After our first restful night in Jerusalem we got up early and were soon ready for another great day in the Holy Land. We started with Mass in the desert, and I cannot begin to describe just how awesome this was! Fr Greg gave a beautifully reflective homily on Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and as we looked out on the great expanse of dry, rocky, barren space the reality of what Christ faced really struck us.
From here we continued on our journey along an ancient route from Jerusalem to Jericho. We stopped off along the way to view St George’s – a 6th century monastery which is embedded into the side of a sand dune valley. Our guide described how the religious here wanted to imitate Jesus’ life; by living in the desert, a place where everything is stripped away, God becomes the clear, undivided focus of their life. Fr Greg pointed out that today was the first day of the ‘year of the consecrated life’. Seeing the monastery and hearing about how these religious live was truly inspiring and a great way to start this celebratory, reflective year.
Back on the bus we went on to the Mount of Temptation in Jericho. We explored a little of this ancient city and reflected on the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke which supposedly took place here. Afterwards, we drove to the River Jordan where Jesus was baptised. We renewed our baptismal vowels here and took to paddling in the shallows and watching people from other pilgrimage groups being fully immersed.
After a long morning we enjoyed a buffet lunch, and excitement was soon mounting as our next activity was swimming in the Dead Sea! The Dead Sea is appropriately named as it has no life within it due to its high salt content. The water is so rich in minerals that anyone who goes in will float to the surface no matter how much they eat at lunchtime! We were soon all bobbing around in the thick, dark water, giggling away as we sat upright and tumbled about in the waves. Crystallised salt paved the bottom of the sea along with slippery mud which apparently is great for the skin. It wasn’t long before we were slapping on the mud and enjoying a great, natural spa experience!
Other pilgrims who weren’t so keen to jump in the sea (the water did sting when it got in your eyes, and to be honest it didn’t taste super either) tried out an alternative experience – feet nibbling fish. Poor fish.
Happy, tired pilgrims clambered onto the bus and journeyed back to Jerusalem; however, the day wasn’t over yet… Once back in the city we broke into smaller groups and made our way in the pouring rain over to the Western Wall. We jumped over puddles and wandered around winding, cobbled streets until we came to this great wall. Women and men were partitioned off, instructed to wash, and given the opportunity to lay hands upon the wall and pray, just as Pope Francis had done earlier this year. Both men and women had to cover their heads out of respect, and as we approached the wall we could see pieces of paper with prayers written on them crammed between the bricks. This is the wall of the temple where Jesus had upturned tables in His anger that people were turning His Father’s house into a market place (John 2: 12-17). It is also an incredibly sacred place for the Jews and Muslims. As we made our way back to the hotel it was clear that we all felt incredibly blessed to have been able to behold the Western Wall.
After another delicious dinner we gathered together and prepared for a very important part of the day – the Westminster Youth Ministry quiz! There were five teams in the competition and after six rounds of intense questions (from obscure vegetables to Holy Land facts) it was a close call with team ‘Joseph’ winning by half a point. Well done to Eleanor, Joseph, Jo, James and James. I hope you liked your top quality Dead Sea magnet trophies. Quality.
A great day had by all… Looking forward to our fellow pilgrim Anel’s blog tomorrow!