Ave Maria Spring 2023
Full 90 min pilgrimage video:
Daily video journals:
Day 1 Arrival
We want to profoundly thank Ave Maria University in Florida for partnering with us on their first Holy Land pilgrimage for students. They have been remarkable in implementing this as part of their evangelization efforts.
Today was arrival day! The students have been picked up and brought to their hotel in Nazareth, just a few minute walk from Mary’s Well, where Mary got water as a girl.
Get ready to join us tomorrow for another post about our fast-paced pilgrimage adventure.
Each day we will be posting YouTube videos of the day. Hope you can join us virtually each day.
After a great breakfast we headed to the top of Mt. Tabor, where Jesus was transfigured. From there we went to Mount of Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12) and had Mass overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Then we drove up to through the Golan Heights, northeast of Galilee to eat lunch in a of Druze bread with lebneh cheese and zata seasoning, and Falafel. Then we explored Caesarea Philippi where the headwaters of the Jordan River rush out from under the rock that forms the backdrop for Jesus renaming Simon Peter “Rock”.
Finally we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the hotel and had time to wander a bit through Nazareth or head to bed.
Join us again tomorrow for our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
A set of cable cars took us down the mountain and provided an incredible view of the Mediterranean Sea. After splashing in the water for a bit we put our shoes back on an went to lunch. From there, we headed towards our Bethlehem hotel, stopping at the Elah Valley, where David found the smooth stones and killed Goliath. The students and some of the faculty ran up the side of hill where the Israelites encamped during battle with the philistines.
A fun day was had by all! We arrived at our St. Joseph Hotel in Bethlehem, had dinner and settled in for the coming days of adventure in Jerusalem.
Video took longer to upload today because the internet is quite slow here in Bethlehem.
This journal and video are just the adventures we had during the day. It does not include the dinner and dancing in Bethlehem at night. That video will be uploaded tomorrow.
After visiting an Olive wood shop with many Christian-made items, our next stop was the Church of Nativity where our Lord was born. We did not go down to the Grotto due to the line, but we learned about the church and its history and did pray the Mystery of the Nativity.
Then we went to Shepherds Field for Mass in the cave where the angels announced the good news of Christ’s birth 2000 years ago.
We had a picnic lunch of Shawarma sandwiches on the promenade with a spectacular panoramic view of Jerusalem.
Next a visit to the archeological site of the City of David and stepped back 3000 years in history. Guides took us down under the Old City of David through the tunnels, including Hezekiah’s tunnel where students adventurously walked 1/2 mile underground through water to the site of the pool of Siloam.
Following the watery trek through Hezakiah’s tunnel we headed to our favorite Grotto Restaurant in Bethlehem for a whole roasted lamb, just like they would have had at a Passover Meal and a mountain of Palestinian rice.
The young Christian Dabka dancers came in and put on a performance for us in traditional garb before inviting all the students to come up and dance with them.
We headed out by 8pm so everyone could get some sleep before the 3:30am wake up call.
It was such a packed day that our local guide, Amer Shehadeh told the students that for a normal group our day six activities would span two full days. Everyone has been so timely and motivated we have been able to accomplish so much.
This morning work up at 3:30am to be on the bus at 3:50am. Nobody was late!
We walked the Way of the Cross and ended at the top of Calvary, where everyone had a chance to touch the the place where the cross stood. It was impactful to know that if we had been here 2000 years ago their hand would have touched blood, more than one student came out with tears.
Mass at the Tomb with the Franciscans was beautiful. And right after Mass we were able to enter the tomb. It was empty, Christ is Risen.
The students looked so sheik riding the camels.
Shortly after we left the bus behind to board 8 classic off-road vehicles: Land Rover Defenders, Jeeps, and Land Cruisers.
It was thrilling. The drivers took us all up into the rocky hills country between Jerusalem and the dead sea where nomadic Bedouin tribes still live. We stopped along the way to learn about their lifestyle and some of kids came out to show us their donkey and teach us how to draw water from their well.
Our guide also explained how they all have cell phones, but no physical addresses, so when they order something online they send it to his house, and he delivers it to them next time his is passing through. While we were there he made a delivery of a battery powered headlight. What excellent service way out here in the desert.
We ended the day by wading in the Jordan River to renew our baptismal vows, and the students absolutely loved floating in the Dead Sea. Back up to our hotel in Bethlehem for conversations and sharing and dinner.
We didn’t start today as early as we did yesterday! We started the day with a visit to Gethsemane. This is always a very special place for Pilgrims seeing trees over 2000 years old that would have seen and heard Jesus that Holy Thursday night. Mass at the rock where Jesus sweat drops of blood.
Then we went to the top of the Mount of Olives to visit the Church of Paternoster, where Jesus told the disciples to pray the Our Father, and from which he ascended into heaven. We prayed that mystery of the rosary while on top of the mount.
Then we had falafel sandwiches because it’s Friday and we couldn’t eat meat. Nice restaurant overlooking the whole city of Jerusalem. A special lunch for the kids.
