St Robert’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Saturday 27th February to Saturday 5th March 2011) – Watch this space!

All the petitions that were brought from the people back home were placed on the site of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. – beneath the Altar of Calvary (in the blue wallet). They were later left in the Holy Sepulchre (the tomb of Our Lord’s Resurrection):

When we knew we had to be up at 5.00 am. for Mass we thought it was one of Father Lawrence’s jokes but it wasn’t! However, it was the most amazing experience. Father Doherty was the chief celebrant at the altar in the place of Calvary. His joy was almost tangible. We were joined by Father Michael who is studying in the Holy Land and who started at Ushaw on the same day as Father Lawrence. After Mass, we were able to kneel at what was to all intents, the foot of Calvary.Then we moved into the lower floor of the church where we could see the stone of unction, the slab on which the body of Jesus would have been prepared for burial. After that we waited to visit the actual sepulchre. Even waiting was an experience. The Franciscans were celebrating Mass on one side of us. Behind us in a tiny chapel were the Coptic Christians. Upstairs another group were celebrating their Mass. Eventually we were able to pass through the narrow doorway into the external part of the tomb and then through the low entrance to see the empty tomb of our risen Lord. How incredible to be able to see what we had heard of all our lives. We returned to the hotel for breakfast awed by all that had happened to us already so early in the day.

Next we followed the Via Dolorosa and prayed the stations of the Cross. How could Jesus have carried his cross so far up the winding narrow streets, jostled by passers by. For us it was hard. The road mounts so steeply and all around us were shops and people. We were told it would have been similar even in Jesus’ time. We heard that the cross he carried was more like a tree trunk than a cross and would have been hard to get hold of. It was all to easy to imagine His suffering and that of his mother as she watched Him. Finally we were back again at the church of the Holy Sepulchre. It seemed hours since we had been there before. We saw the wisdom of Father Lawrence in taking us there so early, now the church was crowded with queues everywhere and such a lot of distractions. We had had relative peace and the chance to appreciate everything. The atmosphere was different later in the day.

We visited the Wailing Wall and were probably intrigued more than anything else to see this important Jewish site. Next was the site of the Upper Room or maybe not the exact location but pretty close. We heard the reading of the Last Supper and marvelled again that we were here. The final visit of the day was to the Dormition Abbey. By tradition Mary lay in a sort of trance after death whilst her friends pondered on what to do about her burial. The amazing mosaic in the crypt showed Jesus carrying her in his arms to Heaven. I loved this church and think others in the party did too. It all seemed so right.

Today, Monday we went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls and to hear the about the life of the Essene who lived as a sort of monastic order before Jesus was even born and whose life work was to write out the scriptures and detail their way of life. It seems very probable that John the Baptist spent time with them in their desert home and that he just might have introduced Jesus to the group.  I will say that I felt strongly that that might have been the case. It was a very atmospheric place.

Next was Masada where Herod the Great built his palace. Our guide was so interesting in describing how Herod, just an ordinary soldier made himself a friend of Cleopatra, a friend of dignitaries in Rome and gained the job of King of Israel. The building of the palace was no mean feat at the top of a mountain 950 feet up on a rocky outcrop. The walls were double thickness with rooms inside each of which was provisions for 1000 soldiers for a whole year! water cisterns were in place too to ensure water for all. It was quite incredible. This was also the stronghold of the zealots who offered the last resistance to the Romans in about 67AD (cannot quite remember that bit). Oh and we went up by cable car so the views over the Dead Sea were terrific!

After that we went to Jericho. We had already seen Bedouin camps and some camels and shepherds on the hillside. How unreal to see what Jesus described, to know that was how Abraham lived, to know we were passing the Moab mountain range where Ruth came from. All those stories, all those imaginings from childhood were there before us.

In Jericho we celebrated Mass in the Church of the Good Shepherd with a painting of the Good Shepherd before our eyes. In front of us were three stained glass windows depicting the story of Zacchaeus who lived in Jericho. Under one was written in Latin, Jesus visiting Jericho and now so were we. It was amazing.

Finally we went to the Dead Sea. Most of our group decided to try a swim or shall I say a float! The first difficulty was actually to try to lie back in the water. The trick was to go in up to your knees and then sit down. Immediately your legs came upwards and you could paddle yourself around! Once you got the hang of it. it was quite exhilarating. We were told we would become a year younger for every minute we spent there but we don’t look noticeably different! One of the things that surprised me was how muddy it was. Younger people were daubing themselves with the green mud! Even when you didn’t want to do that, you still collected a liberal adornment! Afterwards our clothes and towels felt incredibly sticky. It was an unrepeatable experience (hopefully) but we all said that we were glad we had tried it!

Then it was back to the Knights Hotel where we have been made most welcome and enjoyed good food and fellowship.

