Home » Chronicles » Israel Holy Land Pilgrimage

Israel Holy Land Pilgrimage

Flowing with Milk and Honey

In April and May of 2023, I was privileged to escort a group of 31 pilgrims, including my husband Vince, to the Holy Land. When we arrived, 9 others joined our group from destinations in the USA. I had chosen Collette Vacations as my supplier, in part because of the itinerary and options offered and in part, of course, because of the more affordable price.

I was so pleased with the service I received from my rep in Vancouver and the service in Israel was excellent. I will be happy to turn to them again, should the situation arise!

April 28, 2023

This was our “getting to Vancouver” day. I had arranged the group to fly to Vancouver, a hotel reservation for everyone, lunch and dinner and a Mass in my hotel room. At the very onset of this pilgrimage, we were already forming a family traveling together.

April 29 – April 30, 2003 – Our First and Second Day – the Journey to the Holy Land

Aehab, Tour Manager, and Mofi, Bus Driver

Some of the group flew to Israel via Rome earlier, some flew via Frankfurt, some with their own itineraries, and some flew with me via Toronto on Air Canada. We had very early departures, and just the perfect amount of time to make our transfers. We all arrived safely in Tel Aviv the next day (including our baggage!)

Our theme for the pilgrimage was “To Walk Where Jesus Walked” and each of us were filled with curiosity, anticipation, joy, faith and a sense of wonderment. Certainly, traveling to Israel comes with some anxiety, but I’m here to help you address those concerns and will be able to walk you through what to expect both before departure from Canada and upon arrival in Israel. It does come with a list of “things to know” for sure!

After arrival in Tel Aviv, we were greeted by Aehab, our Tour Manager and brought to our very comfortable coach for the journey, meeting our charming driver, Mofi. He had a smile on his face and a warm welcome everyday! Jet lag can be challenging and fortunately we had some down time when we arrived. Our hotel for the night, the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel was adjacent to a beautiful park. I had an excellent lunch there, took time to get some work done and then joined the group for our first delicious dinner followed by an orientation – a what to expect meeting. Aehab taught us our first new words: Habebe (beloved), Yala (let’s go), Toda (thank you) and of course, Shalom (peace – hello and goodbye).

May 1 – Our Third Day of Pilgrimage – From Tel Aviv to Caesarea to Tiberias

Theatre in Caesarea

After a comfortable and well needed night’s rest, our day began with a hearty breakfast and our drive from Tel Aviv to Caesarea where Rome ruled over Judea under King Herod the Great. The site is rich in history. We had a chance to explore the ruins and learned some of its history, the rise and fall, the destruction by earthquakes, the ruins that remain buried under the sea and so much more. Of course, we reflected on the richness of the effect of Caesarea on the biblical and religious aspects of this place. Here, St. Paul was imprisoned and here Cornelius, a Roman soldier was the first recorded convert to Christianity.

After our visit there we continued to Nazareth to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the House of the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph. There is an incredibly beautifully carved wooden door that beckons to pilgrims and curious travelers alike, retelling the story of Jesus’ life. Inside there’s a grotto where the Angel spoke to Mary and here, we found remains of the house Jesus grew up in, living an everyday life of a carpenter’s son.

Door to Basilica
Lower Floor where Pilgrims Can See Grotto where Angel Spoke to Mary

Our day continued with a stop at Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine. On display is a vat showing the size of the ones that Jesus asked the stewards to fill with water which he changed into wine. We were able to renew our Marriage Vows here, as we were traveling with a priest. We finished off our day with the arrival for our 2-night stay in Tiberias at the Leonardo Hotel Tiberias located very near the Sea of Galilee.

A Replica Vat like those that held the Water Turned into Wine
Vince and I Renewing Our Wedding Vows

May 2 – Our Fourth Day – From Tiberias to the Sea of Galilee to Tabgha – Capernaum and back to Tiberias

This day was joyful! We prayed a lot, sang, and even danced. Today was a day filled with joy, rejuvenation of faith, a day filled with each of us renewing our Baptismal Promises in the waters of the Jordan River.

We visited the incredibly beautiful Mount of the Beatitudes where we celebrated an open-aired Mass. There was a gentle breeze and songbirds celebrating with us. Here we were reminded of the many blessings of Jesus. There are plaques all around the site and chapel sites located throughout the grounds. It’s a remarkable beautiful, peaceful setting.

Descending to the Sea of Galilee, we drove alongside the “Jesus Trail”, the very path Jesus walked upon on his many journeys to and from Capernaum. It’s no longer a dusty trail as paving stones are now there. We continued to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Here, at this spot, with a gift from a child, Jesus fed the multitudes from 5 fish and 2 loaves of bread nourishing not only their hearts and souls, but the physical body. It was here too at the Church of the Primacy of Peter, were Jesus appeared to his apostles after his resurrection, cooking them breakfast on a charcoal fire. Here he gave Peter the keys to kingdom of heaven. In this garden setting a stone remains, the most wonderful of dining tables, here too, a statue stands commemorating the commissioning and primacy of St. Peter.

Jesus Trail
Mosaic Floor in the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes
Rock in the Church of the Primacy of Peter

At the Jordan River, we donned our white garments and renewed our Baptismal promises. This is not the spot where Jesus was baptized. We visited that spot later. The waters of the River Jordan were chilly to first enter, but it didn’t take long to get use to it and all the chill just seem to disappear as we stood in the waters. It’s an amazing experience!

Vince fully immersed
Joyful Me

Today was indeed a day of joy!

May 3 – Our Fifth Day – From Tiberias to Bethlehem to Jerusalem

After 6 days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was speaking,
behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Matthew 17:1-5

We began our fourth day traveling to Mount Tabor. The site of the Transfiguration stands atop a very high mountain. Our very comfortable bus took us to a transfer point where we continued on smaller busses. We traveled in comfort. Jesus walked with Peter, James and John, no doubt a strenuous and difficult walk. The view of the valley from this vantage point is breathtaking.

Inside the The Church of the Transfiguration
View from atop Mount Tabor

Bethlehem and the Christ Child. No words can explain this experience. Being able to touch the spot of Jesus’ birth and the “stable” he was placed in cannot be adequately put into words. Christmas will have a much fuller meaning now for me. The church is indeed beautiful, the wait to enter the birthplace of Jesus is long, and the descent into the chamber where Christ was born and placed tenderly after is birth is steep. It was an encounter like no other.

Inside the Church of the Nativity
Touching the spot where Jesus was Born

Our next four nights would be spent in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. We were warmly welcomed by the staff of our very comfortable hotel, the Leonardo Jerusalem Hotel.

May 4 – Our Sixth Day – the Church of the Our Father – the Garden of Gethsemane – Mary’s Tomb – Shepherd’s Field – our view of Jerusalem from outside the walls – Ein Karem

Another day of walking where Jesus walked.

We proceeded to the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father). Here in this place, we were surrounded by the Lord’s prayer displayed in over 140 languages. In this place, there is a cave, a grotto under the church where the apostles simply asked: Lord, teach us to pray.

The place where Jesus Taught Us to Pray
We Found “English”!

Our quest to walk where Jesus walked continued down the very steep descent of the Palm Sunday Route. As I descended down, I could imagine the large crowds gathering in anticipation of the coming of Jesus into Jerusalem. We stopped at “Dominus Flevit, still on the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. From this viewpoint, you can easily see the city of Jerusalem, the graves, the gates, the wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The holy city of Jerusalem, still not quite within our reach. That would have to wait for another day.

Walking the path of Jesus on Palm Sunday
Dominus Flevit – looking towards Jerusalem with graves outside the city

At the Church of All Nations there is a rock. Upon this rock Jesus prayed the night before he died. At the Garden of Gethsemane, we found respite from our journey. It was very warm and the scent from the roses in the garden filled the air. However, it was here that Jesus cried out, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”. It was here that Judas betrayed our Lord with a kiss.

Garden of Gethsemane
The rock where Jesus prayed before his arrest

We had the chance to descend into the tomb of Mary, located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The steps are very slippery and well-worn from pilgrims such as us. It’s dark but lit by candlelight and the scent of incense lingers.

Descending stairs to the Mary’s Crypt
The Tomb of Mary

Continuing our walk with Jesus, we paused at Caiaphas’ Palace, St. Peter in Gallicantu – where St. Peter denied Our Lord. We descended into the Sacred Pit where it is believed that Jesus was held after his scourging. It is dark, cramped, and forlorn. Yet it was here that Jesus spent his last hours.

St. Peter in Gallicantu, the site of Caiaphas’ Palace
The “Sacred Pit”

Shepherd’s Field – Gloria in Excelsis Deo! On the first Christmas night, the Angels appeared to shepherds minding the flocks. As we traveled, we actually witnessed shepherds in the fields! We imagined that their lives are much like they were. As we were entering the Chapel of the Shepherd’s Field, we could hear singing. We too, had chosen our songs to sing – but we were welcomed and sang along.

Wall painting inside the Chapel of the Shepherd’s Field
The cave where the shepherds heard the angels

Our day continued to Ein Karem to visit the Church of St. John the Baptist, and we celebrated Mass built over the grotto of his birthplace.

We continued back to Jerusalem and ended the day with an incredible experience of light and sound projected onto the walls of the Tower of David. This is excellent show. There’s speaking, but no English! However, the visual display of the light show tells the historical story of Jerusalem remarkably well! It’s a feast for the senses for sure!

Images on the walls in the Tower of David
More stories presented by amazing projections of light

May 5 – Our Seventh Day – Exploring the Judean Wilderness

Today, we explored the Judean wilderness. “Jesus went into the wilderness to pray” has a whole new meaning. There is nothing here. It is barren. It was 42 degrees and so hot!

We began our day gathering together in Bethany at the Church of St. Lazarus near the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and the tomb of Lazarus. The tomb is located in a beautiful garden setting. To access it there is often a long wait and the descent is narrow and dark with the final steps having to be accessed by entering one at a time going backward down a ladder.

Descending into the tomb of Lazarus
Standing in the tomb

Our next stop was at Qumran, the site of the caves of the Dead Sea Scrolls, passing by the Sea Level demarcation along the way! This route is marked by the beautifully green date palm tree groves growing starkly against the white barren background. The Essenes living here were a religious community consisting mostly of men. These men lived in isolation very near the Dead Sea in the monastery and in caves. In total 12 caves have been discovered where scrolls and fragments of parchment have been found. This was a really interesting stop.

Remains of ritual bath
Cave where first Dead Sea Scrolls were found

After our visit here, we were off to the Dead Sea!!!

Only in this place can one who can’t even swim, float with absolute confidence of never sinking! I wanted to stand up in the water to assist others entering the Dead Sea, and I had to have someone push my legs down! It was the most remarkable experience. The Dead Sea is 427 metres below sea level and 306 metres deep. The lake is so high in salt and mineral content that it is recommended to not stay in more than 20 minutes at a time and to avoid putting your head in the water or tasting it and most certainly to not have it touch your eyes…I did have a small taste (quite by accident, I assure you, and it is not pleasant!) It was a wonderful respite from the very hot weather. Remember – wear water shoes!!!

Kalia Beach with Jordan in the distance
You can’t help but to float

After drying off we continued to the actual site of the Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River close to Jericho. The river is much narrower now than it was then with Jordan being a very short skip across, which is not permitted of course.

At Jericho, we ascended by cable car up the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by the Evil One three times.

Cable cars for ascending the Mount of Temptation
Monastery of the Temptation on the side of the mountain

“Zacchaeus, come down. I will dine at your home tonight!” Yes, we saw this weathered, ancient Sycamore tree. We did indeed walk where Jesus walked!

May 6 – Our Eighth Day – Inside the Walls.

Today, we entered inside the walls that encircle Jerusalem. Our first steps brought us to the birthplace of Mary, the House of St. Ann and St. Joachim. The Basilica of St. Ann is surrounded by a beautiful garden setting, but also showcases the ancient ruins. We gathered to pray and to sing Immaculate Mary with our voices blending and our Ave Marie. The songs echoed and resounded filling the whole church. It was beautiful. The church leads you to a small open grotto – the birthplace of Mary.

Ancient remains of the pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic
Singing inside he Bascilica of St. Ann
The birthplace of Mary

Now began the difficult retracing of the steps Jesus took as he walked to the hill of Calvary, to his death. We encountered the stone archway where Pontius Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds, the Ecco Homo Arch, we continued the Way of the Cross stopping to pray at each site of Jesus’ Passion. It’s a continual upward climb. The streets are narrow, crowded and noisy with street venders and others praying and others going about their daily lives.

We picked up and carried a cross through all this, encountering those holy moments, as we reflected on the sacrifice of our Lord.

Carrying the cross on the Vila Delarosa
The streets were narrow and crowded

We left the cross behind as we continued into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the last five Stations take place: Jesus is stripped of his garments, Jesus is nailed to the Cross, Jesus dies on the Cross, Jesus is taken down from the Cross, Jesus is buried.

Before entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we passed through the Coptic Orthodox St. Antony Monastery built in 325 AD. It opened to reveal the beautiful chapel adorned with icons and images of Jesus, Mary, and Jesus’ crucifixion. We moved from chapel to chapel encountering these most holy sites, these Stations of the Cross, crouching to enter, imaging our Mother Mary gazing upward from afar, looking upon her crucified Son.

Then we ascended the very steep, weathered steps, which was once a beaten path up a hill, leading to the place of crucifixion, Calvary (Golgotha) burial and resurrection. Lying open for all those who wish to worship is the Stone of Anointing – the place where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.

Chapel inside Coptic Orthodox St. Antony Monastery
Ascending to Calvary
Place of the Crucifixion

We were unable to enter the Tomb of Jesus as there was well over a four-hour wait to do so. Our guide suggested that he recommends pilgrims to come around 5 am to enter without the long lines and so many pilgrims. In this Holy Place, it’s important to put aside all the noise and distraction and find Jesus, his journey, his steps, his suffering, his Passion, his death and his Resurrection.

Place where Jesus was prepared for burial
Tomb of Jesus

After Mass we left this Holy Place and continued to walk through the Armenian Quarter encountering The Hall of the Last Supper. It is indeed located in an upper room! It is empty and spacious and you have to really use your imagination to put yourself into the story, imagine yourself witnessing the Last Supper, imagine yourself witnessing Jesus, his apostles and friends, all seated around a large table, imagine yourself listening to the conversation and then imagine yourself hearing “truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.

In the Jewish quarter we made our way to the Western Wall of the Temple. Women enter to the right and men to the left. Men have to have their head covered. As we were there on Shabbat, no pictures were permitted close to the Wall.

Upper Room
Western Wall

May 7 – The Long Journey Home

Some of those journeying with us continued on to Jordan, others to visit family members in Italy, some spending more time in Israel and some flying from Tel Aviv to Toronto to Vancouver. Again, we had an overnight hotel confirmed In Vancouver before taking our respective flights back home.

The adventure never ends in an airport and manipulating Tel Aviv is no exception! Especially with a group! After a long, nerve-racking wait, we were through security, moving on to airport security, customs and off to our gate!

If you would like to view more photos of our journey, please head over to the Gallery page.

Thanks for coming along on this amazing pilgrimage experience to Israel. Are you ready to experience this most remarkable place? Let me know and I’ll be happy to curate your own experience. The food, the people and the atmosphere is like nowhere else!

Scroll to Top