Shalom! The Register Goes to Israel

Shalom! Salaam! Peace! The Register has touched down in Israel and is bringing you this beautiful country just days before Pope Francis makes his historic visit to the Holy Land.

Israel is very beautiful. I can’t tell you how this land feels both very ancient and very alive. Everywhere you look, 4,000 years of history just jumps out at you. Visiting Israel is such a unique experience, and I hope that I can share with you as much as possible what it means to be in this part of the Holy Land. For the first time in my life, I have been walking in the land where our salvation history began.

Thanks to the generosity of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, five other members of the Catholic Press Association and I have the rare opportunity to make this nine-day tour of Israel. With me are writer and author Marge Fenelon, Denise Bossert (syndicated columnist and author of Catholic by Grace), Julie Holthaus (artist and writer for The Leaven, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.), Elizabeth Scalia (managing editor of the Catholic portal at Patheos), and John Feister (director of periodicals for Franciscan Media and editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger): all great people whom you will see in our pictures.

So let me share with you the adventure, and hopefully the pictures will show much more than I can tell you.

May 20-21

Tuesday afternoon, I boarded an El-Al flight to Tel Aviv together with John, Julie and Denise. We met Diana Von Glahn of the The Faithful Traveler (which airs on EWTN), who is also with her crew in the Holy Land at the same time as our group. (Diana got some of us together to speak about our upcoming trip to the Holy Land and future meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. You can check me, Denise and Marge sharing our hopes and insights into the trip with Diana here).
So I bid farewell to the East Coast, and after 10 and a half hours in the air, finally landed in Israel on Wednesday morning. I couldn’t relax enough to sleep, so at one point, I struck up some important conversations with two Israelis to learn more about their country.

When I arrived in the Tel Aviv airport, I could look out onto the rolling desert hills of Judea. Imagine some of the best of Texas (I’ve been told God made Texas with his own hands) and southern California combined, and it is even more beautiful.

But those hills, I said to myself, saw the Hebrew people settle by God’s command here in the Promised Land — such a momentous event that King David writes, “The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs.”

I looked at them, and thought: I bet they did skip for joy. What a momentous day that must have been, when those 40 years of wandering in the desert, and a 400-year exile with a period of slavery in Egypt, finally came to an end. What joy!

The story of our salvation begins here and its thread finds its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, and the thread continues in these days for both Jews and Christians until the Messiah returns. The story of Israel is very much our common story until that day.

Journey to Nazareth

Our tour on Wednesday, however, began with the place where God finally put into action his fulfillment of this promise of salvation. We went to the city of Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who gave her profound “Yes” to God’s plan of salvation.

Nazareth is a city built on the hills. It is Jesus’ hometown, and also the location of the Church of the Annunciation. Inside the church is an altar before a grotto where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved with a beautiful book of the Gospels. It is a small room, part of the original Byzantine church built here to commemorate the spot where the angel appeared.

Then it hits me: I am standing very near to the place where an angel appeared; where he announced to a young woman that God’s promise of a Messiah would come through her. And she said Yes — I am standing on the place where all our hopes depended.

Above the site of this little room (I imagined it to be the room — or the place — where Gabriel spoke with Mary), is a beautiful ceiling that was designed to look like a white lily and represent the immaculate purity of Mary.

Next door to the Church is the Church of St. Joseph. Tradition says the church is the site of Joseph’s carpentry shop. The structureis built on top of a grotto, which would have stored water collected during the winter to sustain life here through the hot summer.

I loved walking through Nazareth. It is a city where Israeli Jews and Arabs (Christians and Muslims) live together in peace — that’s not to say they don’t have their own problems like all neighbors do. Israel is a country of 8 million people — 6 million are Jews, and the rest are Arabs (mostly Muslims, then Christians) and Druze.

Our next stop was Cana, where Jesus began his public ministry. To be continued…