Day 4:  Emmaus, The Church of the Visitation and John the Baptist’s birthplace
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The group set off early for Jerusalem, passing out of the  City of Bethlehem now surrounded by menacing walls designed to keep the Palestinians in, through the checkpoints manned by armed Israeli soldiers, onto the almost deserted roads of Jerusalem; on the Sabbath, Orthodox Jewry forbids the use of cars.  Arriving at Jaffa Gate, the group walked to the Church of the Latin Patriarch for morning Mass celebrated by Fr Patrick and Fr Mervyn.(Click here for video: sanctus)  The Gospel reading from Luke 1 reflected the day’s programme – the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth and the wonderful words of the Magnificat.  Fr Patrick drew out parallels with the Old Testament, reflecting that Abraham’s wife Sarah also conceived in old age.

After Mass, the group had free time to explore Jerusalem before lunch: some revisited The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some the Western Wall, and others the network of souks and stalls in the narrow streets, busy with weekend visitors.

After lunch, the pilgrims drove to Abu Ghosh, the village traditionally regarded as one of the most likely locations of the Biblical Emmaus “about seven miles from Jerusalem”, to the St Mary of the Resurrection Abbey.  The Abbey is run by two groups, Benedictine Brothers and Sisters, living in separate communities in the beautifully tended and colourful grounds (photograph left).  The group read the passage from Luke 24 of “two of them going to a village called Emmaus”, and their encounter with a stranger who encouraged them to express their sadness at the things which had taken place in Jerusalem.  It was only later, at the breaking of the bread, that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus.  Fr Mervyn (photograph right) reflected that Jesus is always with us on our own journeys in life although, especially in times of desolation, we fail to recognise his presence.  It is at these times, when there is only one set of footprints in the sand, that God is carrying us through our sadness.  The group then visited the beautiful Church (photograph left) and sang Make me a Channel of your Peace, the sound echoing around the frescoed Church walls and high ceiling.

From Emmaus, the group drove to Ein Karem, by tradition the place of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.  Climbing 115 long steps up to the Church of the Visitation, the group found itself on a wide piazza with walls lined with the Magnificat written in many different languages (photograph right).  Pilgrims heard the Passage from Luke 1 read out, and then all joined in the words of the Magnificat in English, reading from the panel on the wall.  Parishioners Gizel, Cleo and Rocel (photograph left) then read out the Magnificat in Filipino also from a panel on the wall.  There was a beautiful mosaic high on the Church wall, partly in shade, showing Mary journeying from Nazareth to Ein Karem by donkey (photograph right), and inside the Church itself there were wonderful mosaics displayed high on the walls (photograph left).

From here, the group walked to the Church of the Birth of John the Baptist, by tradition commemorating the place of his birth.  The group heard a reading from Luke 1, on Zechariah’s insistence that the baby be called John, and all joined in the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, written in many languages on tablets displayed on the walls surrounding the Church (photograph below).  Pilgrims then visited the Church to venerate the small shrine commemorating the place where John the Baptist was born (photograph right).