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Updated: May 24, 2023

 

We hope to do more Saint Paul’s pilgrimages in the future to places like Turkey and Cyprus, as well as the Holy Land.

 

2019 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Part 1

Our first stop in Amman was at a mosque. They require all women and any man wearing shorts to cover.

Our first stop in Amman was at a mosque. They require all women and any man wearing shorts to cover.


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Next we visited the Baptismal site of Jesus. This photo is looking from the Jordan side to the Israel side. Archaeologists believe that the true site is on the Jordan side.

Next we visited the Baptismal site of Jesus. This photo is looking from the Jordan side to the Israel side. Archaeologists believe that the true site is on the Jordan side.

While there, we renewed our baptismal vows. Here Susan McDermott reads scripture.

While there, we renewed our baptismal vows. Here Susan McDermott reads scripture.

And our chaplain, Rev. Nancy, prayed for us.

And our chaplain, Rev. Nancy, prayed for us.

Next we visited Mt Nebo, where there is a new museum that contains remnants of at least five Byzantine churches from the area. From the mountain, we looked at the Promised Land as Moses did.Nearby are the ruins of Herod’s Machaerus Fortress, where i…

Next we visited Mt Nebo, where there is a new museum that contains remnants of at least five Byzantine churches from the area. From the mountain, we looked at the Promised Land as Moses did.

Nearby are the ruins of Herod’s Machaerus Fortress, where it’s believed that John the Baptist was beheaded.

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Then we visited the amazing Petra.

Petra, Jordan would have been well known in the time of Jesus. Here is their most famous view, The Treasury, and some of the adventurous in our group taking a camel ride

 

Part 2

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Our Jordanian guide Rami teaches about the Jordan River Valley on our bus as we head to the Israel border.

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Our first evening in Nazareth, a Christian university student tells about his life & the benefits he receives from the Holy Land Christian Student Fund as Fr. Kamal looks on. Part of our pilgrimage funds go toward helping Christian students receive education & stay in the Holy Land, which is now only about 1.5% of the population.

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We attended a Sunday morning service at the Anglican Christ Church in Nazareth. The Arabic writing on the altar piece is taken from Isaiah 61 and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...” when He taught at the synagogue in Nazareth. Here, Lisa Rodgers-Potter greets a local church member.

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Nearby is the Church of the Annunciation, where we remember the angel’s visit to Mary.

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On Monday we traveled to Caesarea Maritima, what I call the Las Vegas for 1st Century Roman soldiers. There are ruins here from many periods in history, including a stone with the name Pontius Pilatus on it.

 

Part 3

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We stopped at Mt Carmel, where Elijah slayed the prophets of baal

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Then saw the remains of a first century town, including these tombs, under our guesthouse in Nazareth.

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Fr. Kamal teaches us here at the beautiful Greek Orthodox Church over Mary’s Well, where it’s believed she would draw water.

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We entered Biblical times at Nazareth Village, where I worked in 2015 (see earlier blog post). Our smart guide was Jane Shurrush, who is also part of the SERVE Nazareth team.

 

Part 4

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We stopped by the Jesus Trail, a pilgrimage route that connects Nazareth with Capernaum, including the beautiful Mt Arbel area.

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I think one of the most beautiful places on earth is the Orthodox church at Capernaum with its resident peacocks.

Another stop by The sea of Galilee was at Magdala, a newly discovered 1st century town where it is believed that Mary Magdalene lived. Under the chapel is a stunning mural where Carol Anderson of Acts of Renewal performed her monologue of the Woman that Bled from Mt 9, Mk 5 & Lk 8, which the mural portrays.

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We spent a couple of nights at the Mt of Beatitudes guest house, then some of us hiked down through what is now banana fields to the Sea of Galilee.

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Part 5

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German Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes with some original byzantine floor

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Dr. Henry Carse joined Fr. Kamal & me at St Peter’s Primacy. Henry’s vast Holy Land knowledge and experience was a bonus for our group the few days he was with us.

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Ancient Roman city at Capernaum with the Catholic Church built over St. Peter’s house


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We enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee


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Then back to the Mt of Beatitudes Guesthouse by the Sea

 

Part 6

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Today we are in the Golan Heights at Caesarea Philippi/Banias, a source of the Jordan River, where Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” in Mt 16 & Mk 8.

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There was a Temple here for the Greek god Pan in the time of Christ, among other idol worshipping spots. One can still see niches in the stone where statutes were.


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We visited ruins of the Byzantine monastery at Kursi where Jesus cast the demons into the swine. This is near the archaeological dig I worked on in 2016. Please see my earlier blog post.

 

Part 7


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We went underground to see some of the caves where the shepherd’s & their sheep would’ve stayed. We learned that the shepherds slept in the doorway to protect their flock—as Jesus protects us.

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We had a brief stop in Bethany where Carol performed Martha & Mary from Lk 10.

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These ancient stairs lead to what some say is the Tomb of Lazarus.

Next stop, 5 nights in Bethlehem that began w/Fr. Kamal teaching about the geography of the Holy Land with our maps.

