Monday, October 25, 2010

Greetings from the Holy Land, Pt. 1

By Father Erik Esparza,
Parochial Vicar, St. Joseph, Barstow

As I am writing, I am overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the region of Tiberias in the Country of Israel. You see, I am one of the forty-one pilgrims on a spiritual journey to experience the land of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Day 1

On October 18, 2010, forty others and I left the familiar surroundings of our homes in the United States of America, to experience the trip that is like no other. Being led by our Spiritual Guide, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, Bishop of San Bernardino, along with some of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, we arrived in the Tel Aviv Airport on the afternoon of October 19.
Day 2

Spending much of the previous day traveling by air we finally reached our destination, the Holy Land. With much excitement and a little jet lag, we gathered our luggage to take our first bus ride to the region of Tiberias to the Mountain of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Staying at the Mt. Beatitude Hospice Retreat Center operated by the Franciscans, we were warmly welcomed and provided our beautiful rooms. After dropping off our belongings, we reconvened for dinner at the Retreat Center dining facility. Experiencing the taste of our first local cuisine came with mixed reviews, yet it being our first non airline meal in more than a day, each of us was very thankful for the food that was provided. After dinner and a brief gathering of all the pilgrims, we were off with anticipation for a good night’s sleep to be refreshed and renewed for our very first 6am wake-up call the next morning!

Thank you Jesus for getting us all here safely!
Day 3

Already day 3 of our journey, each of us awoke, enjoyed a simple breakfast, and boarded the bus for our first all day excursion. What a grace filled moment to have awaken to a room with a view of the Sea of Galilee in the very area that our Lord Jesus did so much of His ministry and performed His countless miracles. The agenda for the day included trips to Cana, where the Gospel of John tells us Jesus performed His first miracle and Nazareth, the home of Mary, where Jesus' earthly life truly began in the womb of His Mother Mary.

The town of Cana was a short twenty minute drive. After leaving the bus, we walked a distance to a small Franciscan chapel, where the Wedding Feast of Cana was celebrated and the first miracle of Jesus was performed at the request of His Mother Mary (Jn 2:1-11). This was, of course, a wonderful opportunity for all the married couples to renew their own wedding vows.  Each couple, including those whose spouse could not be present, renewed their vows in the presence of Bishop Barnes and in the very place where Jesus performed His first miracle.  There were tears shed and smiles all around by the time we were finished. After not having been able to duplicate the miracle of Jesus of turning water into wine, the group settled for some wine tasting and a little shopping at a local merchant store. With bags full of souvenirs and new memories of such a special place, we maneuvered once more through the town's streets to reach our bus.

Heading to the town of Nazareth, we embarked upon the homeland of the Holy Family. Driving the streets of what is now a big city and heading to a mountain top called the Mount of Precipice, we had a beautiful view overlooking the City of Nazareth and the Basilica of the Annunciation, where we would later celebrate Mass, and Mt. Tabor, the location of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  After some time driving and at the sound of tummies in need of nourishment we took off for next adventure, lunch.

After a delightful lunch at a local sandwich shop, we headed to see up close and personal, the Basilica of the Annunciation. Departing once again from the bus, we walked through a path of merchant stores attempting to fight any temptations for further shopping. Thankfully we reached the Basilica resisting the addition of new bags to our collection, only to lay our eyes on a such a magnificent building, the very sight where Mary's faith-filled "Yes" changed our world forever.

Bishop Gerald Barnes celebrates Mass
at the Church at Shepherds Field in
Taking a short tour of the Basilica and the workshop of St. Joseph, we then headed back to the lower level of the Church to celebrate our first Mass together. Bishop Barnes gave me the honor of being the Celebrant for the Mass. What a humbling experience and awesome opportunity to be able to celebrate the Mass with our Bishop and other pilgrims at such a holy place. During the Mass, two religious sisters among us, Sr. Sarah Shrewsbury and Sr. Mary Frances Coleman, recalling the commitment to their religious vocation, they both renewed their vows before Bishop Barnes. We thank you sisters for your commitment! After being nourished at the Eucharistic banquet, we walked a distance to Mary's Well where a Orthodox Church sits upon what was known as the only water well in the town of Nazareth and where surely our Mother Mary must of drawn water for her family, including of course her Son, our Lord Jesus.

The next and final adventure for the day led us to be up close and personal at the Sea of Galilee. Each of us unloaded from the bus only to walk over and down a ramp to a boat waiting to take us on a journey across the Sea of Galilee. What an experience! We were sailing on the very Sea that Jesus once walked and calmed at the request of His Disciples. Bishop Barnes led us in prayer and song to take in a sight to behold and surely a moment to remember for the rest of our lives. The time out there really provided each of us the opportunity to reflect on our entire day and on our own continuous call to follow Jesus.

With a full day of travel to such historic sites, we headed back to the retreat center to freshen up for a dinner at a local restaurant near the Sea of Galilee. Many of the pilgrims took advantage of eating the local delicacy, Peter's fish. After a wonderful meal and some sharing, we headed back home to rest for a new day. The next day would all begin with another 6am morning wake-up call!

Thank you Jesus for an awesome day!


  1. What a wonderful description of what you all are experiencing. Thank you for sharing with us. All I can do is imagine how beautiful and Holy it is there through your eyes. Jeri Romero Gonzales, St. Martha, Murrieta, CA

  2. More! More! Reading this through your words is just like being there for me. I get goose bumps reading about all the wonderful sights and just the thought of walking where our Lord Jesus Christ walked. Glad all of you are having a great time. I pray you all make it home safely.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful description your eyes are blessed to see such beauty and ours to be able to read them. Please continue....

  4. Thank you Fr. Erik for sharing your experience with us. Precious memories came back to live since I was there the year of the grace.
    The class of CMFP is praying for all of you.

  5. What an awesome blog. Thank you, Fr. Erik, for sharing your wonderful experience with us. Reading this easily makes one feel like we are right along with you! I am looking forward to you sharing more.

  6. A great read for all to see. Thanks Father Erik for sharing the experience of the Holy Land expedition with Bishop Barnes and San Bernardino's faithful members. Did you run across a gardner with a beard near the tomb? May have to add the Holy Land experience to the RCIA calendar. Patrick

  7. Thank you Fr. Erik for sharing these beautiful experiences. I can't tell you how I felt when I read that all the married couples renewed their vows at the chapel in Cana with our Bishop. What a once in a life-time blessing. There were tears of envy here in Murrieta this morning. I look forward to reading your blog every day. Please give my regards and prayers to all. Blessings, Frank Cuevas


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