Then to Mount Zion to visit the Upper Room and St. Peter in Gallicantu and to see the prison where Jesus was kept over Holy Thursday night.
Then 15 of the students had arranged to get religious tattoos in Jerusalem, and the rest of them had free time to wander around in the Christian Quarter of the Old City before we returned to our hotel in Bethlehem for a nice dinner. All our religious items were blessed before packing.
Great breakfast in the morning, smooth operation with packing and boarding the bus and the planes left on time for the USA. A great time was had by all!!
“Being back I have gone to daily Mass everyday and found a new love for the mass and Jesus and how I can’t live without him in my life.” ~ Joseph
“Going to the Holy Land has changed my Faith. I have seen the empty tomb. I have walked in the footsteps of Christ. My Faith is real. Every time I am at mass hearing the readings and participating in the Eucharist, I can see the places where it all happened and it gives me a deeper sense of finality.” ~ Carl
“Personally, the Holy Sepulcher and praying before mass at Jesus’ tomb was the most peace I have ever felt in my life. Also, Fr. James did an amazing job connecting with me, helping me discern my vocation and his homilies were incredible every time.” ~ Julianna
“Thank you so much for your donation to the Holy Land pilgrimage! The trip was truly amazing, and has completely reshaped my spiritual life for the better. Getting to see where Jesus walked, and getting to feel his presence was truly amazing. The trip has completely changed the way I read the Bible, especially the Gospels. It has also changed the way I look at everything. After going on the pilgrimage, I feel myself being nicer to others, and doing my best to love everyone the way that Jesus loves me. The Sunday we got home from the trip, the reading at mass was the Transfiguration. Josh (who was also on the trip) and I looked at each other, smiled, and whispered to each other ‘we’ve been there.’ I am forever grateful for your generous donations. Thank you so much!” ~ Mitchell
“My faith and trust in God’s plan in my life has increased astronomically. Scripture has taken on a new meaning and really come to life. I was able to have very intimate and personal encounters with Our Lord throughout this trip.” ~ Joshua
“Simply put, my experience in the Holy Land was surreal. The graces I reaped, memories I made, tears I shed, and friendships I forged are truly things that I will cherish forever. To walk in the footsteps of Christ, I believe, is one of the most proximate ways we can fulfill the very duty that is at the heart of the drama of the Christian moral life– that is — to deny ourselves, take up His Cross and follow Him. I am beyond blessed to have been able to have enjoyed this experience and am supremely thankful to all of those who made it possible.” ~ Maria
“Thank you for your prayers and support, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am extremely grateful for, it has affected me greatly, and I will remember to continue to pray for you all.” ~ Sarah
“This pilgrimage has transformed my prayer life. I first realized this before we had left Israel but were on the bus to the airport. We were praying the rosary and when the mystery of the Ascension was announced I immediately imagined the site we had been at the previous day where it had occurred. I found I was able to meditate easier than before. I have also enjoyed scripture reading and imagining the towns in the Bible now that I have been to them.” ~ Juli
“The pilgrimage provided a newfound love for the mass and a deeper understanding and appreciation for what Christ did for us. The Crucifix is a constant reminder of suffering and the significant love that God had/has for us.” ~ Clare
“Thank you for your generous donation that made it possible for me to get a scholarship to go to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. I am a Senior studying Theology at Ave Maria University. My time in the Holy Land put my faith into perspective and emphasized the truth that God became Man in a real place in a real time. Thank you again for your prayers and generosity. You are in my continual prayers.” ~ Bridget
“This pilgrimage was life changing for me. After seeing the places where Jesus walked, preached, taught, suffered, died, rose, and ascended, I can’t help but read the Bible with a fresh perspective. This pilgrimage has taught me many things about Jesus’ life and ministry that I likely would not have learned without going to the spots where the events took place. During the trip and since returning to the states, I have been able to enter into the readings at Mass with renewed attention and deeper understanding. One particular highlight of the pilgrimage was getting to kneel at Calvary where Our Lady stood and contemplate the Crucifixion from her perspective. In light of this privileged experience as well as getting to walk the Via Dolorosa, I believe that this upcoming Triduum as well as all future Triduums will have a more profound impact on me. I am deeply grateful for having been given this opportunity to dive into my faith and receive the immeasurable graces bestowed on the pilgrims to these most sacred sites. Thank you so much for your generosity, and I will continue to pray for you throughout this lenten season!” ~ Liam
“Thank you so much for your generous donations toward Ave Maria University’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land! Without your support, I likely would not have been able to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. On this pilgrimage, I was able to encounter Christ in a unique way, walking where He walked and praying where He prayed. It was such an incredible experience to encounter firsthand the places where Jesus performed miracles, as well as the locations where events crucial to salvation history took place. One such place which I loved was the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem, which houses the locations of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. I will never forget the aura of holiness which surrounded that place, and I will remember it whenever my faith begins to feel dry or monotonous. With all that said, thank you again for enabling me to enjoy this life-changing pilgrimage!” ~ Jack
“Thank you so much, donors, for making my visit to the Holy Land possible! This trip was truly life changing for me. Experiencing the many sites we visited gave me a whole new perspective on the faith I profess. A few of my personal favorites were the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Garden of Gethsemane. I was so impressed by the simplicity and humility that were made evident by what we saw and learned of Nazareth in the Basilica of the Annunciation. I was also so moved by being able to reach my hand into the hole in which the cross had been fixed in the rock of Calvary, to kneel in the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid and from which He rose, to touch the stone on which His body was prepared for burial and the pillar at which He was scourged, and to stand in the spot from which Our Lady would have watched her Son die on the Cross. The Garden of Gethsemane, which we visited the day after we walked the Via Dolorosa and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, impressed upon me the part my own sins played in the agony of Our Lord and in the Passion we had learned so much about the day before. This pilgrimage taught me so much about the faith, about its history, and about myself. Thank you so much for making this possible!
