The Trip of a lifetime: The Holy Land
At the age of 25, I’ve always wanted to go to the Holy Land, but never did I expect it to happen so soon! It has truly been the TRIP of a LIFETIME, and that is an understatement. I am still left in awe and I am amazed as to what I have seen and experienced in such a short amount of time. Having been back a number weeks now, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my thoughts of this once in a lifetime trip.
I first learned about the trip during a church service announcement at the Basilica of St. Ann, which is now our main church. During the announcement, I immediately looked at my mom and said this is definitely a trip that we should all do (Jesci, my parents, and I). At the time of the announcement, Jesci was in the Philippines and my father was working. That however, did not stop me from signing us all up on the list. Regardless of the circumstances, we were all going to go on the trip!
At least that is what I thought…
Unfortunately, the plan didn’t pan out and Jesci and my father could not get the days off from work and were not able to go.
Even with my mother and I remaining, we were definitely going to go, no matter what. Believe it or not, we received a lot of mixed reactions for going. We actually had some people, even family members, tell us that we were crazy for wanting to go to the Holy Land. We even had people telling us that my mom and I were going to get shot and never come back alive. One person actually said to us that we were all going to get blown up. Any nasty thing that you can imagine possible was said to us…
Let me tell you….
Those people have NO IDEA what they are talking about!
Not one time in my travels of Israel, Palestine, and the entire Holy Land, did I ever feel worried or unsafe. The media makes people believe that you’re going to get killed. I feel as if not only the media, but so many people, don’t want anyone to experience the Holy Land. These people deceit everyone to make it appear as if Israel and The Holy Land are the worst possible place that anyone could go. They make people believe that bombs are going off left and right and people are getting killed. They make you believe that it is all terrorists, radicals and evil people, and etc.
Let me tell you….
In all of my 25 years of life, never have I felt so relaxed, tranquil, and at ease. To be able to walk in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ; that feeling of joy is indescribable.
One of the peaceful moments that I will never forget is the area where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7). What really stood out to me here was that one of the most powerful verses in the entire Bible was said here by Jesus.
Matthew 6:25 – 27
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
After experiencing this firsthand, I have learned not to worry about anything. Worry is useless. Can it add any hour to your life? Absolutely, not. Not one bit. It a complete and total waste of energy.
When I now see the birds flying or chirping, I am always assured not to worry. Just like the birds, God is reminding us not to worry. The next time you go to church, look for a dove painting or in a stain glass window. The dove is depicted to be the Holy Spirit and I now believe that the all of the birds provide a sign of the Holy Spirit and a reminder for us to not fear or be afraid.
Being able to experience the Sea of Galilee was incredible. I learned that most of Jesus’ teachings, miracles, healings were done in this area. I learned that it’s all about faith; having complete faith and trust in Jesus.
Matthew 8: 23 -27
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Have faith and let go and let God.
The Sea of Galilee is also where Jesus walked on water and being in the exact place where that happened was incredible. Again, it’s all about faith. Regardless of the circumstances, we must always have faith. God will provide.
Forever Always I Trust Him (Matthew 14:31)
Matthew 14: 22-34
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
If my words don’t describe how peaceful I felt, look at this water. This is the definition of tranquility.
Our trip was led by Raouf the guide. This man was truly heaven sent. I have never met a guide with so much knowledge of the Holy Land, God, religion, and history. I’m telling you, there is not one question that he didn’t answer and we all asked A LOT of questions! I will never forget what he said, “Before you come to Israel, you see the Bible in black and white, but when you leave Israel, you will see the Bible in color.”
The Church of Annunciation is located in Nazareth, Israel and this church is built over the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-38)
Nazareth also has the highest Christian population in all of Israel.
I had no idea what this cross was or looked like until I came to Israel. This cross is also called the Crusader Cross and it is one of the most common crosses that is seen all over The Holy Land. I now wear my Jerusalem Cross every single day; it never will come off.
What really amazed me about the Church of Annunciation are the works of art! Just about every country has also donated a piece for the church!
I wish I was able to take more pictures of my experience at the Church of the Nativity, but unfortunately there was a lot of construction going on at the time inside the church. I was however, able to get this picture. What’s amazing about this photo is that I did not even mean to take this picture as I rested my hand upon the birthplace; it was taken automatically! This was definitely one of the best feelings of my life, as I felt the Holy Spirit enter within me. An absolute MUST SEE in the Holy Land.
