From Jerusalem to Rome

Before dinner on May 11. Marcel Solomon, the public relations staff at the Dan Panorama, told us his story of being a holocaust survivor. He calls it a "light" story. He and his family escaped from Luxembourg, which, in spite of their neutrality during the war, was occupied by the Nazis. The organization in New York that was helping to move refugees from Europe to other countries helped them relocate in the Dominican Republic after taking a train back and forth across France before they were approved to leave by the Gestapo. He said his life was full of miracles and it's obvious that God has a plan for his life. He explained how his parents would always say "if": "If we had only" or "if we hadn't" and he swore to never say "if." If he wanted to do something he would. He became an observant Jew when his wife was in the hospital with a brain aneurism. He promised God if she became well that he would observe the Sabbath. She did and he has ever since. He said to me today that he noticed our group's light when we first came into the hotel, and today we were shining even brighter. He told us his story for the first time in a long time. I asked him to pray a blessing on us in Hebrew and we sang the doxology holding hands together before dinner.

May 12 We wrapped up our time in Jerusalem with an unforgettable visit to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. The cantor sang for us and then privately our guide Jacob took me back to the cantor so that I could meet him. The original cantor for 59 years, he kissed me on both cheeks and told me he has met all the very important people. We toured the museum in 90 minutes and could have been there all day. It's heavy to see the testimonies, the pictures, the propaganda from Hitler to deceive the whole world. He must have been a mastermind strategist to make it all happen. Before we entered we read Ps 46: God is my refuge and strength…

After visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and the scale model of Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book, we ended at the Garden Tomb outside the Damascus Gate. It was compelling to imagine this being the site of Golgotha and Joseph's tomb. We were able to meditate on Jesus' death and resurrection. The british guide reminded us we don't worship a place or a stone or a tomb, we worship the one whose death gave us forgiveness and whose resurrection brought us new and eternal life.

We had communion in the garden, reading scripture from Psalm 91, Isaiah 53, John 19-20, Romans 6, 1 Cor 15 and Revelation 4. We also shared what we were thankful for: new insights into scripture by seeing the holy land, great new friendships, paradox of the holy land—a place of three major religions, yet a place of struggle for power, yet three major religions living in Jerusalem in peace.

Saying goodbye at dinner was long. No one wanted this to end. Hugging by the bus everyone wanted it all to linger. It was a great thrill personally to lead in devotions, lead in prayer circles (we laid hands on members of a Haitian church from Florida at Caesarea Philippi who lost many family and friends in the quake, at Nazareth we laid hands on our Christian guide Rani, an 80 year old in our group for healing, and a couple grieving their daughter--all in the reconstructed Synagogue in Nazareth Village) and read scripture on all the sites. It really was more like a walking retreat through the holy land. It's had a great impact on me personally—I'll never read scripture the same again, and I can't wait to bring another group on this life changing trip.

May 13 We began this morning with a wake up call at 1:45am in Jerusalem, caught the shuttle at 2pm and caught our flight at 6:00am to Rome. Lots of standing in line, waiting for security, passport check, boarding passes. We have a small flat in the Ponte district: low ceilings, tiny kitchen and patio, but it's in an amazing little neighborhood with art shops, antiques, stores and pizzerias. We napped in the afternoon, then walked around. We wanted to take it easy the first day, but we couldn't help walking all over, watching people, buildings, and dropping into the Catherine of Siena Church to hear sisters singing to a guitar. We walked to the Campo de' Fiori and toasted our first night in Rome with a glass of prosseco.

May 15 Yesterday we began a rhythm of visiting historic sites and praying our Celtic Prayer Guide. Yesterday we walked from Capitolini (the museum café has an amazing view) along the Forum and to the Coliseum. To think of Paul in the Mammertine prison within earshot of the Roman Forum and the platform where speeches were made and on the hill that housed the most ancient religious life of the Romans. He was there at the peak of Rome's temples, forums, arches, power. We had our first caprese pizza, gelato, and prayed our theme of "The Cross" on the steps in front of a church and next to Trajan's Column, celebrating his victories.

Sitting in churches of different styles and sizes makes for interesting prayer times. How does the medieval and renaissance and baroque art inspire our worship? This morning we were in Chiesa Gesu (Jesus Church) where Ignatius Loyola is buried and Santa Maria sopra Minerva, where Catherine of Siena is buried. Our prayer theme was The Saints. It was fitting to sit in the sanctuary looking up at Catherine's body, a floor tomb of Fra Angelico, a painting of Saint Francis and the ceiling painted with cardinals and angels to depict the glory of God. This was literally "The Saints" who were all around us, then we pictured our own church and those who are seeking to be faithful to God today.

It's been raining all day. The pizza is awesome. Midmorning cappuccino and a pastry is the perfect pick me up. It's nice to not have to rush around to see everything, to linger and be present. Rome is an amazing city.


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