 

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The next morning we went to Shepherd’s Field where Jim and Carol enacted a skit about shepherds in the field on the night of Jesus’ birth.

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Then we stopped in the sweet chapel there and had a special time singing.

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Reverend Nancy Wynen celebrated Eucharist with us, assisted by Caroline Furlong

 

Part 8

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The Herodion is visible from the whole area, as it would have been In the time of Christ. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to see interesting ruins and where Herod the Great wanted to be buried.

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Recent restorations in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem are revealing beautiful mosaics.

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The view from my hotel room of Bethlehem today

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One of the main Christian industries in the Bethlehem area is olive wood craftsmanship. It’s always a treat to stop by the workshop of Ashraf Jarayseh & his brother Elias. Click here to see their work.

 

Part 9

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I think it is important that all pilgrimage groups visit some charities in the Holy Land. One plans and anticipates a trip like this and experiences such amazing things, yet what about after the trip? Being acquainted with some charities gives one the ability to stay in touch, pray for them, donate to them and do good. L’Arche, in a beautiful old Palestinian home, in Bethlehem produces wool-felt objects by people with disabilities and sells them. Our St Pauls holiday faire includes some of these products. Here is their website.

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The Sister with the child and the man with the baby are at La Crèche Orphanage in Bethlehem. The director, Alex, shared powerful stories with us. We brought medicines and other donations and were deeply touched.


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We were blessed to have two icon writers among our pilgrim group. Caroline & Fons led us for a visit to the Bethlehem Icon Centre.


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Did you know that there are still some Samaritans alive today? We visited them on Mt. Gerizim and saw where they still sacrifice sheep and goats during Passover.

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Fr. Justin is the custodian of Jacob’s Well and the surrounding church in Nablus. He paints icons and is the life force at this religious, archaeological and historic place.

Photo by Zachary Shores

Photo by Zachary Shores

 

Part 10

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There’s an area called Solomon’s Pools where water has been stored for centuries. They say that Solomon called the area Paradise and it was where he wrote Song of Solomon in the Bible. Strange that it’s near a Palestinian refugee camp. Jim Shores of Acts of Renewal performed a nice monologue of King David talking with his son Solomon about how he likes to build things (the coming Temple).

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The Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem commemorates where Mary visited Elizabeth in the Judean hills. Under one of the side alters is this lovely icon to an elderly mother.

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The birthplace of John the Baptist, also in Ein Kerem. The Latin says HIC PRAECURSOR DOMINI NATUS EST, in English, ‘Here the forerunner was born.’ Only a few churches in the world can use the Latin word HIC (meaning here)!

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A wonderful place to have lunch and an afternoon respite (& spend the night) is the Convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Sion, also in ,Ein Kerem. Here is their beautiful cemetery with a view of the Judean hills & the golden domes of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Visitation. Nearby is the Hadassah Medical Center that contains Chagall’s stained glass windows of the 12 tribes of Israel.

 

Part 11 - Jerusalem


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The Garden of Gethsemane is mostly olive trees, some being hundreds of years old. Gethsemane means olive press.

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Rev. Nancy celebrated Eucharist assisted by Linda at the Ecce Homo Basilica on the Via Dolorosa, another convent guesthouse owned by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion. We had a great lunch there then toured the well-preserved ruins underneath. (See my 2018 blog entry for more info.)

The nearby Church of All Nations/Basilica of the Agony is dark, gorgeous & built over a rock that some say is where Jesus prayed before his arrest.

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The area of the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed in John 5, today St. Anne’s Church, is a nice spot to focus on healing.


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We got up early to walk & meditate on the Stations of the Cross. Here we will enter the Old city of Jerusalem through Herod’s gate, decorated with Ramadan lights this time of year.


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Here we are at the first station of the cross with Rev. Nancy leading us.

 

Part 12

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Many crosses were carved by Crusaders in the lower walls at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This photo was taken during part of my “secret nooks and crannies of Old City Jerusalem” tour.

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Steps leading to Calvary


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After a visit to the Israel Museum & Shrine of the Book, we spent time on Mount Zion. This beautiful door is on the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu (meaning cock’s crow), which remembers when Peter denied Christ.

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Our music director took a moment to contemplate steps Jesus could have walked upon. It is believed that the palace of the high priest Caiaphas was here.

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A major highlight of our pilgrimage is visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Calvary & Christ’s Tomb are. This photo shows a section of the church where Fr. Kamal was teaching us that he believes was part of the garden near the Tomb.

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One of the Armenian sections of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These icons are brand new in 2019.

 

Part 13

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Because the political, geographical, religious & many aspects of the Holy Land are complicated, I want our pilgrims to hear from different sides so they can form their own opinions. We try to always visit a Jewish Settlement & a Palestinian Refugee Camp. Here a young man and one of the camps tells us about his life.

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The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

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Our Farewell Dinner, a feast with lamb & many delicious foods!