Jerusalem. The Holiest City on Earth. There is so much history here. Thousands and thousands of years of history and significance! It was such a blessing to have stayed in Jerusalem for 4 days of the trip. Every morning I would wake up at 5:30 AM to the Islamic call to prayer. I never heard it in person before and it was very beautiful and soothing.
It is believed that this is the exact spot where Jesus was standing and his ascension took place. (Luke 24:50-53)
Jerusalem has some of the most beautiful churches in the world. The stain glass windows and artwork leave me in awe!
In Jewish tradition, you are to write a note with a prayer on it and place it in the cracks of the wall and God will answer your prayer if you have faith. All of the men are on the left side of the wall, and all of the women are on the right side of the wall. My mother and I already had our notes prewritten and we were blessed to have placed them at the wall. The Western Wall is also considered to be one of the holiest, if not, the holiest site for the Jewish faith. The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall.
How can I describe The Church of The Holy Sepulchre? Astonishing. The Holy Spirit is everywhere here. When I walked inside, I immediately felt presence of the Holy Spirit. The church is built over where Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried and it almost feels like a small city inside. The line to get in took about 3-4 hours, but it honestly felt like 5 minutes because I was so enamored to be here.
Upon entering the Tomb, I immediately felt my body get warm and I felt a sensation throughout my entire body. I can’t even describe the feeling. It was just a warmth that went all over. I felt purified and cleansed. I just felt like a new person after experiencing this. It is indescribable and I felt the presence of Jesus right there.
This is the exact spot where Jesus was crucified. Golgotha was definitely an emotional sight for me. To see where Jesus died on the cross for our sins is something that will never leave me.
Golgotha is called place of the skull because of Adam, where sin began. Adam’s bones are in the chapel of Adam, which is directly below Golgotha. According to tradition, it is believed that when Jesus died, the crack formed during the earthquake and his blood shed down on the skull of Adam and all mankind was forgiven.
From Jerusalem, to Galilee, I experienced so many kind people from all walks of life. It was amazing to see all of the Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Holiest city on earth, Jerusalem. I have learned so much about history and so many different types of cultures and religions.
One of the most daunting fortresses in history, Masada was like no other. Built on the cliffs near the Dead Sea, it was virtually impossible to be conquered. The fortress was built for Herod the Great and it was the most advanced creation of its time. It was amazing for me to see the water system that Herod had built. Located in the desert, it rained only a handful times during the year. However, when it rained, it would bring an unlimited supply of water that drained down from the mountains. Being at the lowest point on earth, the water was so plentiful from it flooding down the mountains. What truly amazed me was that they actually steam rooms built. Seriously!? Steam rooms!? In the era before Christ? In this desolate desert? Truly amazing.
After visiting Masada, it is a must visit to experience the Dead Sea! The Dead Sea is an unforgettable experience, as it is the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea is approximately 1,412 feet below sea level and it lays between Israel and Jordan. It really is the Dead Sea, as there is nothing living at all. Fish cannot live due to the high amount of salt and minerals. However, there are so many healing properties (detox, cleansing, anti-aging, purification, acne, arthritis, wrinkles, dry skin, etc) from the salt and mud, that it is a must stop in the Holy Land!
Swimming in the Dead Sea. A feeling that I have never experienced in my life. The best way to describe my experience is like a bobber on a fishing pole; it doesn’t sink and just continues to float. No matter how hard you try to go under, you will immediately get brought right back up to the surface. Per our guide Raouf, the best way to experience the Sea, is to soak/bath for 15-20 minutes, and then come out and lather your body with the Dead Sea mud. After lathering until the mud is completely dry, it is recommended to go back into the water and wash it all off. I can tell you that my skin felt so fresh and clean. I truly felt like silk and I felt my body removed every ounce of toxin inside me. What an unforgettable experience!
Upon experiencing what the Dead Sea has to offer firsthand, I can honestly highly recommend two companies to purchase your products from. They are 100% straight from Israel and definitely the best skincare products out there. I brought home a bunch of products for Jesci and she absolutely LOVES them. There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t use them. I personally love the shaving cream from Ahava and the soaps from Revival, both the salt and mud. It’s funny, but all of my Christmas gifts were Israel themed, and everyone got something from Ahava or Revival by Qumran. My grandmother especially loves her hand creams! She was so HAPPY!
Ahava and Revival by Qumran.
