Life-changing experience

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Second of Two Parts

Finally, I landed in Tel Aviv, excited to meet up with my wife Menchu and join the Holy Land pilgrimage that started in Amman two days before. I knew from the onset, this would be a life-changing experience since the trip was a road map of our Lord Jesus Christs footsteps on earth over 2,000 years ago. And what made the journey even more memorable was the participation of 22 other pilgrims who were led by St. Jerome Emiliani and Sta. Susana parish priest Fr. Javier San Jose and team leader Mellany Gili-Mason.

A highlight of the trip was the renewal of marriage vows in Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle, turning water into wine during a wedding reception. There were four couples that walked down the aisle in an emotional ceremony presided by Fr. Javier. The place was the wedding sanctuary in Cana, Galilee or the Custodia di Terra Santa, the shrine of our Lords first miracle. A Holy Mass was celebrated to bless the renewal. The couples were Ben and Ireene Sarmiento (married 56 years), Philippine Army Lt. Col. (retired) Vic and Lilian Ruivivar (married 54 years), Menchu and I (married 46 years) and Lawie and Ces Valles (married 13 years). Tears welled in our eyes as we said our “I dosall over again on the site where Jesus once attended a wedding with Mother Mary.

Three pilgrims were high school classmates. Puri Dagsi, former Sudipan, La Union Mayor Betty Piaoan and Nenette Valles graduated from St. Augustines School in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, in 1966. The private school is run by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM). Puri was salutatorian while Mayor Betty and Nenette finished with honors. All three became teachers. Mayor Betty joined the group with son Donnie. Puri was a teacher in New York and Nigeria and now lives in Bataan. Nenette came with her son Lawie and daughter Dra. Lorraine (Dimples) Rose Festin. Lawie was with his wife Ces and they brought up the rear during our treks to make sure everyone was accounted for. Dimples was the groups protector and shelter, providing care for everyone.

Two talented pilgrims were Marissa Crisostomo and Grace Parrenas who are into “beading.” They produce religious images imbedded with beads and crystals to raise funds for charity. Their exquisite works have been bought by foreign collectors. Tina Trimble, Del Angeles, Letty Duarte and daughter Deng, Menchus sister Vicky Picornell and cousin Cuquita Jordana were also in the pilgrimage. At the start of the tour, members chose a prayer buddy in secrecy through a lottery and at the end, revealed who the buddies were and shared their most amazing moments of the tour.

There were early wake-up calls, long bus rides and tiring uphill walks but nobody complained because we offered everything we endured to our Lord who sacrificed Himself on the cross to save mankind. We stopped by the Dead Sea where some of us took a dip to float on the highly-saline waters, saw the caves of the Essenes where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, rode a boat on the Sea of Galilee and went to the Mount of Temptation in Jericho, to Capernaum where Jesus lived after leaving Nazareth, to Tabgha where the miracle of the loaves and fishes took place, to St. Peters Primacy Church, to the Mount of Beatitudes, to the Basilica of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel visited Mother Mary to announce her Immaculate Conception, to the River Jordan where we reaffirmed our baptismal vows, to Mount Tabor or the site of the Transfiguration, to Haifa to visit the Basilica of Mount Carmel and the cave of the prophet Elijah, to Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before His passion, to the Mount of Olives, to the Church of Pater Noster, to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, to the Church of St. Anne, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead, to the Via Dolorosa tracing the steps of Jesuscarrying of the cross to Calvary, to the Last Supper room, to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, to St. John the Baptists birthplace and to the Church of the Visitation. We traversed from Israel to Egypt for the last three days of the 12-day pilgrimage. In Egypt, we took a Nile River cruise, visited the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization where the Royal Mummies are on display, marveled at the Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza and went to the Church of the Virgin Mary, St. George Coptic Church, St. Sergius Church, Citadel and the Hanging Church. A few members of the group took a dawn camel ride up Mount Sinai.

My most unforgettable moments were renewing our wedding vows with Menchu, reaffirming our baptismal vows, kneeling before Jesusbirthplace, marked by a star in Bethlehem, touching the spot where Jesus was buried in the Holy Sepulchre and praying at the crucifixion site in Golgotha. Throughout the journey, Fr. Javier celebrated Holy Mass and led in reciting our morning prayers, Angelus and rosary. Wed never felt closer to our Lord. Mellany arranged for accommodations, meals, transportation, expert guides and of course, free time to indulge in shopping for souvenirs and pasalubongs. Overall, the pilgrimage was a rededication of our Christian beliefs. It was also a gathering of pilgrims praying for world peace and giving thanks to our Lord for His blessings.

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