The first was at the start of the day, at a 7 a.m. Mass in Arabic at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (top photo). Even though we don't speak Arabic, we were able to follow along in the celebration with the 50 or so other Catholics who were there, a reminder that the Mass is the Mass, no matter your mother tongue. We had been to the church on Friday, but just as tourists making a quick stop. To have time to pray and receive the Body of Christ in the very place that Mary said "yes" to the angel was moving beyond words.
The second was toward the end of the day, during a brief encounter in Jerusalem with Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, who is visiting the Holy Land on a retreat-pilgrimage with a group of priests from the Archdiocese of New York. The archbishop spoke of the importance of pilgrimage, especially at this exciting time in his life as he prepares to head to Rome on Feb. 18 to receive the red hat from Pope Benedict XVI.
During such a time, it is natural to turn to the wisdom of the Church, he told us. "In a pivotal moment in your life and in a time of transition, you would turn to the Lord prayer and reflection."
This is the third retreat-pilgrimage the archbishop has been on with New York archdiocesan priests, the first two being in Ars, France, and in Rome and Assisi. He reminded us that a pilgrimage is supposed to model our journeys through life, "you've got fatigue, joy, smiles, tears, you've got restlessness, all the emotions of life."
It wasn't all serious, of course. Cardinal-designate Dolan poked fun at his efforts to shed some pounds before the consistory. "I was hoping I'd lose some weight so I wouldn't have to pay so much for the cardinal's robes," he joked. "You have to pay by the inch, you know."
In between these two events was a day filled with educational and enjoyable sightseeing. After leaving Nazareth, the group headed toward Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, for a tour of the ruins of the Essene ascetical sect that created the scrolls. Next up was a visit to the Dead Sea, where some adventurous people in the group (myself excluded) floated on the salty water and slathered themselves with mud, followed by a short camel ride (interestingly enough, only the women in the group wanted to do this).
None of those events compared, though, to laying our eyes on Jerusalem, many of us for the first time. Monday we will walk the Via Dolorosa, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Some of us also plan to visit Bethlehem to witness the town of Christ's birth. I will be writing about the day's adventures here at OSV Daily Take. You can also follow my updates at @shayesOSV.