After experiencing the Dead Sea, we were able to visit the Jordan River. The Jordan river is so powerful because it is reference numerous times in the Bible, but it is most famous for being where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:13-17)
In addition to getting baptized in the Jordan River, we were able to go to experience the Church of St. John the Baptist. The church is run by the Franciscans and it is a wonderful place of peaceful prayer. We were blessed to have a private service here and this experience was really special because I was asked to do the reading.
The Church of the Transfiguration is located atop of Mt. Tabor. To get to the top you can either walk, which definitely takes a couple of hours, or you can take a van. The Mountain is only about 2,000 feet above sea level, but it is a very winding road. Mount Tabor is the site where Jesus is transfigured and Moses and Elijah appear with him. (Matthew 17:1-13)
On our last day, we were able to visit the Wedding Church at Cana. This church is built where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-12).
Two married couples in our group were able to renew their vows here and it was so delightful to witness!
Our service was done in a small private chapel under the church.
Upon finishing our service and tour of the church, we were taken to taste the wine of Cana. Now I’m not a drinker and I do not like alcohol at all, but I will say that I did try the wine and it is SPECTACULAR. I tried the pomegranate wine and it is the best tasting wine. If you like wine, I highly recommend looking for an Israel wine, specifically Pomegranate. My mother and I were able to bring a bottle home and we are definitely saving it for a special occasion!
Now the wine is one thing, but the FOOD! The food was OUT OF THIS WORLD.
Can you say hummus?!
Hummus was served at every meal and this hummus is not like the hummus we have at home in the States. The hummus in the Holy Land is so clean and pure and describing it as delicious is an understatement. The other food that I became in love with are the dates. I did not realize that dates come straight from the palm trees and Israel has the best tasting dates in the world. The taste and flavor are literally to die for!
I wish I was able to take some more pictures of the food! Every single meal was like this and it was either chicken, fish, or lamb. There is absolutely no pork served whatsoever. The pig is considered to be the most ceremonially unclean animal for the Jewish and Muslim faith and it is forbidden to eat. What amazed me so much is that everyone ate so healthy and clean. All of the locals looked so healthy and I can see and understand why! I would love to eat this kind of food everyday. It’s funny because from all the food that I ate, I expected to gain a lot of weight. However, that was not the case when we came back home. A number of people actually told me, “Roman, you lost weight! I thought that you were going to look like a balloon from eating all the food! I lost at least 5-10 pounds during this trip and I did not even try. Not to mention, I think all of the walking helped too!
Unfortunately, out of my 1000+ pictures, I was not able to take a picture of our driver, Majde. I have to give a shoutout to this man. He made driving a huge tour bus in Israel like driving a smart car. God blessed him with the talent to drive and this man can drive. If you thought driving in New York City Was bad, try driving in Israel and Palestine; major skill is needed! Majde was Palestinian and he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life. I’ll never forget what he said to me upon dropping us off as the airport. He told me, “make sure you take care of your mom!” I’ll never forget that!
Going to Israel and experiencing the Holy Land has changed my life. I am a different person now. I have grown in faith and I have learned so much about God, Jesus, Israel, History, Religions, and Life. The people that I met and traveled with are now considered lifelong friends to me and I am forever grateful and thankful for the opportunity to travel on this pilgrimage with them all.
I want to thank our group leader and trip organizer, Fr. Francis Landry. He is such a good man and it was such a pleasure traveling with him. He was one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason, of why we went on the trip. He loves to travel and has organized numerous trips to The Holy Land. He made it possible for us to have service in a different church every single day. God has truly blessed him in so many ways. I’m so appreciative and blessed that we were able to travel with him and I look forward to our future travels together. The memories and experience that I have gained will be cherished for the rest of my life.
I also want to thank Father Rick Fox, who Father Landry invited to go on the trip. He was such a pleasure to travel with and I enjoyed his company throughout the trip. He shed a lot of wisdom and humor on us all. Father Rick is definitely one of the funniest priests around!
For all the doubters and those that did not want my mom or I to go on the trip, thank you for pushing us to go. This trip was the best decision of my life and I can definitely speak for my Mom and say that it was also the best trip and decision of her life, as well. I want to thank her especially for ensuring that we both went on this trip, no matter what the circumstances were. She is the definition of what having faith and trusting God is. Thank you Mom!
Reading this blog and seeing my pictures do not do justice.
YOU have to experience Israel and the Holy Land yourself!
If the opportunity presents itself, BOOK IT!
Regardless of your faith and what you believe, make Israel and The Holy Land your next destination; your life will be changed forever.
Raouf, was right when he said that after experiencing The Holy Land, we will see the Bible in color.