The Custody of the Holy Land encourages pilgrimages linked to the Holy Places, of which the Franciscan friars have been the guardians for over eight centuries, according to the wishes and the mandate of the Universal Church. The Commissaries of the Holy Land on behalf of the Custody and at its service, promote spiritual journeys to those Holy Places which St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Order of Friars Minor, visited in 1219 and to which the Franciscans have accompanied pilgrims from all over the world for centuries.
The suggested pilgrimages promoted and proposed by the Commissaries of the Holy Land include both itineraries of eight days to the Holy Places and pilgrimages inspired by Biblical routes which include visits in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. The pilgrims who choose a pilgrimage promoted by the Commissaries at the service of the Custody of the Holy Land stay in the Casae Novae, Franciscan accommodation facilities situated near some of the main Shrines.
Since 2015, the Pilgrimages Department of the Custody of the Holy Land in Rome has been under the management of the Fondazione Terra Santa. The Rome office continues and will continue to work, following a long and consolidated tradition, as a centre of animating and promoting pilgrimages to the Holy Land and the Christian Orient, at the service and in close collaboration with the various Commissariats of the Holy Land scattered throughout the world.
Setting off for a pilgrimage in the Holy Land, through the Commissariats of the Custody, means contributing to the Franciscan mission in the Holy Places. All the work carried on for centuries by the friars of the Custody is made possible thanks to a network which contributes all over the world to supporting the Christian presence in the Holy Land and to the maintenance of the Holy Places.
This website IS NOT A TRAVEL AGENCY and we do not organize pilgrimages: please contact the Commissaries of the Holy Land nearest to you to plan your trip.
Here you can consult some of the routes proposed by the Commissaries of the Holy Land, that can be useful in planning a pilgrimage. These itineraries not only cover the places that mark out the memory of the presence of Jesus in the Holy Land, but also offer the chance to get to know fragments of the long history of this country and to discover its thousand faces. Together with the references to the Gospel, practical information is given in this section on the ideal length of a stay, on the individual stages of the journey and on the places of the programmes suggested by the various Commissariats.
In the footsteps of Jesus
Ideal period of stay: 9 days/ 8 nights “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means leas among the rulers of Judah; Since from you shall come a ruler Who is to shepherd my people Israel”. (Matthew 2, 6)
In the footsteps of Jesus
Ideal period of stay: 9 days/8 nights
1st day: Bethlehem (Basilica of the Nativity – Milk Grotto – Shepherds’ Field)
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means leas among the rulers of Judah;
Since from you shall come a ruler
Who is to shepherd my people Israel”. (Matthew 2, 6)
This itinerary starts from the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Nativity, built by Constantine in the 4th century. Here you can visit the grotto where, according to tradition, the Child Jesus was born. Going along the large central square, about 500 metres on the right of the Basilica, there is the Milk Grotto where, legend has it, some drops of milk fell as Mary was nursing the Child and the whole grotto turned white.
Another place that recalls the birth of Jesus is the Shepherds’ Field in the present-day Arab village of Beit Sahur which is where, according to Christian tradition, the angel announced the news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.
In Bethlehem you can stay at “Casa Nova”, the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
2nd day: Bethlehem (Herodium), Qumran and the Dead Sea
About 10 km from Bethlehem, on a cone-shaped hill, there stands the large fortress-residence of Herod the Great. The view from the top is splendid and the archaeological remains of Herod’s palace are impressive. As the second stop on the tour we suggest the archaeological site of Qumran, about 2 km from the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. It is famous because of the discovery of some ancient manuscripts from the 2nd century BC, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These manuscripts are apparently Biblical texts (such as that of the prophet Isaiah) and descriptive texts on the life of the community of Qumran dating back to 150 BC. Lastly, when you are here, it is difficult to resist the temptation of bathing in the very salty waters of the Dead Sea.
3rd day: Nazareth (Basilica of the Annunciation – Church of St. Joseph – the Spring of the Virgin Mary), Tabor
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.” (Luke 1, 26)
The capital of Galilee, Nazareth is where Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived on their return from Egypt. Here you can visit the Basilica of the Annunciation built in the 1960s and which houses the Grotto of the Annunciation, the place where the angel appeared to Mary. The Church of St. Joseph is about 200 metres from the Basilica and, by popular tradition, this church is identified as the home of the Holy Family. From here you can take the main street in Nazareth to visit the Spring of the Virgin Mary, the source where the women of the village would go to draw water and where Mary had the first apparition of the angel according to the Protoevangelium of James.
For the last stopping place on this third day, we recommend you go to Mount Tabor, the “mountain of Light” where the transfiguration of Jesus took place.
In Nazareth you can stay at the Casa Nova of the Franciscans.
4th day: Lake Tiberias (Magdala – Tabgha – Capharnaum), Mount of Beatitudes
Leaving from Nazareth, you can easily visit Lake Tiberias or the “Sea of Galilee”, to mention just two of its many names. This fascinating lake, surrounded by barren hills, recalls many events in the Gospels. It was on its shores that Jesus started his public ministry and where he performed many of his miracles. There are many places and sanctuaries, all very near to one another, that you can visit on the lake: the Primacy of Peter, the archaeological site of Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, the church of Tabgha which evokes the multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. In Capharnaum you can admire the excavations that are bringing to the light the village where Jesus lived and preached and the church, the Memorial of St. Peter, built on the remains of Peter’s true house. From here you can go a little inland and climb the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave his sermon on the evangelical beatitudes.
Also in Tiberias you can stay at the Casa Nova of the Franciscans.
5th day: Jericho, Bethany, Jerusalem
And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice,
“Lazarus, come out!”
The dead man came out,
tied hand and foot with burial bands,
and his face was wrapped in a cloth .
So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go!”
(John 11, 43-44)
Your first stop on this fifth day can be Jericho, so going back to Jerusalem. Yerikho, in Hebrew Luna, is the oldest city known to man and is the lowest below sea level. Archaeological studies have allowed dating the first settlements to around 8000 BC. The Herodian Jericho is the one Jesus knew and it was here that he met Zacchaeus (Luke 19, 1-10). Here you can see the sycamore mentioned in the Gospel and the archaeological site with the ruins of ancient Jericho, Tel es-Sultan. From here, if you have time, you can visit a place that is really very special for its landscape and location: the Greek Orthodox monastery of the “Quarantine” linked to the memory of the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. We cannot omit suggesting a very important place for Christians: the place where Jesus was baptised on the River Jordan: the site was recently improved and is open to the public.
