ABOUT 70 young people from Queensland journeyed across the Holy Land on their way to Rome for World Youth Day.
VIRGINIA VAN DER MEER traced their progress.
The plane trip was exciting but tiring. We all didn’t really know what day it was, it seemed to be two days mixed into one.
We were eating lamb and vegetables when we should have been sitting down to a big bowl of Weetbix or Vegemite on toast.
We finally arrived in Cairo. The heat hit us straight away but before we knew it, we were through customs and onto a bus in the third largest city in the world.
With a population of 20 million people, the drivers were the musicians and their horns were the music of Cairo. It was smoggy, crowded and hot, and the great pyramids loomed over the city that seemed to last forever. We were all so excited.
Eventually we were hustled into the hotel where we were glad to see the insides of our eyelids and have some sleep lying flat for a change.
We got up early ready for a day packed with unforgettable sights. Our first stop was the Great Pyramids of Giza. We had completely underestimated the enormity of them. How they were built was anybody’s guess.
We entered one of the tombs (Egyptians were obviously a lot shorter than Australians)
and saw the Sphinx, at the same time being immediately awakened to the constant begging and sales pitches that even Tim Shaw would envy.
Onto the hanging church and the crypt where the Holy Family hid in Egypt, and then to the Egyptian Museum. We saw the seemingly endless jewel collection of Tutankhamen and the mummies of pharaohs and their wives, including Ramses V.
We then walked through the famous Cairo bazaar, quickly learning the fine art of bartering and how to turn down marriage proposals to strangers.
We travelled along the Suez Canal and into the desert, bound for Mt Sinai. The scenery was constantly changing from sandy plains to desert hills. We stopped at the Well of Moses and celebrated
Mass, the endless desert in front of us and the Red Sea behind us.
We journeyed further into the desert, through Rafadim, the battle plains between the Hebrews and the Amellecti, reading scripture on the way, explaining the stories until we arrived at a desert oasis, our accommodation for the evening.
There, we swam in a huge pool, in the middle of a desert, with huge mountains towering all around us.
We were woken at 1.30am, for the climb of a lifetime. We drove five kilometres to the base of St Catherine’s Monastery and there we saw Mount Sinai.
Some of us opted for a camel trip up the mountainside but the majority walked all seven kilometres to experience the spiritually inspiring sunrise. All around us were endless red plains, something that cannot really be described. The awesome presence of God was felt and we all grew spiritually at the top of that mountain, or as far as we could get.
The hike back down in the daylight really took its toll on our legs, but we kept going, there was too much to see and do and no time to rest. We saw the burning bush and another of Moses’ wells at the base of the mountain where he struck the rock at St Catherine’s.
We stopped at another oasis, Neweiba, on the Red Sea to swim and share a meal. It was a swim well appreciated and the coral was remarkable.
It was only a short stop and had to make it through Israel’s customs. Tension was high, but we made it through relatively unscathed.
We arrived in Eilat, ready to sleep. It was a very westernised city on the Red Sea, but unfortunately, could only spend a short time there.
We had yet another early start, boarding the bus to journey through the Promised Land.
We saw more desert scenery scattered with Bedouin tents. After the Mt Sinai climb, we weren’t prepared to climb to the top of Mezada, the place where the Israelites committed suicide in preference to being captured by the Romans, so we opted for the cable car.
After Mezada and a quick yet expensive “service station” lunch, we were treated to one of the most amazing experiences many of us will ever encounter.
We were escorted by the Israeli military to the Jordan River, on the border of Jordan and Israel, to the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ.
We were the first Australians and some of the very few people who have had the opportunity
to visit that site since 1967. There were Jordanian soldiers on one side and the Israeli soldiers behind us.
Here, we we prayed together, renewed our baptismal promises and truly felt the presence of God amongst us.
The heat was stifling so we travelled via Qumran, the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
Here, we swam in the Dead Sea, where we floated and caked ourselves in the mud and found cuts and grazes that we never knew we had.
We journey on to the world’s oldest city, Jericho, to see some excavations and moved on to Jerusalem.
As we rounded the corner at dusk, we were faced with an awesome sight, the dome of the Rock. The holy city was alive with colour in the sunset, begging for us to explore.
Here we stayed near the Jaffa Gate at a Greek Catholic Patriache Convent and proceeded to explore the city inside and outside the walls.
Today we spent the day exploring Bethlehem. Here we visited the Shepherd’s field where we celebrated Mass and sang Christmas songs. We also saw the Church of the Nativity, the grotto of the Holy Manger, the birthplace of John the Baptist and the site of the Visitation.
Overall, we’re all having a ball. The temperature is high, we need to wash our clothes, but we are all growing spiritually. Everyone sends their best wishes and wants everyone to know that we are praying for our families and friends, our parishes and youth groups back home everyday. We miss you all.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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