Updated: May 24
On my way to the Holy Land in the fall of 2017, I visited Morocco. Who would have guessed that there are some lovely churches, priests and nuns in this Muslim majority country. The exterior church photo is from a small town in the desert called Ouarzazate. This nun greeted me on her way in from grocery shopping and gave me a tour.
This church interior is from a Catholic church and school complex in Marrakech.
My plan was to go from Morocco to Turkey to scout for a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul. While I was in Morocco, Presidents Trump and Erdogan had a disagreement and US citizens were barred from getting a visa to enter Turkey. I changed my plans and went to Israel early, starting in Eilat, which is on the Red Sea.
They say that it is called the Red Sea because of the red reflection from the mountains. I attended a lovely Catholic service in a small house church there.
The Dead Sea
The drive from the Southern tip of Israel northward is beautiful desert scenery. I was amused to see this sign and a distinctive rock that must be the remains of Lot’s wife (Gen 19:26).
Location of Herod’s Palace in Jericho, the oldest continually-inhabited city, dating back 11,000 years
I took a few days off and drove north to visit friends. From this view, one can see an Israeli settlement, Palestinian refugee camp and Bedouin village all at once - three very different worlds.
During that time off, I visited the Nazareth Hospital where I volunteered in 2015. They were having a special conference where the new CEO Richard spoke, interpreted into Arabic by the hospital chaplain Suhail. It was great to see my old friends and feel the familiarity. For the next several weeks, I lived in Bethlehem, Palestine/West Bank at a Christian guest house assisting Rev. Dr. Kamal Farah, Bible scholar, write a book on the Gospels in context.
While in Nazareth, I said hello to the travel agents & guide I work with for pilgrimages.
Some Sundays, I would visit the grotto under the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born, for early morning Eucharist. I never knew what language would be used because different groups make this reservation, but it was easy to follow our liturgy no matter what language. I believe this group is Ukrainian.
While I was in Bethlehem, President Trump made his announcement that the American Embassy would be moved to Jerusalem. The usually bustling corner our guest house was on fell silent for three days. The shops down the hill were closed, there were no cars on the road and no children walking to or from school. That surprised me.
My last Sunday in Bethlehem was just before Christmas. As we went to the early morning Eucharist in the grotto, no one was in Manger Square and all the Christmas lights were on.
The church bells started ringing, the moon was bright and I received my Christmas present by just being there.
We drove back to the guesthouse as the sun started to rise over Bethlehem.