The Holy Land

English: Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Gethseman...

English: Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Church of all nations Deutsch: Jerusalem, Ölberg, Kirche aller Nationen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Catholic Priest travelled to the Vatican one year. During his visit, he couldn’t fail to notice a large phone made of solid gold.

He asked a nearby Cardinal about the phone. The Cardinal explained that it was a hotline to God. The Priest asked if he could use it.

“Of course!” said the Cardinal, “But it will cost you $10,000 per minute.”

The Priest would dearly have liked a tête-à-tête with the Almighty, but he realised to his despair that it lay beyond his means.

The following year, the Priest went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During his visit, he saw an identical phone. He asked a nearby Rabbi about the phone. The Rabbi explained that it was a hotline to God and that calls cost $1 per minute.

“1$ per minute! said the Priest. “But it costs $10,000 per minute from the Vatican.”

“Ahh” – said the Rabbi. “Here it’s a local call.”

We were luck enough to visit the Holy Land whilst on holiday to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We don’t consider ourselves religious, but that does not diminish the allure of seeing where it all happened thousands of years ago. Although it was an exhausting trip, it was an enlightening couple of days. Just about everywhere you could think of that was mentioned in the bible was on the itinerary.

We saw where it all began with the Annunciation in Nazereth and where it will all end according to Revelations at Har Megiddo (or Armageddon) which looked like a surprisingly ordinary place for the end of the world. We saw where Jesus was born in Bethlehem and where he ultimately met his demise at Calgary. Unfortunately, because we were there the day before the pope, the Last Supper room was closed, as was the Church of Gethsemane, although we were allowed a brisk wander around the garden. We stood at the top of the Mount of Olives and bobbed about in the Dead Sea.

We went for a dip in the river Jordan. Just walking down the steps required faith because it was absolutely stacked with catfish. You had to just hope that the fish would get out of the way as you stepped in. Our guide assured us that it was OK because all the fish had been baptised. Although we pushed our slips of paper into the wailing wall, we declined to join in the wailing.

It was incredibly busy. It’s sometimes hard to think of a place as being holy when you’ve been hustled and bustled by a large crowd. One lady in particular tried to make me a eunuch using her large and heavy rucksack. There was nearly a punch up between our guide and an Armenien tour guide in the Church of the Nativity. We had all queued up, whereas his group had sneaked in through the exit and jumped the queue. All of the churches were built a long time after the real events, so often, the provenance of the sites could be doubtful.

The non-biblical stuff was interesting too. We bobbed around in the Dead Sea, and we went through the enormous wall between Israel and Palestine into the Occupied territories (or the Disputed West Bank depending on your preference). It’s sad to see such a dividing line, but as our tour guide said, the terrorism has all but stopped since it’s construction. Even despite the wall, the transition between the two states is marked. Israel seemed very well-kept whereas in Palestine, the fields were littered with discarded plastic, old tyres and other detritus.

It surprised me how safe it all felt. There is not a soldier on every street corner as sometimes comes across in the press. Our guide seemed very balanced, but it would have been nice to get more of the Palestinian side of the story.

Did it make me more religious? Well no – but it gave me an appreciation of why things are so very complex in the Middle East.

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