I think this was a trip of a lifetime. It was a great group that took care of each other, with open hearts and minds to learn and grow. It was a delight and privilege for me to share many of the treasures I have found in my 7 years of visits. Now that we are back, I am receiving many dividends when I hear our pilgrims talk about what they’ve learned and now better understand. Thanks be to God!


Updated: May 24, 2023

After three years on the waiting list, my time had come to live & volunteer at Ecce Homo Convent Guesthouse on the Via Dolorosa in Old City Jerusalem.

 

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On the way, I stopped in Jerash, Jordan to see one of the largest and most well-preserved Roman cities. Here’s the gate built in honor of Emperor Hadrian in 129AD and the unique Oval Plaza.

 


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The history of Ecce Homo is another story worth telling. It starts with two Jewish brothers named Ratisbonne from France. The older one, Theodore, converted to Christianity. His younger brother Alphonse was not pleased with his conversion and went on a European tour. While Alphonse was in Rome, a friend asked if they could stop by a church to plan a friend’s funeral. Alphonse waited in the church while his friend met with the priest. When the friend returned, Alphonse was on his face on the ground. He had seen a vision of Mary and converted to Christianity himself. He took the baptismal name Mary. Both brothers became Catholic priests and Alphonse became Fr. Mary. They were encouraged to start an order of nuns. In 1848, Theodore founded the Congregation of our Lady of Sion, and felt led to start a house for the Sisters of Sion in Jerusalem.

 

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During the Ottoman Empire, when the Nazareth Hospital was getting started (see my 2015 post below) and the US was fighting the Civil War, Jerusalem was in rubble without many inhabitants. The Ottomans allowed foreigners to buy property but it had to be historic property. The brothers found a good spot with arches from a gate built for Emperor Hadrian about 135AD (that originally looked a lot like the gate above at Jerash). Here is how it looked in 1864. Today, the large arch is over the road and the small left arch is the altar for the Basilica in the convent.

Here is the basilica as it looks now. The people singing here are a wonderful group called Harpa Dei that’s worth looking up on YouTube!

 

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As you might imagine, there are some pretty fascinating things in the basement. One is the Game of Kings Stone. It is believed that the Roman soldiers were playing this game, where one is king for a day and then killed, when they put the purple robe and crown of thorns upon Jesus. I have seen a few stones with similar carvings around the Holy Land and this one is especially clear.

There is also a plaza where some think that Pontius Pilate said, “Here’s the man,” or, in Latin, Ecce Homo, at the trial of Jesus in John 19:5. Hence, the name of both the convent and the large arch.

 

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It’s thought that the paving stones in this photo might have been striated as a safety measure for horses in the wet weather.

 

There is also a cistern built by Herod the Great about 32 BC to provide water for animal sacrifice at the nearby Temple, for mikveh baths around the Temple Mount grounds, and for the Roman soldiers’ Antonia fortress. A small museum there contains things like oil lamps, pottery and animal knucklebones used in games.

 

Today many guests and visitors come to see these well-kept treasures. Some groups sing hymns and have Communion services in the Basilica or the Lithostrotos (“pavement”) below. Sometimes on my days off, I would explore the ancient moat, leftovers from Roman-era battles and much more. If only those walls could talk!

 

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Here’s a view of Ecce Homo on the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”) today. Tradition says that this is where Jesus carried His cross. The somberness of that struck me over and over again as I lived there for three months.

 

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The property is still owned by the Sisters of (Notre Dame de) Sion. Their time here includes teaching Hebrew to local Arabs, and teaching Arabic to incoming Jews in 1948. They are now assisted in managing the house by another religious group called Chemin Neuf. Here are some of the Sisters of Sion from Australia, England, Egypt and Canada.....wonderful ladies!

I was one of four volunteers and we worked very hard, but also received many rewards. My jobs were to help run the front desk, work with meals and do some gardening. When I could, I explored the old city and added to my list of secret nooks and crannies to share with friends. At the front desk, they called me Indiana Jones & would send people to me that wanted to know what interesting things to see during their visit.

 

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Jerusalem has vibrant cultural offerings. We got to attend fascinating lectures on things like history and politics, a great concert in a venue overlooking the old city, and be in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. I have so many stories of the wonderful people I met and things I got to see. Here’s a view from the rooftops, where just walking around after dinner was pretty amazing.

 

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It was truly a privilege to be part of this family and make new friends. Two of those special souls are Maha-on the right, head of the dining room, & her assistant Nazira. Sometimes when I worked in the kitchen, I could hear them chanting the rosary together in Arabic – so sweet!

 

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This statue was in a courtyard outside my bedroom. During these very special 3 months, I learned more about this land, it’s people and God. Thank you for sharing it with me.

 

Updated: May 24, 2023


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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.

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This church interior is from a Catholic church and school complex in Marrakech.

 

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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.

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The Dead Sea

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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).


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Location of Herod’s Palace in Jericho, the oldest continually-inhabited city, dating back 11,000 years

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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.

 

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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.

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While in Nazareth, I said hello to the travel agents & guide I work with for pilgrimages.

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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.

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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.


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We drove back to the guesthouse as the sun started to rise over Bethlehem.

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