Anne Dawes

A video clip after our later visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

1 March 2011

Today was another spiritually enlightening experience for us in the Holy Land.  We started the day with a trip to the Garden of Gethsemane where the agony of our Lord took place.  Still standing are lots of old olive trees, the oldest of which was around 2,000 years old meaning that it may well have been there when our Lord visited the garden.  Within the lovely church of Gethsemane, you can still see the rock where Jesus went to pray before being arrested.  Listening to the Bible reading in Gethsemane itself was a brilliant experience.

Next we took a short bus ride to the Mount of Olives where we were treated to a breathtaking panoramic view of all Jerusalem. The two photos below were taken by Father Lawrence on the mount.  Our guide pointed out the different sites from the agony in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested then taken to St Peter’s Gallicantu where Peter denied Jesus three times and tried by Caiaphas.  He was then dragged before Pilate at the site where the Antonia Fortress stands today.  The passion then started there ending at Calvary where we visited yesterday.  The Easter story was brought to life very vividly and I know we will all remember what we saw and heard this Easter.

St Peter Gallicantu was an impressinve church as well.  Most impressive of all was that you could view the steps that Jesus must have walked on over 2,000 years ago.  We viewed the dungeon where he was held in the most cruel and inhuman conditions.

Next was the Pater Noster Church, where Jesus taught his disciples the ‘Our Father’. The entire premises was surrounded with large plaques translating the Lord’s prayer   We had lots of fun finding the English translation.

Then it was off to Bethlehem where we had some lunch before making our way to the Shepherds Field where the angel appeared to the three shepherds tending their sheep.  Standing on the same spot and listening to the Bible reading gave us lots of opporunity for quiet reflection.  The church contains amazing murals depicting the story, the most remarkable being the altar which was propped up by carvings of the shepherds cowering in fear as the angel addressed them.  We viewed the caves where they kept their sheep at night and marvelled at the fact that these poor, humble shepherd were the first to hear of the birth of our Lord.

Lyn Cole

On the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem:

Dave Allen very often included irreverent skeches in his television programme. He always ended, however, with the words “May your God go with you.”  This day showed just how true that is, even down to the desperate humanity of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the first destination for us today. In the Garden itself, in the presence of the olive trees dating backover 2000 years (perhaps the true witnesses of Christ), and in the Church of All Nations or Agony, we could feel the real humanity of Jesus. The devotion to His Father overcame all, and a real ispiration to us not to lose faith. Looking across the Kidron Valley to the Eastern Wall, we could see why the belief is that Jesus would come again through the Golden Gate. He overcame all on the opposite side, and this would indeed, be a final triumphant entry.  Our visit to the Pater Noster Church, to say the prayer given by Jesus, again reminded us of the words Thy will be done, a reflection back to Gethsemane. At the Church of St Peter Gallicantu, the suffering of Christ at the hands of Caiaphas and denial by Peter was uplifted in the simplicity and beauty of the building – truly the light of the world overcame all here, and gave Peter the strength to go on and found our Christian Faith. It gives us the strength, too. Later, in the caves of the Shepherds Fields, we too, could feel the wonder of 2000 years ago. There was a real feeling of expectation fulfilled there, and indeed led us on to the next day’s amazing visit to the birthplace of Jesus at the church of the Nativity. It was an incredible experience to say Mass there and visit the upper and lower caves of the “inn” and “manger”. I do not think any of us had ever separated the two before! Although our time here was brief, due to the hundreds of visitors, it was a great priviledge to be a living witness to the scene of the first act of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Of course, Jesus grew and before his ministry, was destined like all Christians to be baptised.  A short journey on from Bethlehem took us to Ein Karem, the birhplace of St John the Baptist. Although we will later visit the place of Jesus baptism inthe River Jordan, we ended today by coming to Tiberias, on the Sea Of Gallilee, also important in Jesus early ministry and choosing of His first disciples.

Stevie Matthews

Fr Jim is main celebrant at the Altar of Calvary. You can see that all the petitions ( the blue wallet) were placed on the Altar and Holy Mass was offered for every prayer contained on these petitions:

The pilgrims join in Mass at Calvary:We were joined by Fr Michael Loughlin, a friend of Fr Lawrence who is on a course of study in Jerusalem:Waiting to enter the Holy Sepulchre – the tomb where Jesus was buried and from which he rose from the dead:

The Via Dolorosa – the Stations of the Cross:

A stop for Lunch in the Old City of Jerusalem – chicken shwarma or fallafel sandwich and chips :The Wailing (or Western) Wall:

Relaxing on the evening in the Knights Palace:Peter Dawes advertises the local Christian beer – Taybeh (the name of the village were it is made). It is the only beer made in the Palestinian Territory:

At the Dead Sea:Preparing for our guide to speak to us outside the Church of Gethsemane:Fr Lawrence accompanied his friend, Fr Michael, back to his residence in the old city. They could not resist the offer of a midnight pizza in a tiny pizzeria run by a Jew and a Christian:


Bethlehem:Descending to the Grotto of the Nativity and venerating the site of Our Lord’s birth:

Everyday is Christmas Day in Bethlehem:

Amer, our guide introduces this little video on the Sea of Galillee –

Another day of superlatives.  Now we are really in Jesus’s home region.  The hills, the Sea of Galilee and the fishing boats.  We woke to a mist over the sea and the sun breaking through promising a cloudless start.  The swallows are getting ready to come to England and the colour of the flowers seems especially bright after our winter.    What did we see?   We drove past Magdala.  Who came from there?  And then onto the northern end of the sea where Jesus would spend most of the three years of his ministry.