From here, returning to Jerusalem, you can stop at Bethany and the house of the friends of Jesus: Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
Back in Jerusalem, we suggest you take a fantastic walk over the roofs of the Old City. It is a very special angle that gives you an overall view of the quarters into which it is divided and of the spectacular churches, mosques and synagogues.
In Jerusalem you can stay at the Casa Nova of the franciscans.
6th day: Jerusalem (Via Dolorosa – Holy Sepulchre – Kotel and esplanade – Mount Zion)
You can devote the morning of the sixth day to the Old City of Jerusalem and in particular to the Holy Places. Starting from the Church of the Flagellation, where the Via Crucis starts, along the Via Dolorosa with its 14 stations. Some of the most notable ones are: the 3rd station in where Jesus fell for the first time, at the 4th he met Mary, at the 6th Veronica wiped his face and at the 7th station where Jesus fell for the second time, you can see the relic of the Column of the Flagellation.
The last station of the Via Crucis coincides with the Holy Sepulchre or the Basilica of the Resurrection. This is perhaps the holiest and dearest place for the whole of Christianity. In the time of Jesus, it was a place that was outside the walls of the city and probably used for burials. In the Basilica, there is Calvary (the Latin name for Golgotha), the Stone of Unction on which the body of Jesus was laid and anointed according to Jewish tradition, and the Empty Tomb.
“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here! Behold the place where they laid him.” Mark 16, 6 -7
The holy place par excellence, this time for the Jews, the Wailing Wall (Kotel Hama’aravi in Hebrew) is an original part of the western containment wall built by Herod in 20 BC to support the esplanade of the Second Temple, the temple mentioned in the Gospels. Here you will see many Jews, with their heads covered, praying facing the Wall, in two separate areas for men and women (in exactly the same way as in a synagogue).
You can visit the esplanade where today there are Muslim places of worship: the beautiful and grandiose Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, to which unfortunately access is prohibited.
Going first through the Jewish Quarter and then the Armenian one, through the Date of Zion, you reach Mount Zion. Here, just outside the walls, there is the Cenacle, the place of the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles and the apparition of Jesus Risen. Near the Holy cenacle there is also the Dormition Abbey and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, commemorating the place where Peter denied Jesus.
7th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives – Gethsemane – Ain Karem)
“Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” Luke 24, 50-51
You can devote the morning to visiting the Mount of Olives, whilst in the afternoon we recommend seeing the small village of Ain Karem.
The Mount of Olives is the site of many events narrated in the Gospels: the Ascension of Jesus to heaven (edicule of the Ascension), the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer to the Apostles (the Pater Noster grotto), Jesus’ tears about Jerusalem (Dominus Flevit), Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus (Basilica of the Agony and the Olive Grove), the burial place of his mother (the Tomb of the Virgin Mary).
The view from the top of the mount over the city is, to say the least, extraordinary.
About 8 kms. From Jerusalem, clinging to a valley full of woods, stands Ain Karem where, Christian tradition has it, Elizabeth lived with her husband Zachariah and where John the Baptist was born. Here you can visit the church of the Visitation, which commemorates the Virgin Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth and the Church of St. John the Baptist.
8th day: Yad Vashem, Emmaus el-Qubeibeh
For visitors to Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, the museum dedicated to the Shoah and standing on the Hill of Remembrance, is a compulsory stopping place. Yad Vashem means “a monument and a name” and is an expression that comes from the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name […] an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them” (Is 56, 5).
It is a moving visit which will definitely make an indelible impression in your memory.
In the afternoon, you can go to Emmaus el-Qubeibeh, west of Jerusalem and where Jesus appeared after the resurrection to the disciples Cleophas and Simeon. Here there is a sanctuary which commemorates this event and which has the remains of a Roman house (the house of Cleophas according to tradition), the Franciscan convent next to the church, a Roman road and the remains of a village of Crusader times, still recognizable with its houses and shops.
9th day: Caesarea Maritima
You can devote the morning of the last day to the ancient Caesarea Maritima, considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel. It was Herod the Great who built the city in around 20 BC with its magnificent port and dedicated it to Caesar. In Roman times, it was an important city for trade and political, cultural and religious events. Peter baptized the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family. You can visit the Crusader citadel with the port, the Roman amphitheatre, the Herodian aqueduct and many remains of the Roman-Byzantine period.
In the Holy Land following the Bible
Duration: 8 days-7 nights “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing”. Genesis 12, 2-5
In the Holy Land following the Bible
Duration: 8 days-7 nights
1st day: Hebron – Be’er Sheva
“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing”. Genesis 12, 2-5
We suggest you start this itinerary in one of the oldest cities of the Holy Land, Hebron. It is a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims because it is the site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and where some important historical events took place: Abraham planted his tent here after having been separated from Lot, he buried Sara in the cave in the plot of land bought from a Hittite and Abraham was buried in the same cave by his sons.
From here it is easy to reach Be’er Sheva, which is about 45 km to the south. This city, which at the time of the birth of the State of Israel, had only 2000 inhabitants, is today a major urban centre and a symbol of how the Israelis have succeeded in dominating the desert, turning it into a flourishing and productive place.
There are three main things to see in Be’er Sheva: the settlement of the Copper Stone Age (4000 BC) of Abu Matar, Bir es-Safadi another site where later settlements have been brought to the light and Tel es-Seba, or the city of the patriarchs, as mentioned in the Bible.
2nd day: Sinai (Mount of Moses and St. Catherine’s Monastery)
The second day of this itinerary can be dedicated to Mount Sinai (Mount Horeb in the Bible), where Moses received the tables of the law. Standing at 2285 metres above sea level, Mount Sinai rises majestically in a lunar landscape, dominating all the other mountains that surround St. Catherine’s Monastery.
The view that accompanies you as you walk to the summit of the mountain is unforgettable and, despite all the tourists and pilgrims, will leave you with a sensation of peace and serenity.
St. Catherine’s Monastery is at the foot of the mountain, in the valley which, according to tradition, is where Moses met Jethro’s daughters, near the well which today is next to the Monastery. Inside the walls, there is the church of the Transfiguration which dates back to the 6th century and where you can admire one of the oldest mosaics in the world, created in around 565-570.
