a group dynamic. Remember “there are no accidents on pilgrimage.” Fr. Frank was so right – everything that happened, everyone, I met – it was all part of God’s plan.

The most obvious blessing was to complete this journey just before Holy Week. It is Holy Thursday as I write this, and I am right back in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Upper Room.

206 Tours Founder & CEO,  Milanka has always said that a Pilgrimage plants Spiritual Seeds that will bear fruits for the rest of your life. I used to think that was just a sweet sentiment, but now, just 6 days home, I can feel the seeds sprouting.  


 

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