God bless!” ~ Olivia
“After about a week of being back in our comfortable daily lives here at Ave Maria, I have had the chance to reflect a bit on the Holy Land Pilgrimage and how it had an overall effect on my life. The trip itself came during a very crucial point in my life, as a cradle Catholic I noticed that the mysteries of the faith were losing meaning to me. Going to mass became more of a box that needed to be checked every Sunday and the actual sacrifice that occurs during the mass had lost all significance to me. Overall, my faith had become dry. However, this pilgrimage has changed my life forever. I rediscovered the beauty of the mass and the significant weight that it carries. I constantly look at my new olive wood crucifix and am reminded of all the sins that Jesus carried and then suffered on the cross with. It brings tears to my eyes everyday.” ~ Clare
“I want to thank you so much for your generous donations which allowed me to experience this pilgrimage. Words can not describe how incredibly grateful I am to have had the opportunity to attend this once in a lifetime opportunity. It has forever changed my life. I want to share with you an amazing moment I had on the Sunday we got back from the trip. On Sunday evening, I went to mass, and while listening to the gospel, it was about Jesus on Mount Tabor and the Transfiguration. I was in shock because never in my life would I have imagined that I would be able to connect an experience with the gospels to a place I have been. On the pilgrimage, we did many activities that greatly strengthened my faith such as going to the Upper Room, attending a mass at the Holy Sepulcher, going inside Jesus’ Tomb, praying the Stations of the Cross, having mass at the Mount of Beatitudes, and many more. I know for certain that this trip will help me continue to grow in my faith as I continue to reflect on these experiences. Thank you again for making this all possible, God bless you!” ~ Maggie
“As I keep telling my family and friends now that I am back, the effects of this trip are going to be felt for the rest of my life and I won’t know the full impact this trip had until God reveals all in Heaven. The one thing I’ll talk about is something that I don’t think others will talk about: beauty. I am an artist; I paint, draw, and sell Catholic artwork. This trip has solidified the beauty that I know is present in the church. The history of art saving the church after the reformation is one of my favorite topics and it’s what inspired me to start selling art. I have so much inspiration from the Holy Land, especially from the mosaics in the Church of Annunciation. I have never felt more at home among the beauty of the churches, landscapes, and prayerful moments that happened in Israel. This trip really reminded me of how beauty has saved and will save the Catholic church. Our job is simply to preserve it. As Amer said, the Christian’s over there are used to the churches being cut down but like the 2,000 year old olive trees at the Church of Agony, they always grow back. American Catholics need to take a page out of their book and remember that goodness, truth, and beauty always win out. Tohdah robah (thanks very much in Hebrew) for an amazing trip, I can’t wait to go back!” ~ Anonymous
“My name is Ella Rose and I am a sophomore transfer student at AMU. I am so grateful to be at a school like Ave Maria where the faith is alive and thriving. There are so many opportunities for holiness and to grow in the faith with those around us. I am continually amazed by the dedication of the school to its students, always seeking to bring them closer to Our Lord, Our Lady and Saint Joseph. I knew that I wanted to go deeper in my faith journey while as a student here, but I never dreamed that I would be so blessed to go to the sites where my faith happened! Going to the Holy Land over Spring break was absolutely life changing and I am grateful beyond words. Seeing the beauty of creation and the mystery of history in Israel gave me a deeper sense of love and appreciation for our incredible Catholic faith. Every single site that we went from Mount Tabor, to the Jordan River, to the Holy Sepulcher, to the Church of the Nativity, grace and beauty was overflowing. What a blessing it was for us students from Ave Maria to spend time at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the original “Ave Maria” was proclaimed to the Blessed Mother! The entire pilgrimage was the experience of a lifetime, and I cannot express my gratitude to you and all those who helped make it financially possible for me to go to the Holy Land. Thank you also for your prayers for all of us while we traveled as pilgrims through the Holy Land, I prayed for you and all those who made this trip possible. The graces, prayers, new friends, cultures, and rich insights have all left a lasting impact on my soul and I will carry these experiences with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for your generosity and charity, because along with you, the Ray family, Father James, the Middendorf family, and so many others, my life was changed and my faith was set on fire this year!”
In Mary’s mantle, ~ Ella Rose