3rd day: Avdat, Shivta, Masada
Travelling up the Sinai peninsula, you can stop to visit the ancient Nabataean cities. The first one is Avdat, built in the middle of the desert in the 2nd century BC, as a stopping place for the caravans on their way towards the Mediterranean coast from Petra. Buried in the sand, the ruins have remained virtually intact. From here, you can visit the second Nabataean city, shown by the excavations to have been particularly important in the Byzantine period. The hypothesis given the most credit by scholars is that this city was a large agricultural settlement, with the cistern that channelled rainwater to irrigate the fields still existing.
The last stop on this third day is Masada, from the Hebrew “citadel-fortress”, a mountain standing 500 metres above the Dead Sea with the peak that Herod had flattened. The fame of Masada is linked to a particularly important episode in the history of ancient Israel: the Zealots put up great resistance to the long Roman siege but preferred to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans.
4th day: Ein Gedi, Qumran, Bethlehem
“Do not be afraid; for behold,
I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people:
for today, in the city of David
a Saviour has been born for you who is Messiah
and Lord”. Luke 2, 10-12
Continuing northwards, about 18 km from Masada, you come to an oasis with luxuriant vegetation, wild animals and fabulous springs. Ein Gedi, “the kid’s spring” in Hebrew, stands on the west bank of the Dead Sea and is the Biblical place where David spared Saul in the cave according to the episode narrated by Samuel. The most important spring is not surprisingly called Ein David, a natural waterfall, but apart from the natural beauties there are also the remains of settlements such as Tel Goren which dates back to the 7th century BC and an ancient synagogue which still has its mosaic floor. In the area there is also a Kibbutz where it is possible to stay overnight and take advantage of the free beach for a visit to the Dead Sea.
From here, about 30 km to the north, you reach Qumran: the famous site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found and which are now on display in the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. The site has remains which are evidence of the presence of a Hebrew sect (the Essenes), believed to have lived there from 150 BC to 68 AD when they were chased out by the Roman invaders.
Lastly, passing through Jerusalem, which is the shortest way, you can end your itinerary in the early afternoon in Bethlehem. We suggest you stay at least one night here to better enjoy the local culture and naturally to visit the most important attractions: the Basilica of the Nativity, St. Catherine’s Church, the Milk Grotto, the market (Suq) and the old city, Rachel’s Tomb, the Shepherds’ Field and Herodium.
In Bethlehem you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
5th day: Jerusalem (Temple Mount – Western Wall - Via Dolorosa – Holy Sepulchre - Mount Zion)
Commonly known as the Esplanade, Temple Mount is the location of the mosques that make Jerusalem the third holy city for Muslims all over the world. Here you can admire the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The design of the esplanade dates back to the first Muslim conquest (1400 years ago) but the history of this place goes back much further in time. This was where the First Jewish Temple built by Solomon in around 1000 BC stood. The Western Wall, better known as the “wailing wall” to non-Jews, was the ancient wall supporting the Second Temple. Visitors can immediately see the difference between the large blocks of Herod’s time (20 BC) and the small bricks of the Byzantine and Muslim periods.
From here you can go back to the Muslim Quarter, where the first Station of the Cross is, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus when he carried the cross to Calvary. Every year, pilgrims carry a real wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa or Via Crucis, fulfilling a vow they made before coming to the Holy Land. The Franciscan friars lead a similar procession every Friday afternoon. This will take you, as already mentioned, to the most sacred place for Christians, the Holy Sepulchre. A witness in stone of the last hours of the life of Jesus, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre contains in a single structure the place where he was crucified (Calvary), the place where his body was laid (the Stone of Unction) and the tomb where he was laid and from which he was resurrected.
Just outside the walls, south of the Old City, there is Mount Zion, where you can visit the Cenacle, the Church of the Dormition of Mary, David’s Tomb and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.
In Jerusalem you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
6th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Yad Vashem)
You can devote the whole of the morning of the sixth day to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane. Gebel al-Tur (the holy mountain) for the Arabs, it offers one of the most beautiful views of Jerusalem. On the way up, you cannot fail to notice the valley of Josaphat, where today there is the oldest Jewish cemetery. This is where, according to the prophecy in the Book of Zechariah, the dead will be resuscitated when the Messiah returns on the Day of Judgement. The Mount of Olives has many sanctuaries which recall important events in the life and death of Jesus: the edicule of the Ascension, the Church of Pater Noster, Dominus Flevit and Mary’s Tomb. If you have time and it is open, it is worth visiting the Orthodox church of Mary Magdalene, which stands immersed in the greenery with its typical onion-shaped domes.
On the other hand, the Church of All the Nations or the Basilica of the Agony is at the foot of the mount. It was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and financed by many different countries. The church is in the middle of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. In the afternoon, you can go to the museum of Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance.
7th day: Beit She’an, Tiberias and surrounding area (Magdala – Tabgha – Capharnaum)
“He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Peter was distressed […] and he said to him:
Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep!” John 21, 15-17
Moving slightly northwards, the seventh day can start with a stop in Beit She’an, which includes a very fine national park with archaeological excavations of various eras. It is the Biblical city of the battle between the Philistines and the Israelites in which Saul, David’s friend, and his three sons lost their lives.
Tiberias is quite near to Beit She’an and it is worth stopping there to visit the fascinating church of St. Peter and enjoy some fish on the shores of the lake, which has so many memories of Jesus. From Tiberias, you can travel north along the same shore to reach Magdala, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene and brought to the light by the Franciscan excavations in 1971.
Continuing from here, you come to Tabgha, at the foot of the Mount of the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, shown in the famous Byzantine mosaic that decorates the floor of the church. Not far from this church, the Primacy of Peter is the Franciscan sanctuary that commemorates the moment when Jesus conferred the primacy on Peter.
Last, but not least, is the “city of Jesus”: Capharnaum. According to the gospels, this is where Jesus lived during the period of preaching and activity in the Galilee. The Christian presence was apparently very strong there from as early as the 2nd century. Here the excavations unearthed the synagogue, from after Jesus’ time, and Peter’s house, the remains of which can be admired directly from the octagonal Church that was built on top of it.
In Tiberias, you can stay at the Franciscan house for pilgrims.
8th day: Nazareth
The last stop on this itinerary is dedicated to Nazareth, the capital of Galilee and the third most important city for Christians after Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Nazareth is a welcoming town, with a lively and colourful atmosphere. This is where the annunciation took place and where Jesus spent his childhood. The grandiose Basilica of the Annunciation which commemorates these events is a modern building but stands on the spot of the first Byzantine basilica of the 5th century, the 11th century Crusader basilica and the Franciscan church of 1730. This was where, according to tradition, Mary’s house stood, next to which a Judeo-Christian synagogue was built in the 1st century of which a baptismal font remains and is now in the basilica.
A few yards north of the basilica there is the church of St. Joseph, where Joseph’s house is believed to have stood.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1, 30-34
The songs of my pilgrimage
Ideal duration: 10 days/9 nights "Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage." Psalm 119,54
The songs of my pilgrimage
Ideal duration: 10 days/9 nights
"Thy statutes have been my songs
in the house of my pilgrimage." Psalm 119,54
1st day : Be’er Sheva or Bersabea (well of the covenant or of the seven ewe lambs)
Today Be’er Sheva stands in a large plain in the middle of the Negev Desert and is the most important industrial and commercial centre in the area, with a university (Ben Gurion University) specialized in the Faculties of Agriculture.
It recalls the covenant of Abraham with Abimelech, king of Gerara, when the patriarch gave the king seven ewe lambs to buy the property rights to the well he had dug in the area (Gen 21,15-34).
Other Biblical episodes of fundamental importance took place near Be’er Sheva, including when Abraham drove out the slave Hajar and her son Ismail and how they wandered in the desert of Be’er Sheva (Gen 21,14-21), the meeting and marriage of Isaac and Rebecca and the birth of their sons Esau and Jacob (Gen 24,61 ff).
2nd day: Negev Desert (Mamshit, ‘Avedat, Mizpe Ramon)
A visit to the Negev Desert is concentrated mainly around three centres: Mamshit, ‘Avedat, Mizpe Ramon.
Mamshit, in Arabic Kurnub, is today an extensive area of Roman-Byzantine ruins, with traces of the Nabataeans and perhaps from even earlier periods. There is a Nabataean house and some characteristic tombs crowned with small pyramids ad a building from the Roman era, probably from the time of Hadrian. The Byzantine period was the most prosperous for the city, when the fortified Mamshit offered protection and a halting place for caravans on their way to ‘Aravà (valley south of the Dead Sea), Eilat and the Red Sea. The remains of two churches can also be admired from this period, one of which was built by monks and its three entrances, the apse, a mosaic floor with floral designs and the baptistery can still be seen. The other is almost intact and contains a large mosaic covering the whole floor and is the finest mosaic in the whole of the Negev as far as the richness of ornamentation and exquisite craftsmanship are concerned.
‘Avedat is in the centre of the Negev and contains the remains of three different historical periods: Nabataean, Roman and Byzantine. Relics of pottery, remains of the city and the acropolis have been found from the Nabataean period, dating back to the 2nd century BC. After the destruction in Roman times and the building of pagan temples, the area of the acropolis underwent great transformation in the Byzantine period, when the pagan buildings were transformed into churches, the ruins of which can still be seen.
On the road that crosses the Biblical desert of Zin, you can stop at Mizpe Ramon, climbing Mount Ramon, from where there is a marvellous view of the desert and you can admire the splendid geological formations where fossils of prehistoric animals and marine reptiles have been found. An open-air museum of abstract sculptures has also been created in this panorama.
3rd day: Masada, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea
The fortress of Masada lies on the western shore of the Dead Sea in a desert area and stands isolated on a rock that is completely separate from all the other surrounding rocks. Two paths, one to the east and the other to the west, lead to the fortress. Starting the climb one hour before dawn, you can enjoy, from the top of the ruins, the view of the rising sun. The fortress can easily be reached today by cable-car.
Masada is famous for the siege by the Romans of the last Zealots, who sought refuge in the fortress after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, organizing their daily lives there. In the northernmost point, the evocative ruins of the private residence of Herod can also be admired. The history of the fortress the buildings and the events that took place there have come down to us thanks to the descriptions by Flavius Josephus and the archaeological excavations on the site.
At the end of the visit, that will take up the first part of the day, you can continue on the road along the Dead Sea and stop for a short visit at the oasis of ‘Ein Gedi, before reaching the shores of the large salty lake. David’s spring is the most important spring in the oasis: falling from the rocks with a beautiful waterfall it forms a small lake and is surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. You can visit the grottos and the museum in the kibbutz, where there are the most important relics found in the area and which is becoming the main centre for archaeological research in the Dead Sea region.
There will certainly be enough time left, at the end of the day, to bathe in the very special waters of the Dead Sea. It is about 400 metres below sea level and the strong salinity of the water (up to 25%) prevents any form of life. The plateau of Moab rises to the east with, in the north, the Biblical Mount Nebo and, in the centre, the deep depression of the River Arnon which, with the Jordan, is one of the most important tributaries of the Dead Sea. Here, the rocks overhanging the waters create fantastic effects of the light, in particular in the evening.
4th day: Qumran, Jericho, Jerusalem
Although never directly named in the Bible, Qumran is of great Biblical interest for the important discoveries made there between 1947 and 1958. Important documents written of sheets of parchment or papyrus, called the Qumran Scrolls or the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found here in grottos along the rocky walls, together with domestic relics. Through these, it has been possible to learn the history and the everyday habits of the community that settled in Qurman between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. From the place and the system of live revealed by the “Rules of the community”, one of the scrolls found here, it is thought to be the sect of the Essenes, a group that separated from official Judaism and lived in a community regime with a strict discipline and dedicated to a scrupulous and literal observation of the Law.
Leaving the Dead Sea behind you, you can reach Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, which the Bible takes as a symbol of all the Canaanite peoples, the enemies of Israel (Joshua 24,11). After a brief stop at the large sycamore that recalls the episode when Jesus met Zacchaeus (Luke 19,1-10), you can visit the ruins of the ancient Jericho, excavated in the Tell es-Sultan, not far from the modern city and towards the mountain, and those of the evangelical or Roman Jericho, towards the aqueduct of Wadi el-Qelt, not yet fully uncovered by the archaeological excavations. Particularly impressive is the visit to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Quarantine, set in the rock, half-way up and which can be reached following the road for Tell es-Sultan by a practical cable-car, from which there is an unforgettable view, from the Jordan Valley to the Moab mountains. This monastery, built at the end of the 19th century, for the hermits of the desert, recalls the Messianic temptations, narrated in the Gospels (Matthew 4,1-11). Not far from here, you can visit the site of the Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1,9-11). The site also commemorates the prophets Elisha and Elijah who miraculously crossed the Jordan and, on the other side of the river, Elijah was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2,11 ff).