We visited the church commemorating the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  The 20th Century church was built around the surviving mosiac floor of the 4th Century Byzantine church.

On we went to the shores where Peter and other Apostles had gone fishing after Jesus’s crucifixion and he appeared on the shore and told them to cast their nets when they netted 153 fish which represents the 153 nations then on earth.   We had a beautiful outdoor mass overlooking the Sea of Galilee, imagining how it was in Our Lord’s time.  Here Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” and this was the first time Peter had met Jesus since he denied knowledge of him in Caiphias’ house.

The next stop was Capernaum where Jesus performed a lot of his early ministry because it was a key town on the Via Maris, the route between Mesopotamia and Egypt.  We saw the house of Peter where Jesus often stayed over which now is a modern church.

On now to lunch which was a special meal of Peter’s fish (and chips) in the shadow of the Mount of Beatitudes.  The octagonal church on this mount was our next stop situated in a very peaceful rose garden.

The last stop of the day was a boat trip.   We embarked on a scaled-up version of a typical Galilean boat from Jesus’s time from which we could appreciate the closeness of these places and how Jesus would have travelled across the lake.  The 21st engines were switched off so that  on this calm sunny day we could appreciate how the tranquillity of these surroundings.

Back to the hotel for a swim!!!!

Mary, Eileen and Gerry.

In the hill country of Judea we had lunch at the Elvis Diner:

Mass at the Church of the Primacy of St Peter (outside) by the Sea of Galilee:St Peter’s Fish and Chip Lunch:Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. As the Union Flag is raised we all rise to sing “God Save the Queen”:

By the Sea of Galilee:Afternoon Tea, at our hotel, by the Sea of Galilee:

‘Sluming it’ at the Ron Beach Hotel by the Sea of Galilee:

Fr Lawrence’s room overlooking the Sea of Galilee – which he soon trashed:

Today we left for Tabor and Cana.  We got to the beginning of Tabor for the ascent but as it was so crowded Amer decided to head for Cana.  Mass had been scheduled for 11am, but the Sister allowed us to celebrate (“pray Mass” as Amer says) at 9.30am. We sang “Magnificat” and “As I Kneel Before You”.

The married couples among us had places in the Sanctuary and renewed vows to each other after the Homily.  We all renewed Baptism Vows as we had not been able to go to the Jordan. Then we saw excavated ruins to the level of 2,000 years ago.

Then onto Tabor (mount of the Transfiguration) . Half way up the mountain 9 of us at a time boarded vans for the journey to the summit.  There we saw frescoes of the story and enjoyed the atmosphere. Transfiguration! – Transformation! ” …..  “And coming down from the Mountain we saw only Jesus ” – in each other.

Sr Shealgh.

A Camel with pilgrims:

On the last day to rose early to travel to Nazareth and visit the Church of the Annunciation. Our guide told us that at the time of Our Lord, Nazareth, was a very insignificant place with a population of no more than 400 people. No wonder people said “can anything good come out of Nazareth”. It was a real back water. The people lived in caves or rather build there homes onto caves. At the lowest level in the magnificent Basilica of the Annunciation is the simple cave where the Angel Gabriel asked Mary if she would be the mother of God’s Son. We all gathered around the cave to recite the Angelus. Next, we went to the nearby Church of St Joseph where in the crypt is the remains of what is believed to be the house of St Joseph where the Holy Family settled after the flight into Egypt. This is were Jesus lived for 30 years. There is also evidence of a work area where Joseph and Jesus would of worked as carpenters.

On the way to the airport we went to Haifa, a beautiful port town on the Mediteranean. Mount Carmel and the Carmelite Monastry of Stella Maris are perched on top of the hill giving a tremendous view of the Mediteranian Sea. We visited the cave of Elijah and celebrated Mass in one of the monastery chapels. The order of the Carmelites has it’s humle origins on this mountain range. Mount Carmel is renowned for the beautiful flowers that grow there and so it has been associated with Our Lady – the Flower of Mount Carmel. At the Mass in honour of Our Lady we were especially grateful for all the graces and blessings we had recived on this pilgrimage. This was our last Mass together. After lunch in the monastery we drove on to the airport for an evening flight back to Luton.

Fr Lawrence Jones.

At the very end: