聖荷西華人天主教堂網站全新升級啦!SJCCM Website Is Now Fully Upgraded To http://sjccm.com

One of the biggest event happened this year thus far is my trip to Israel with a tour group. The group consisted members from different Catholic parishes in Sacramento. We departed on April 14th and came back on April 25th. There were 24 of us. I was interested to learn about the people, culture, history, religious arts, architecture, and natural landscape. I have to say Israel did not disappoint me.

Our travel agency was Catholic Heritage Tours. It contracted with a local travel agency located in Jerusalem called Voice of Faith, therefore we had a local tour guide instead of having the priest as our guide. We had daily Mass, and occasionally the priest would lead some prayers when we visited each church. Our tour guide named Rami, from the West Bank, so he is a Palestinian. We also had a coordinator named Dallia who accompanied us throughout the trip. It is easier to understand the current situation in Middle East after personally talking with a local resident.

Currently, there are three different governments occupying this land. They are State of Israel, the Palestine (West Bank) and Gaza. According to our tour guide, after the Jews declared independence and formed the State of Israel after WW II, many Jews went back to their promise land. As the years go on, Jewish population slowly grows and caused the Palestinians to push back. The Jews also used military force or segregation against Palestinians. Jewish Independence Day was on April 22nd, and we happened to visit the Western Wall or Wailing Wall on that day. I was able to see Israeli soldiers stood guard by the flame that symbolized the burning spirit of Israelis. Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus, is now under Palestinian government, so our tour bus had stop for security check at the border. It was very interesting to see soldiers carrying machine guns coming on to our bus to do a visual check. I could not take any photos because the tour guide suggested it was not wise to pictures during the check.

During the trip, I sought every opportunity to talk with our guide or the coordinator. I learned many things from them. There are three main religions in Israel; people are either Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Religion plays an important role in their daily life and it is the core of their culture and family tradition. Religion is even on their birth certificate. The Arabs are either Christian or Muslim through family tradition, with the majority is Muslim. I asked what happens if someone decides to go to other religions or choose not to be in any religion. Dallia answered such thing cannot be happening in Israel, because that will bring shame upon the whole family. Especially in Islam, the rule is much stricter that people can be killed by their own family if he or she does not follow the family religion, or marrying someone outside of Islam.

After visited some of the places which the Gospel mentioned, I was able to relate the story with the reality. For example, according to Gospel of Mark, after Jesus fed the five thousand people, he made the disciples proceed across Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida by boat. Meanwhile there was a storm that almost turned over their boat. Then as we all know, the story followed by Jesus walking on water. I used to wonder why there would be such a storm strong enough to turn over boat. After I experienced the boat ride on Sea of Galilee, I understood why. Sea of Galilee is actually a small lake in comparison to Lake Tahoe. For some reason, it was so windy over there. Our boat ride took place on a sunny afternoon but the wind was so strong that made the Israeli flag waving majestically in the air. If the wind could be strong on a sunny day, it is not difficult to imagine how strong the wind would be on a raining day. Unlike the weather in California, Sea of Galilee does get thunderstorm, even in summer.

This trip also helped clarified some of the misconceptions in the Gospel. First is the birth place of Jesus. Many people think Jesus was born inside a staple, but the truth is Jesus was born inside a cave. There are many natural caves in Israel. As for today, the spot where Jesus was born is inside the Church of Nativity. This majestic church was build on top of a cave. This church belongs to Orthodox tradition, so there are many candles and mosaic paintings inside the church.

I think most of us already watched Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. Do you remember the crucifixion scene when the Roman soldiers raised the cross high above the ground? In reality the Romans never put up the cross that high, the cross was raised up on ground level so people can look into the criminals’ eyes or spit on their face. The crucifixion site and tomb of Jesus are inside the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Old City of Jerusalem. There are six religions hold the right to do service inside the Church of Holy Sepulcher, they are Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians, Ethiopian, Coptic and Syrians, but the ones who hold the key to the doors are Muslims. The best time to visit this church is as early as 6 AM. It gets more crowded as the day goes on. Our group had the privilege to celebrate our last Mass inside the tomb of Jesus. Our Mass was scheduled at 6am, so our group got there around 5:30am. I got to see the Greek Orthodox monks chanting their morning prayer so it was interesting to witness the process.

Israel is truly a unique place on earth, there is some truth when the Jews called it God’s promise land. You can find all different types landscape and weathers all in one place. This land ranges from mountains, the hills, valley, lake, sea and desert. The weather there was unpredictable to us travelers. In case you wonder, it does get snow or thunderstorms in Jerusalem.

I am thankful to the fact that I had this great opportunity to visit Israel, stood on Mt Olive where Jesus stood and look over the entire Old City of Jerusalem. It was an unforgettable adventure. It is a place where you can learn about religious cultures, and history which is the foundation of some of the great civilizations.

There are many facts I learned from this trip that I’d love to share, but I am afraid that will take several pages. Besides religious cultures, Israel is also a place with unique foods, mosaic arts, sceneries, geology, and archeology, a place full of wonders.

發表於二零一五年 常年期 第二九〇期, 回到本期目錄

Additional information