If possible, you should stop and buy the delicious fruit from Jericho: grapefruit, dates, bananas and many other types.
On the road from Jericho to Jerusalem you can admire the places where the parable of the Good Samaritan narrated by Jesus took place (Luke 10,25-37).
In Jerusalem there is the “Casa Nova”, the house for pilgrims, where you can enjoy Franciscan hospitality.
5th day: Jerusalem (Ophel, City of David, Museum of Israel)
The Ophel is the hill south of the Temple on which the ancient Jebusite city stood, also called the Fortress of Zion and then the City of David. David conquered this area to found Jerusalem. Since the end of the 19th century, archaeologists have been excavating to bring the Jerusalem of the Bible to light. The City of David Archaeological Garden has now been built there, which follows the Kidron Valley and still has remains from the Jebusites, the time of David and the Hasmoneans. The system to supply the city with water was very interesting, conveying the water from the nearby source of Ghihon to a large well,(called Warren’s Shaft) or Ezekiah’s Tunnel.
In the time of Jesus, the whole area of the Ophel was within the walled part of the city. Today the ancient Ophel is in part covered by modest Arab homes. The road that goes down from Mount Zion and which continues towards the Kidron Valley passes in front of the Mograbi Gate, or Dung Gate, through which you enter into the Old City. On the left of the road there are the important excavations on the southern buttresses of the Temple (Ophel Archaeological Garden) and passes near the south-east corner of the Temple, called the Pinnacle. The Muslim cemetery lies along the eastern walls.
The Ophel Archaeological Garden can be visited going east and following the walls of the city on the outside. On the walls supporting the Esplanade, three orders of gates can be seen: the Double Gate, in part covered by Turkish buildings; the Triple Gate in the centre; the Simple Gate, near the Pinnacle. The Double and Triple Gates gave access to the Esplanade of the Temple from an outer road and a grandiose flight of steps. Between the flights, pools were dug out of the rock for the ritual ablutions. In front of the walls, below Solomon’s Stables, there are the remains of Byzantine houses and a hospice of the 5th century AD. Lastly, near the Pinnacle, the ruins of a tower dating back to the time of the kings can be seen.
The afternoon can be dedicated to visiting the Israel Museum, the largest cultural institution in Israel, including several building divided into 4 sections, plus the Department of Antiquities and Museums with its Library. The most characteristic part is the Sanctuary of the Book, which houses the scrolls discovered in Qumran, including the complete text of the prophet Isaiah, the letters of Bar Kokheba written during the second Jewish revolt, the scrolls discovered in Masada and other ancient parchments of immense historical interest. The other sections include the Art Garden which, lying on a hill, has sculptures of many contemporary Jewish artists; the very rich collection of objects of Jewish religious art and Middle Eastern art, with both ancient works and works by modern authors; the Archaeological Museum, which has pieces from life in Palestine starting from prehistory, then going on to the Canaanite, ancient Biblical, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Crusader periods to the Muslim-Mameluke period of the 14th century.
6th day: Jerusalem (Esplanade of the Temple, Jewish Quarter, Mount Zion)
First thing in the morning you will go to the Esplanade of the Temple, the area which originally formed the base of the Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed in 70 AD and now the religious heart of Islam. Here (which is the whole sacred Muslim area or the area of the Temple), where Herod’s Temple stood in the time of Jesus, the two Mosques were built in the Muslim epoch by the caliph ‘Abd el-Malik (about 700 AD), namely the Mosque of Omar, or the “Dome of the Rock”, and the Mosque of Al Aqsa. Today they can be admired only from the outside.
The Mosque of Omar is the oldest Muslim monument in Palestine and combined Arab architecture with Persian and Byzantine art. The sacred rock which, according to Muslim tradition, the trumpets of the Last Judgement will play, emerges at the centre of the building. Under the rock, the cavern said to be the place where David, Solomon, Elijah and Muhammad prayed, can be visited. This place, already called Mount Moriah in the Jewish tradition (2 Chronicles 3,1), is recognized as the territory of Moriah mentioned in chapter 23 of Genesis about the sacrifice of Isaac.
You then continue towards the Jewish Quarter which stands behind the Kotel (Wailing Wall), part of the Western Wall which supported the area on which the Temple stood and which represents the spiritual and historical heart of Judaism. From here, on foot, you can reach Batei Mahaseh Square, the remains of the Nea Church (a Justinian basilica of the 5th – 6th centuries, shown on the Mosaic of Madaba as closing the Cardo), the four Sephardite synagogues, the Synagogue of Ramban, the Synagogue of the Perushim (after 1967 called Hurvà) and the Cardo, already a Roman road in the time of Aelia Capitolina (135-330 AD) which divided the city starting from the north (Damascus Gate) to the south, near the present-day Zion Gate.
The afternoon will begin with the visit to Mount Zion, which originally indicated the stronghold conquered by David who made it his capital and which then became particularly dear to Christianity as here there is the Cenacle, where Jesus celebrated Easter with his Apostles and instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper (Mark 14,22-25), He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection (John 20,19-23) and where the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost (Acts 2,1-12). This is also where the life of the Church began and where the first council was held.
In the lower part of the complex there is a cenotaph, called the Tomb of David, the object of religious veneration by the Jews. The antechamber of the Tomb of David corresponds to the former chapel dedicated to the memory of the “washing of the feet” (John 13,4-17) and is currently adapted for use as a synagogue. After going through the old Franciscan cloister, you go towards the steps that lead to the Cenacle (upper room), a large room divided into two naves by majestic columns in Gothic style. After various vicissitudes, the Cenacle was restored by the Franciscans when they arrived in the Holy Land (1333) and who also built alongside a small convent which can still be seen today. Transformed into a mosque, the Cenacle today belongs to the Israelis who allow visits by pilgrims, although the “status quo” prevents any liturgical function from being performed there.
