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Posts from the ‘Holy Land Travel Writing’ Category

Two Mule-Loads of Earth & tears in my teacup

This morning, I sat at my desk in the office. I’m still sitting here.

I began the day with a cup of tea, in that tacky way where the string hangs over the side of the cup because I know I can get two cups out of one bag, and I am too lazy to take the bag out between uses.

The desk is a mess. It has my husband’s things scattered all over it, which I understand. I just moved back home from Chicago, and my desk was fair game. The year-long contract position is done. I needed my family. They needed me. But mostly, I needed to halt the every-weekend-twelve-hour-round-trip commute from St. Louis to Chicago.

But I sat at my desk this morning, and my heart was heavy.

I miss it. I miss … what?

What is it that I miss?

I wasn’t sure, but I have felt it for a couple of days. Not quite myself. Still transitioning, I suppose.

My Missal is in a wooden crate on the top of my desk, so I reached into the box, picked up my Missal and read today’s readings. That’s a start. A step in figuring out what is wrong with me.

Then I picked up my copy of The St. Louis Review, my hometown archdiocesan newspaper. It has been a lifetime since I had the time to read this at my leisure.

I skimmed articles. Admired Lisa Johnston’s photography. Wished I had some of the “Reclaimed and Respected” sacred items they have retired from a decommissioned church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I love that stuff.

I fantasized about doing a show on EWTN with my friends Elizabeth Westhoff and Lisa Johnston. We would be like American Pickers, only we would go into the dusty corners of old churches and monasteries and uncover hidden treasures. They would explain each treasure to me, each pre-Vatican II gem. “See this, Denise, this was used for…” They would be the teachers, I the student. The convert. I have been Catholic since 2005, but I still feel the newness and beauty of discovery. The show would be a huge hit. We are all sentimental. We are all in love with the past. We all cling to Mother Church and want to know the stories of those years before we were born into the family.

I fell short of coveting the stained-glass windows in the pictures and staying too long in a dreamy world of EWTN programming called “Lost Catholic Gems Across America,”

And I landed on the Archbishop’s column. It was about St. Francis of Assisi. Feast day, October 4.

That’s today, I realized.

And my eyes filled with tears.

St. Francis, the saint who loved the Holy Land so dearly that even today, the Franciscans have custody of the Christian holy sites. They hold these gems in their hands and preserve them for you and for me. They say, “Come and see. Come and worship where it all began.”

The Custos.

I’m crying again as I write these words. I’m crying because the land still has my heart. It still calls to me. I need to go. I need to be there. And now, I don’t know how that will happen. But my feet must walk those dusty paths. I must see Magdala again. I felt Mary Magdalene when I was there. I must gaze at Mt. Arbel from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. I feel Jesus there.

I must walk the Stations of the Cross. In Jerusalem.

Last week, I visited the Cardinal Rigali Center. I took some time to pray in the chapel before a meeting. I noticed the Stations of the Cross. Station Number Seven was directly across from where I knelt.

I stood up, thinking of Jerusalem, and walked to the station. And then the next. And then another. It was out of order, but that is how it is for those in Jerusalem. The disks with the Roman numerals are here and there, and you come up on them in an out-of-order sort of way, and they seem to come to you in an out-of-context way as well.

Only the pilgrims who deliberately walk the Stations encounter them one-by-one.

And St. Francis was back in my head. And the article. And the brown robes and the Custos and the ache I feel that will not go away.

I simply cannot understand why a Catholic would go through life without following in the footsteps of St. Francis… let alone Jesus Christ.

We walk those footsteps spiritually, leaning on readings and artwork to take us there.

But the “there” is still there!

Now, I’m back to crying again, because that reality is so amazing, so incredibly awesome in the truest sense of that word, that I cannot believe I have resigned a position that literally paid me to go there every year.

Oh, yeah. Family. The long commute. The Archdiocese of St. Louis is home and Chicago never really was home.

But, Lord. I ache.

Enough of this article that reminds me of the Holy Land. I turn the page. There is a Mass Mob coming up on October 9. Another article about volleyball at St. Pius. More photos in the insert about reclaiming old Church treasures.

And then, an article by Bishop Hermann on next Sunday’s readings.

Naaman. I know this story. His wife’s servant girl is an Israelite. And when her mistress’ husband falls ill with leprosy, she begs her mistress to tell Naaman about a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

A little girl. A servant child. And yet, she remembered the old stories. The treasures of her home and the faith she was born into. The gems hidden back home. Reclaiming the sacred for others.

And Naaman listens to the child. He goes to Israel and finds Elisha. When Elisha tells him to bathe in the Jordan River, he scoffs at that. What is that river to him? His homeland has far greater bodies of water. The Jordan seems to be nothing. A stream that flows from the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea.

Naaman almost leaves in disgust without so much as dipping his foot in the water.

But his traveling companion urges him… “Master, you have come this far…”

And, of course, Naaman is healed of the leprosy when he bathes in the Jordan River.

When Elisha refuses his gifts, Naaman asks for a gift in return. What is it?

Oh, Sweet Jesus, I am crying again.

He asks for two mule-loads of earth.

Of Holy Land.



I’m home today, in a messy, messy office. On my desk is a miniature Pieta. On the wall, a sketch of the Visitation. On the shelves, two statues of the flight to Egypt from Bethlehem. A shofar. A miniature Ark of the Covenant that holds my Rosary. A statue of St. Jude. My father’s Jerusalem Bible. —- All of it, my two mule-loads of earth from the Holy Land.

I’m going back. Lord willing, I will go back.

Blessed Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.


The Root and the Shoot

I have had an amazing year.

Like Dorothy to the Scarecrow, my heart is telling me I will miss one thing the most now that I have returned to my St. Louis home and left my Chicago apartment.


Her name means Pearl in Hebrew. And a pearl she is.

It was worth purchasing the entire field, that season of life that lasted from November 2015 to last week–just to possess this great pearl.

Do you know what it is like to talk with a Jewish woman who knows her faith about Chanukuh or Shavuot or Pesach?

When you both realize that Shabbat features Challah bread, with leavening, but Pesach (Passover) only has the unleavened bread, like the Eucharist…you realize something.

When you both realize that there is an exquisite Hebrew poem that talks about the Queen of the Sabbath and you realize that Saturday is known as Mary’s day…you realize something.

When you both begin to wipe away tears because you realize that holiness means something very much the same to each of you, and that the Ten Commandments are the bedrock for both of you, and that you have far more in common than what you do not have in common…

When you realize that you love the same land.

When you discover that Ruth and Naomi are favorites to you both.

When you realize that she prays for the deceased Jewish man or woman and invokes Sarah when the name of the deceased person’s mother is not known, and you realize that you ask for the intercession of Mary, the New Eve. When you realize that she asks for the intercessions of Eva for all others.

When you find out that you are both praying for the Messiah to come–and it is a daily prayer.

When you see the similarity in the Mezuzah and the Holy Water Font, the Mikvah and the Baptismal Font, the days of feasting and fasting.

When she asks if Christians think that Jews are irrelevant now that their Messiah has come and you realize that she just needs to know that nothing could be further from the truth, that the Old Covenant with the LORD remains because God does not revoke His promises, that the New Covenant with Christ means that the Light of the Nations really has gone out into the nations and that you are a beneficiary of that holy nation.

When you choke on your deeply-felt emotions as you say in a husky voice, it is as though you are my matriarch and I am your offspring, even though you are old enough to be her mother.

When you realize that Judaism doesn’t see itself as going out to convert the world even though it is promised to be a Light to the Nations–and you see that paradox clearly yet fully fulfilled in Christ, because we are called out to share the Gospel. It is a mandate. A calling. A supreme duty.

When you talk about the minutiae of both religions and realize that it really is the Root and the Shoot, that she is part of the root, and you are a branch of the Shoot…

That is when you realize that ECUMENISM is the most exciting thing you have encountered in a very long time. It is not dry. It is not dead. It is not hopeless or wrought with angst.

It. Is. Beautiful.

When she pauses one day in Advent to ask how you can believe in the Ten Commandments and yet not believe in One God, and you say that you definitely believe only in One God, and her face is full of questions and doubts. When you say that you believe in God the Father, and she nods in agreement. When you say that you believe in His Spirit, and she nods in agreement. You pause and think, I am 2/3 the way through the difficult teaching on the Trinity. When you say that you believe God became a Man because the whole world needed to be redeemed, and she says, but God did not become a man, and you say:

“He didn’t–

Until He did.”

And in that moment you realize that you have never been asked to defend the Incarnation, but what just came out of your mouth is true.


That the Incarnation was unthinkable.

It was impossible.

It was not even in the realm of the imagineable.

And then, God did the unthinkable, impossible, and unimaginable.

So that the holy nation that was once a tribe and before that a family and before that a married, childless couple might become a Light to the Nations–

So that you, too, might be grafted in.

I am Ruth.

She is Naomi.

And I highly doubt that we will ever be the same…though I am old enough to be her mother.

Special Pilgrimage Opportunity for Potential Group Leader: when the parish goes on a pilgrimage together.

The philosophy has grown with me until it is a love, a desire, and need I have – and one perhaps you will find is your own love, desire, need. I think it is one of the greatest blessings a parish family can experience.

It is the opportunity to make a pilgrimage together:

As friends,

Lectors, Cantors, Ushers on Pilgrimage30









As husbands and wives,


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We celebrated Mass daily on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and one of the most amazing things I witnessed was the joy I saw when the laity took on the roles they assume at daily Mass when they are home in the United States. Now, they were asked to share those gifts in the Holy Land. In places like the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Church of the Visitation. The Mount of Beatitudes. And their fellow parishioners who had joined them on the pilgrimage experienced a great grace as they witnessed these sisters and brothers doing what they have done so often – though locally:


As lectors for indoor Masses,

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As lectors for outdoor Masses,


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As responsorial Psalm readers,


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As cantors,


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As ushers,


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As servers (and yes, even children who are on the pilgrimage and are altar servers back home may be a server on your pilgrimage),


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But now, the laity who assist the priest at Mass may do so in the land of Our Lord’s homeland. Right now, Select International is offering a special promotional trip to the Holy Land to future group leaders. This is your opportunity to bring this incredible blessing to your laity. Let me know if you would like more information about this special promotion for potential group leaders.Facebook Message – Email Via

To see of list of prominent leaders who have become pilgrimage leaders through Select International, go to their website.

To read about the great leader benefits with Select International, go to this page on their website.


Where we begin and end our days.

What would it be like to stay overnight in Nazareth? May I present the Golden Crown. It does not have the elegant entrance with Christian themes which we encounter at the Saint Gabriel Hotel in Bethlehem (nothing tops that magnificent statue of Archangel Gabriel at the hotel in Bethlehem). The Golden Crown in Nazareth is similar to fine hotels in the U.S. It can accommodate large crowds – and contrary to what you may think, there are large crowds of people coming to the Holy Land … but that is material for another post. Here is a glimpse inside the doors of the Golden Crown. Isn’t it time you made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Worship all day. Relax all night.

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The view from my room.









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One section of the King’s Dining Room.










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Bread table, of course. Because that’s a favorite in the Holy Land.










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Meat lover’s buffet.









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Would you like a glass of wine with your meal this evening?









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It’s okay to at dessert first. And just a side note: The sweets table is over-the-top wonderful.










Golden Crown2

The Lounge. The pilgrims have enjoyed a glass of wine at day’s end many evenings here.

Grace of Carmel

I have been fascinated by the Carmelites since 2004 when I began reading books by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. I “met” my dearest friend on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Actually, that is the day I saw her on a program on EWTN and decided to write her a letter and share with her my growing desire to become Catholic.

Those are the Catholic reasons I love Carmel.

I grew up on Sunday School and Bible School stories. As the preacher’s kid, that’s how it is. Other children hear Grimm’s fairytales and become enamored with Disney characters. Our heroes were Bible characters. Elijah on Mount Carmel, well, that was one of my favorites.

So today, my two Carmel loves came together at Mass at Stella Maris Monastery, and I was surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.








I had a brief conversation with myself – a conversation that Jesus joined in.









I feel so drawn to these contemplative Carmelites and their cloistered way of life. What does one make of such a desire? What does one do with that when one is definitely not called to be a cloistered Carmelite nun?

I heard the answer. And I smiled and cried as the answer came, because I knew it was true. His words, not mine. Because it barely makes sense. It’s the kind of sense God makes, and we just take it in with a profound deposit of wonder & awe.

And yet, it makes complete sense.

For me, the cloister will be the pilgrimage. In these days and on these faith journeys, I spend time with others who are “cloistered” and called out of the world. We leave everything behind, to follow Christ. To seek quiet spaces in one holy place.

And another.











One would think it is the furthest thing from the cloister. One would think it is hardly Carmelite at all. How can pilgrimage fill my desire to be like the very saints I so love and wish to emulate when those saints are hidden away from the world, and I am being called into that world?

But I didn’t even have to ask Jesus this question because I knew the truth. I feel Him here. I feel Him as deeply as if I had become a cloistered nun. And these fellow pilgrims are hidden behind the grate with me – even as we hop on flights and fill the pilgrimage buses.

It is just us.

Hidden behind the pilgrimage grille, where the Blessed Mother wraps her Mantle around us, and we are simply in her presence. She leads us, then, to the Eucharist where we discover the hidden treasures of the soul.

Today at Mass, I knew what I already know – that I am being called to say yes again and again to the Church’s special devotion to pilgrimages. But I also realized something more. It is my cloister.

My path to Carmel.

My path to all the treasures that I am meant to discover – behind the grille.

The House of Bread has taken on new meaning for me tonight.

Today, we visited the sacred sites of Bethlehem that are made of stone. But tonight, we visited the living stones of this holy place. We gathered in the homes of Christians of Bethlehem and broke bread together.

Miracles happen in times like this. People are changed, forever. Friendships are formed, forever. I tell you, this Christmas, when I think of Bethlehem, I will be remembering tonight and the five people I met in a humble home in the city of Our Lord’s birthplace.

I will never again think of the holy sites here without thinking of the living, breathing fellow Christians who struggle to make ends meet because they live in a place where they make up two percent of the population. If I told you that their family was comprised of a lawyer, a head accountant, a cosmetologist a manicurist, and a childcare provider, you would think that they lived in a three-story mansion in a place like Frontenac, Missouri, and drove a BMW and Mercedes Benz.

But that is just not so. Here, a Catholic head accountant makes about nine thousand dollars. A Catholic lawyer makes somewhat more, but not a lot. And the Catholic women work hard and are paid far less than their spouses.

I write. It’s what I do. But how do I convey with words what took place tonight? Our pilgrimage is part of a program called Sharing the Bread. Those of us who go on a God-trekking pilgrimage expect to encounter Christ, but sometimes, He shows up in places we don’t expect. Tonight we enjoyed a meal called Mensaf. You can google the recipe and even find a version of it on the Epicurious website, but I guarantee that you will not be able to replicate this meal. Not the meal we had tonight, because we shared it in the home of Ebtisam and Samir Bannourah and their daughter Mary & their married daughter Sabreen and her husband Fadi Salman. And we laughed together and wiped away tears. We swapped stories.

And I left their home tonight thinking about how easy we have it as Catholics/Christians in the U.S.

Heck, I thought about how easy we have it. Period.

But these are the living stones of Bethlehem. They could leave. Thirty years ago, the Christian population here was ninety percent. Now, they make up just two percent of the population.

Why do they stay? Fadi says it is because this is the birthplace of their Lord Jesus. This is home. It is an inheritance on a spiritual level, and even if everything else is difficult, they will stay. They will stay, and we will have a Bethlehem to visit on pilgrimage because they are here to make sure that heritage is preserved.

They stay, for their children and their children’s children. They stay, for us.

Meet the living stones of Bethlehem. See the joy we had in “Sharing the Bread” with them. What Select International has done in creating this program in conjunction with Shibly Kando ( grandson of the man who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls and brought them to the world), is amazing. Beautiful. Holy. Precisely what we should be about as Christians who are from the easiest place on the planet to be a Christian.

The House of Bread has taken on new meaning for me tonight. Thanks be to God.

Room At the Inn

Three flights. And we are here.

The City of David. The birthplace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

We arrived after dark and took a bus from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem, passing Jerusalem – as Mary and Joseph would have done on their way to this city over 2,000 years ago. I am more rested this time than I was in May when I visited, more ready to receive the grace that comes from being here. We arrived and had a leisurely ride by a luxury coach bus (no donkey for us), and we enjoyed an amazing spread of food. (See my Facebook Page for pictures!) Tomorrow, we will celebrate Sunday Mass here. Yes, we will receive Jesus Christ in the city where He entered our humanity.

The Good News of the Gospel was proclaimed here first. And every proclamation in every language has come forth from this place. Rejoice, you have a Savior. Christ, the Lord. It is the purpose of every Christian worship experience. It is the meaning behind every Catholic Mass. Rejoice, your Savior has come to redeem you.

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Saint Gabriel Hotel Saint Gabriel Street, Bethlehem








Tomorrow at Mass, we will sing the Alleluia – that message the angels sang. And the faithful throughout the world will join in the song.


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Entrance to Saint Gabriel Hotel, Bethlehem


So, we have arrived in Bethlehem. And yes, there was room at the inn.


Gabriel 4









Select photo


It is time to make a pilgrimage. A nine-day God-seeking novena. A journey to Our God.

Luke 2:41–They went up to Jerusalem for the celebration as was their custom. Luke 24:15–Jesus approached and began to walk along with them.




This is the essence of pilgrimage: Go to meet your God, and He will come to you when you enter the journey and seek Him. The whole pilgrimage thing, that entire God-seeking way of life, has been part of our faith from the beginning.


Abraham departed from Ur.



The Hebrew People went up to Shiloh to encounter the Lord in the days of Hannah & Samuel.


And then they made journeys to Jerusalem in the days of David & Solomon & to this day.


Model of the Temple Mount, Israel Museum, Israel

Even when they found themselves in a foreign land, the Jewish People sought the Lord. The pilgrimage was part of their DNA. Moses approached a burning bush and removed his sandals for he was standing on holy ground and the Lord said to Moses, “Come now, I will send you.”

He was to lead them out to a holy place to pray, but Pharaoh said no. God upped the request. “Then let my people go – forever.”

They had the ultimate pilgrimage to make. And God Himself would throw His protection around them.


The entire Hebrew People passed through the desert into the Promised Land, seeking the Lord of the Promise by way of a journey.

Then, there was Ruth who traveled to Bethlehem, following Naomi, seeking the Lord of her husband’s mother.

And a foreigner, Naaman, at the direction of his wife’s servant who was just a young Hebrew girl, traveled to Israel to meet God’s prophet.

When exiled, the Hebrew People returned – and they went up. Up to Jerusalem. A journey to higher ground. A journey to the Lord Most High.

Mary received the Word, and immediately went on a pilgrimage of her own, to Ein Kerem in the hills of Judea, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home.


Ein Kerem, Israel

Mary and Joseph were forced to go to Bethlehem to complete the census, but they made it a pilgrimage – in which they encountered the Incarnate Word of God!

Soon after, the Holy Family went to the Temple for the Presentation – imagine. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity went on a pilgrimage to encounter the Godhead!

And they returned to Jerusalem every year at Passover, because Pilgrimage & Passover go together. The God-quest and the Eucharistic Feast go together.



All of it rooted in pilgrimage because at its core, pilgrimage is about encountering the Lord God.

The disciples throughout the Gospels traveled to one mountain after another, to deserted places, to the respite of a boat on the Sea of Galilee, to an Upper Room.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree.

Olive trees Mount of Olives

Olive Tree, Mount of Olives, Israel

The sick woman sought the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Peter and John were seen running to the empty tomb.


The Tomb, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Israel

The faithful throughout Church history have set their minds and hearts on the God-quest, beginning with pilgrimages to the Holy Land and then making pilgrimages to every place kissed by the Gospel message in which chapels, churches, basilicas, shrines and grottos have been raised –where Jesus Christ has traveled by way of His disciples’ feet, to contemplate those sweet and fleeting visits by His Mother, to touch the soil where martyrs died and the Gospel seed was planted and grew.


We are a pilgrim people, and the entirety of this life is a faith journey.

It is time to make a pilgrimage. A nine-day God-seeking novena. A journey to Our God.

Come, says the Lord. I am sending you.

Go up for the celebration, and I will join you on the journey.

I invite you to come along with me. Come, let’s make it a novena. It’s almost time to enter nine days of prayerful journey – to Our God.




Denise Bossert is a professional travel writer for Select International Tours. Select has provided travel for hundreds of groups and many prominent church leaders.


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