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As the continued to travel, signs appeared pointing to Nazareth, the location where Christ spent His youth. Bougainvillea grew rampant along the byways, and the bright red, pink, and white blossoms swayed in the light breeze as the bus made a final turn and neared the city. The vast open dry land to the left and right of the bus were arid, with meager shrugs, and prickly plants dotting the landscape. However, the distance, the flat landscape was punctuated by one rather large round mountain. Noticing everyone’s gaze, the tour guide smiled and informed them that what they were seeing was Mount Tabor, where the Lord was Transfigured before His three beloved Apostles – John, James and Peter, standing between Moses and St. Elijah, gowned in bright glory, to the awe of the Disciples. Everyone gazed thoughtfully as they gazed upon the round mountain in the distance, imagining the Lord Himself at the pinnacle.
Before arriving at the designated hotel, the bus parked in Nazareth, where the passengers disembarked and went for a leisurely walk through the city. The sun was low on the horizon, and a cool breeze blew down the alleys and byways as the group walked over cobbled streets illuminated by countless strings of lights bobbing in the wind, and enjoyed window shopping at the local shops. They paused at the locked gates of the large Church of the Annunciation, which they would visit tomorrow, before returning to the bus and heading to their hotel.
The bus bounced and made a final turn before speeding through a short tunnel and arriving at the hotel. Retrieving their luggage, the pilgrims registered, found their rooms, and then made their way down to enjoy their first communal meal.
Archbishop Daniel led everyone in prayer, and as everyone sat down, he thanked them for joining him on this pilgrimage, stating that this would be a life changing couple of weeks. They would be visiting the most holy places on Earth, and while God is present everywhere, He chose these lands upon which to Incarnate, to fulfill His earthly mission, to ensure the salvation of mankind, and from which to Ascend to sit at the Right Hand of the Father. It is a blessing to walk upon this land, to venerate these holy relics, and to come closer to God through this experience. His Eminence asked that those present not be tourists but be true pilgrims. That this journey not be a sightseeing expedition, but a soul searching journey. He asked that everyone pause at each site and absorb everything before them, not only with their eyes, but, with the hearts and souls, and take these moments, hidden in their hearts, back with them, and relive them daily. When they read or listen to the Gospel Readings, they will now have a better understanding of the circumstances and the reasons why things happened the way they did. Life will have a deeper meaning from this moment forward and they will be forever changed.
With his final blessing, everyone settled down to enjoy a delicious meal of local cuisine. After a number of courses and visits to the buffet, some of the team members bid goodnight and retreated to their rooms to unpack, while others lingered over coffee, getting to know their teammates. People introduced themselves, which parishes they were from, shared stories about their families, and made plans for the week ahead. The evening passed in pleasant conversation and camaraderie, but soon eyes got heavy, and the long flight and time-change took its toll. With final goodnights and smiles, the pilgrims made their ways to their awaiting beds. With their first Evening Prayers recited in the Holy Land, everyone laid down and quickly drifted off to slumber, lost in dreams of holy places and experiences which awaited them.