A short distance away from the building there is the Franciscan church called “ad Coenaculum”, which offers visitors the chance to celebrate Holy Mass.
Returning to the road of the Cenacle and turning right, you will reach the Basilica of the Dormition of Mary, built in the early 20th century and in the care of the German Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Beuron. The church commemorates the place where, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary died, narrated in an ancient apocryphal text. In the crypt, there is a beautiful wood and ivory statue of Mary sleeping which recalls the episode.
Going down the slope of Mount Zion, you can visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which evokes the evangelical episode of Peter’s denial after the arrest of Jesus (Mark 14,53-54.66-72). The church is believed to stand near the place where the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was taken immediately after arrest. In the crypt you can visit a complex of grottos where, traditionally, Jesus is believed to have been locked up on the night of his arrest, until being taken to Pilate the next morning. Outside the church it is important to stop ad admire and go down the long flight of steps from Roman times which went down towards the Kidron Valley and which Jesus also probably went down on the evening of Holy Thursday, after the Last Supper, when he went down with the apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane.
7th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives, Church of St. Anne, Via Dolorosa, Basilica of the Resurrection)
Separated from the city of Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley, the Mount of Olives runs parallel with the hill of the Temple and the Ophel. It is particularly important for Christians, as this is where fundamental episodes in the life of Jesus took place and he crossed it several times on his way between Jerusalem, Bethany and Jericho.
From the top of the hill you can go down towards the Holy City making several stops on the way: at the Edicìule of the Ascension, which stands where the apostles saw Jesus risen ascend to heaven (Acts 1,3-12); the Church of Pater Noster, where you can visit the Cloister with the majolica tones that shown the Lord’s Prayer in several languages and the grotto that recalls the place where the Lord’s Prayer was taught; at the spot for a panoramic view of Jerusalem, just above the Jewish cemetery; at the small Franciscan church of Dominus Flevit, with its Byzantine mosaics and remains of an ancient necropolis; at the Russian Orthodox church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene; at Gethsemane, with the Grotto of the Arrest and the Franciscan Basilica of the Agony, which stands next to the Olive Grove and where remains of the ancient rich Byzantine mosaic have been found and the rock of the agony of Jesus can be seen, in front of the great altar and lastly, at the Church of Mary’s Tomb, which has in its lower part the block of stone on which Mary’s body was laid after her death.
In the afternoon, you can visit the Church of St. Anne, one of the best preserved Crusader monuments, built on the place where an ancient tradition places the house of St. Joachim and St. Anne and therefore the birthplace of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the same complex there are also the ruins of the Probatic Pool, where the Gospel of St. John sets the first work of Jesus, the healing of the cripple, i.e. the first miracle as the work of the Father bearing witness to the Son (John 5,1-9).
From here you can follow the Via Dolorosa, taken by Jesus, after being sentenced to death, towards Calvary. You will come first of all to the complex of the Antonia Fortress, where several buildings stand today: the Franciscan Convent and Church of the Flagellation, with the adjoining Biblical school (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum); the Muslim school that marks the beginning of the Via Crucis with the condemnation by Pilate of Jesus (John 19,12-16); the Arch of Ecce Homo; the Convent of Our Lady of Zion , where the Litostroto (from the Greek: paving) can be seen, the place opposite the Praetorium where, according to tradition, Jesus was put on trial by Pilate, whipped and mocked by the soldiers (John 18,28 ff). You can then continue along the Via Crucis through the streets of the Old Coty, stopping at the various stations marked along the way, until you reach the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where inside you can complete the itinerary of the Via Crucis with the last 5 stations.
The visit to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is one of the central moments of the pilgrimage. The present Church, very rich in history and culture, deserves a detailed visit. Here only some brief indications are given.
As soon as you enter the vestibule of the basilica, a staircase on the right leads to Calvary, divided into two chapels, the first owned by the Latins (Chapel of the Crucifixion) with an altar dominated by a mosaic showing the scene of the crucifixion of Jesus and the other owned by the Greek Orthodox (the Chapel of Calvary), which has in the back the scene of Christ crucified and the altar of which rises directly above the rock of Calvary. Under the altar there is a silver disc, open in the centre, which indicates the point where the cross of Christ was fixed and, by putting your hand into the slot, you can touch the stone. This is the place where, during the Via Crucis, the death of Jesus is commemorated (Mark 15,33 ff). The two chapels, Latin and Greek Orthodox, are separated by a small altar dedicated to the Mother of Sorrows, Mary suffering at the foot of the cross.
Coming down from Calvary, you will meet the Stone of Unction, a reddish coloured stone set in the floor and decorated with candlesticks and lamps. It recalls the anointment of the body of Jesus with aromatic oils after His death, before being laid in the tomb (John 19,38).
You then go towards the anastasis, which still has the fundamental structure of the Constantinian period. At the centre of the Rotunda there is the Edicule of the Holy Sepulchre, rebuilt by the Greeks in 1810 after the destruction of the previous one in a fire. Inside, the edicule is divided into two parts: the Chapel of the Angel, which is immediately in front of the opening of the tomb and where an original piece of the round stone that closed the tomb is kept and the sepulchral room, which you enter through a low entrance and that contains the original rock, now covered by a slab of marble, on which the body of Jesus was laid (John 19,41).
The itinerary in the Basilica can be completed by visiting the numerous minor chapels.
8th day: Jerusalem (Yad Vashem, Ein Karem)
The first part of this day will be devoted to a visit to the memorial and museum of Yad Vashem, dedicated to the victims of the Shoah. Yad Vashem means “a monument and a name”, according to the words of the prophet Isaiah “I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name” (Isaiah 56,5), and refers to the ceaseless work of research with which the institution is trying to return a face and a name to the over six million Jewish victims of the Shoah. Yad Vashem was built in 1953 and has recently been enlarged and modernized. You can visit the very rich museum, the many monuments and memorials in the open air, the large and moving Garden of the Righteous, where trees are planted remembering the Righteous amongst the Nations, all those who, during the Nazi-Fascist persecutions, helped Jews escape deportation and massacre. Particularly moving is the visit to the Memorial of dead Jewish children (more than one and a half million).
In the afternoon, you can continue to nearby Ein Karem, the village where, according to tradition, the priest Zachariah and his wife Elizabeth lived.
Surrounded by a forest of pines and cedar trees, Ein Karem is today a pretty town of stone houses in Arab style, now part of Jerusalem which is very close. Many people like to come here, Israelis, tourists and pilgrims, to enjoy the rural atmosphere and see some sanctuaries. The Christians, for example, always visit the Church of the Visitation and the Church of St. John the Baptist. The first stands in memory of the visit by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth after the news that the latter was expecting a baby despite her advanced age. Here Mary pronounced the Magnificat (Luke 1, 46-56) which is present on the walls of the garden in 41 languages. Another important sanctuary is the one commemorating the birth of John the Baptist who baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.
9th day: Bethlehem, Shepherds’ Field, Herodium
Bethlehem, in Hebrew Bet-Lehem (House of Bread) and in Arabic Beit Laham (House of Meat),is just a little to the south of Jerusalem, along the road that goes to Hebron, Be’er Sheva and the Negev Desert.
Your visit can begin from the Basilica of the Nativity, dedicated to the birth of Jesus (Luke 2,1-7) and which is owned today by the Latins, Greek Orthodox and Armenians. The Greeks own the Basilica, except the northern part of the transept which is the property of the Armenians. The Grotto of the Nativity is divided into two parts: the altar of the Nativity, owned by the Greeks, and the altar of the Manger (Grotto of the Magi) owned by the Latins. Next to the Basilica there is the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, with its beautiful medieval cloister and the underground grottos dedicated to St. Joseph, the Holy Innocents and to St. Jerome.
A brief visit to the nearby Milk Grotto, today transformed into a Franciscan chapel and traditionally associated with the memory where the Holy Innocents were buried (Matthew 2, 16) completes the visit to the complex.
You can also stop in two other important places: the Shepherds’ field, near the Arab village of Beit Sahur, and the Heriodion (or Herodium) where the great and sumptuous palace of Herod the Great stood, just a few kilometres from Bethlehem. In the former you will find the sanctuary designed by Barluzzi, the shape of which recalls a tent like the ones used by shepherds in the time of Jesus. This is where Christian tradition places the evangelical scene of the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the local shepherds (Luke 2, 8-20). In the same area there are numerous archaeological remains of a 4th-5th Byzantine monastery and the characteristic grotto-homes of the Herodian period, which the Franciscans have turned into chapels.
The last stop of this day can be the palace-fortress of Herodion, the name which Herod himself gave it. The hill, which today only has the ruins of what must have been a splendid and majestic residence, has the shape of a volcano and offers a spectacular view. Herod built in between 24 and 15 BC and wanted to be buried there, although no trace of his tomb remains. At the foot of the hill there was a town, some ruins of which can be seen, with another large palace and what archaeologists suppose was a hippodrome.
In Bethlehem there is the “Casa Nova”, the house for pilgrims, where you can enjoy Franciscan hospitality.
10th day: Nazareth
You can devote at least half of this last day to Nazareth, the third most important city for all Christians. Nazareth is the largest town in Galilee and the largest Arab town in Israel. One of the aspects that most strikes the pilgrim who has always imagined this place as a quiet village where Jesus spent his childhood, is the contrast with the noisy daily bustle of today. This must not necessarily be a disappointment for the visitor because this first impression will give way to the more pleasant one of its lively and welcoming atmosphere. The city is also extremely well situated for those who want to visit the nearby Christians sites, from Mount Tabor to Lake Tiberias.
Restricting yourself to the city however, in our itinerary, the Basilica of the Annunciation must be the first place to visit.
Designed by the Milanese architect Giovanni Muzio and built between 1960 and 1969, the basilica stands majestically and dominates the panorama of the whole city. According to tradition, this is where the house of Mary was and it was here that the archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin to announce that she would have conceived the Son of the Almighty (Luke 1, 31-33).
In the church there is the famous Grotto of the Annunciation or the grotto-house of Mary. Here the first Christians had a sort of synagogue to meet and worship. Only a baptismal font, which can still be seen today, remains of this synagogue-church. It was then replaced by the Byzantine basilica (5th century), of which some mosaics have been found, but which no longer incorporated the grotto. In the 11th century, in the middle of the Crusades, Tancredi built a basilica in Romanesque style.
A few metres from here there is the church of St. Joseph, where Joseph’s house is believed to have been. Lastly, two other places of possible interest to the Christian pilgrim are: the Spring of the Virgin Mary, in the main street of the town which leads to Tiberias, and the church of St. Gabriel.
In Nazareth there is the “Casa Nova” house for pilgrims, where you can enjoy Franciscan hospitality.
The Word became flesh
Ideal length of stay: 7 days Blessed the man who finds refuge in you, in their hearts are pilgrim roads. [Psalm 84]
The Word became flesh
Ideal length of stay: 7 days
Blessed the man who finds refuge in you, in their hearts are pilgrim roads. [Psalm 84]
1st day: Via Maris, Carmel
After landing in Tel Aviv, we take the new main road that follows the ancient Via Maris, the “motorway” in the time of Jesus that linked Egypt with Syria. We cross the plain of Sharon, with a brief stop to admire the Roman aqueduct of Caesarea Maritima. We continue to the city of Haifa to climb Mount Carmel. A halt at the Sanctuary of Stella Maris allows us to remember the figure of the great prophet Elijah. From here we continue to Nazareth, the flower of Galilee.
To visit Galilee, you can stay at Casa Nova (the Franciscan residence for pilgrims) in Nazareth.
2nd day : Nazareth
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her he said, “Hail, favoured one, the Lord is with you. But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary for you have found favour with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.”.
(Luke 1, 26-32)
We start in front of the large Basilica of the Annunciation, consecrated in 1969, which holds the “venerated grotto” with the remains of the house of Mary of Nazareth. It all started here with the Angel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary: “HIC Verbum Caro factum est” that is, HERE the Word became flesh. Our visit continues with the Museum of the ancient village with the finds from the archaeological excavations by Father Bellarmino Bagatti. Close by we can visit the Church of the Nutrition or the House of St. Joseph, and the Virgin Mary’s Spring.
We cross the plain of Esdrelon to Daburiyyeh, a Muslim village at the foot of Mount Tabor. We climb to about 600 metres above sea level by minibus to visit the Basilica of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
On the way back, we stop at the village of Naim, where Jesus resuscitated the widow’s son. On the road to Nazareth we stop in Cana of Galilee, the sanctuary that commemorates Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding. Bridal couples come here to renew their marriage vows.
3rd day : Lake Tiberias
As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4,18)
The whole day is dedicated to visiting the places linked to Jesus’ preaching around Lake Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee.
The visit starts from Capharnaum, “Jesus’ city”, where we visit the Memorial of St. Peter built here on the remains of his house where the Lord often stayed during his ministry in Galilee.
“In Capharnaum, the house of the prince of the apostles was made into a church and those walls are still standing today as they used to be…”.
Peter the Deacon, Benedictine monk (12th century)
The Franciscans who have done excavations in the past two centuries have unearthed a large part of the town plan of Capharnaum. Opposite Peter’s house there is the 5th century Synagogue built on the foundations of the one that stood there in Jesus’ time.
Taking the road that goes along the Lake, the remains of the old Sanctuary of the Beatitudes can be seen. Nearby, there are the two sanctuaries of Tabgha that commemorate the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes and the Primacy of Peter.
In Tiberias you can stay at the Casa Nova, the franciscan house for pilgrims.
4th day: from Galilee to Judea along the Jordan
We leave Nazareth and Galilee for Judea following the River Jordan which marks the border between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Our first stopping place is Qasr el-Yahud, on the banks of the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized by John. We continue to Qumran where the oldest manuscripts of the Bible were found.
Not far away, we reach the Dead Sea, a large salty lake, where you can go into the waters rich in salts and minerals well known for their curative properties.
We then enter Jericho, the city of Zacchaeus and of the blind man.
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house,” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble saying “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.“ And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.” For the Son of Man has come to seek and so save what was lost.” (Luke 19,1-10)
After lunch, we climb back up from the depression of the Dead Sea (400 metres below sea level), reaching the highest point, the Mount of Olives, at about 800 metres above sea level. We make a stop in Bethany, the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. […] he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” (John 11, 1-44)
From Bethany we go to Bethlehem, going through part of the new City of Jerusalem.
5th day: Bethlehem, Ain Karem
We dedicate the morning to a visit of Bethlehem.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrolment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went up to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son, . She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2,1-7)
From Manger Square we enter the Basilica; we go down into the grotto of the nativity and contemplate the remains of the Manger described by pilgrims. We visit the Grottoes called St. Jerome’s Grottoes and going back up again we are in the Crusader cloister.
We leave Bethlehem to go eastwards into the country to Bet Sahur where the shepherds received the Angel’s announcement. Lastly, we return to Bethlehem to take part in the daily procession with the Friars and it takes us once again to the Crib of Jesus.
After lunch, we leave for Ain Karem. We go up to the Sanctuary of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and we will visit the birthplace of John the Baptist, the Precursor of Jesus.
During those days Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb. (Luke 1,39-41)
To visit these places, you can stay at Casa Nova (the Franciscan residence for pilgrims) in Bethlehem
6th day: Jerusalem (Mount of Olives and Via Dolorosa)
Then they handed him over to them and carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skill, in Hebrew Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross, It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”. (John 19, 17-19)
The last station coincides with the Holy Sepulchre where the body of Jesus was laid.
”Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.” Mark 16, 6 -7
To visit Judea you can stay at Casa Nova (the Franciscan residence for pilgrims) in Jerusalem.
7th day: Jerusalem (Wailing Wall, Cenacle and Dormition)
The last day is dedicated to the area around the Temple Mount of Jerusalem.
Going through the souk, we reach the holiest place for Jews, the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. It is an original part of the wall containing the Esplanade of the Temple built by Herod in Jesus’ time. Jews pray here facing the Wall in two separate areas for men and women (as in a synagogue). You can go to the Esplanade of the Temple Mount, also called of the Mosques, except on Fridays and other Islamic holidays. Considered one of the holiest places of Islam, it is called “Haram esh-Sherif” (Noble Enclosure). As well as the two large mosques (Mosque of the Rock and al-Aqsa), there are small temples, colonnades, minarets and fountains.
After returning to the Wailing Wall, we go back up again on foot, following the walls of Suleiman the Magnificent and going through the Jewish Quarter from the Zion Gate. We reach the Basilica of Dormitio Mariae, which commemorates the Transitus of the Virgin Mary and the Room of the Cenacle. This is where Jesus wanted Easter, his Last Supper, to be prepared; he washed his disciples’ feet here and established the Eucharist and the priesthood. It was here that the disciples, who had gathered together “out of fear of the Jews”, received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to. (Acts 2,1-4)
The Pilgrimage comes to an end with the visit to Emmaus where, according to tradition, the Lord arisen appeared to the two disciples of Emmaus, Cleopas and Simon.
When they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24,13-35)
According to the ancient travel chronicles, it was the direct responsibility of the Guardian of the Convent of Jerusalem, also called the Custos of the Holy Land, to go in person to Jaffa to welcome pilgrims. If he could not go himself, he would make sure that he sent a representative who was an expert and reliable, as the journey was dangerous and made complicated due to many circumstances. Once they arrived in Jerusalem, the pilgrims found hospitality behind the walls of the Franciscan convent and good advice on how to move in the Holy Land.
For centuries, the Franciscans were also the guides of the pilgrims in all the aspects of the pilgrimage: Biblical-spiritual, logistical, bureaucratic, political etc...
Many friars are still dedicated today to the service of welcoming and accompanying pilgrims: however, considering the growing number of faithful who come to the Holy Land every month, it is no longer possible to meet the needs of all as in the past.
Nevertheless, there is one habit that has remained unchanged: the meeting between the pilgrims and the Father Custos of the Holy Land or one of his representatives. The encounters with the Franciscans who live in the Holy Land contribute to a better understanding of the reality of the Holy Places and the situation of the Christians, the living stones” who live here.
The tradition is to be welcomed by the friars of the Custody who speak the language of the pilgrims: this way communication is easier and a better service of hospitality and welcome can be offered.
Generally these meetings – with the Custos, his Vicar or with the Friars of the Custody, depending on commitments and availability – are held in Jerusalem at St Saviour’s Convent.
Meeting the Custody during a pilgrimage in the Holy Land not only helps understand the special bond that history has shaped between the Order of Friars Minor and the places of the Salvation, but also allows looking at the reality of this land and its people through the eyes of those who look after and love it.