Skip to content

Denise’s Israel Travelogue – May 19-29, 2014

May 26, 2014 – Today, we had the incredible privilege of attending a reception at President Shimon Peres’ palace in honor of Pope Francis. I had just been to all of the places below (and many other places, too), and the rich heritage we have as Christians and children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob hit me in a deep way. I felt a flood of emotions. Here was the successor to St. Peter meeting the President of Israel. And the history they share, and the land they both love, added a depth to the meeting, stirring up all the graces that I have received so far in this pilgrimage to the land of Our Lord’s birth.

IMG_2347photo (4)photo 1photo 2photo 3photo 4



















After the reception, we visited the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the site of the Crucifixion, anointing after death, and burial/resurrection).




Where the Lord was crucified for us.


The Anointing Stone



The Tomb

















Our guide and travel hostess told us that the line to the tomb is always around two hours. It is never under an hour – ever. They are never able to fit a visit to the tomb into the schedule because the wait is just too long. But today… the wait was under ten minutes. And so, we were able to visit the site – to enter the little opening and pass through the chapel of angels, then through another small opening into a very small tomb (three people can kneel at a time and that is all). It. Is. Powerful.

I was able to reach out and touch the very place Our Lord was raised from the dead and conquered our greatest fear forever.

The Lord I have loved for almost as long as I can remember was buried there. I touched the tomb. I suppose we have all stood at a grave and mourned a loved one. But today, I stood at the only grave that opened the way to life everlasting. I stood at the only grave that brings tears of joy and devotion to the soul. I stood at the only grave that had to render up its victim.

And then, we visited the Western Wall – the only remaining portion of an inner wall that surrounded the Temple Our Lord knew. I touched a spot he may have touched. No, that’s not quite what I did. I pressed my fingers into the curves and grooves of the stone bricks that were chiseled thousands of years ago – and tears flowed down my face. I wiped them away, but they kept coming.194

So, I let them fall into my hands, and I touched my wet hands to the stone. My tears kissed the cold surface. And I felt Him near me.

I worked hard to finagle the folded paper into the crack in the wall. It is what people do. They leave their petitions here, within the wall. I had thought this one event over for quite some time. Before I ever left St. Louis, I printed out my prayers (two copies, so I would have one to keep, to remember what they were.

What a day. What an exhausting, awesome day that once again filled my heart and spilled over because it was more than I could hold inside.

Sending love and lifting prayers from the Old City of Jerusalem.

Shalom, friends.

Peace be with you.


May 25, 2014 – dinner and then press meeting with Pope Francis. It seems like I was in the right place at the right time all day today. I was able to get a picture of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the lobby of our hotel (he is staying here as well) and a picture of Pope Francis’ helicopter as it flew over our hotel.

Here is a clip from the press conference – Fr. Frederico Lombardi is speaking.













And I sat beside this priest at the press event. He looks familiar and was saying Fr. Frederico Lombardi’s speech under his breath. Either he wrote it or he just knows it like the back of his hand. Somebody go to facebook and let me know who it is!












We attended Mass at the site where Jesus broke bread after the Resurrection (Road to Emmaus). Then we visited the Temple Mount, Tomb of King David, Church of Dormition, and the site of the Last Supper.

We attended Mass at a church on the site of the Emmaus Road story after the Resurrection. We almost didn’t make it… Check out that story:

We just made a turn, and arrows on the sign indicate that we are headed to Jericho and Jerusalem. Surreal. And speaking of surreal, we may be late to Mass because there was a suspicious bag on the road a few cars ahead of us. They preempted possible danger by blowing up the suspected bag – and yes, we heard and saw the small explosion. Not your typical reason for being late to Mass. Reality check. Some people have bigger concerns in this world than we do in the U.S. (Our guide did say that, while things like this happen, it is not commonplace, and their efforts to be proactive with suspected bags is a safety precaution.)

May 22-23, 2014 – We have visited a number of sites that make one ponder St. Peter. In the context of Pope Francis’ visit, these holy sites were particularly meaningful to me.   6                     Primacy of Peter There is a church near Tiberias called the Primacy of Peter, or Peter’s Church. It marks the spot along the Sea of Galilee at which Jesus appeared to His apostles after the resurrection. At this point in the Gospel story, the apostles had decided it was time to return to their former line of work. They couldn’t imagine the period of their lives with Christ would continue. The spirit of evangelism seemed to have died with Christ’s death. Though He had risen from the dead, they had no schema for what might take place now. Perhaps everything would just go back to the way it was before – although they were not the same. They had been touched by Christ and would never be the same. But they couldn’t see the way forward. What now? They turned to the work they knew and understood. Fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They neared the shore line after a night of unsuccessful fishing. A man from the shore called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered no. It was a wasted night on Galilee. And then the man commanded them to try casting the nets on the right side of the boat. The suggestion seemed absurd. But they did it. And they lifted the nets to claim the greatest catch of their lives. It was Peter who sensed something miraculous here. This was all too familiar. It reminded him of the day when the Son of Man called to him and bid him come, follow. Peter looked at the fish. One hundred and fifty-three of them. How could this be? And just as quickly as he asked himself the question, the Holy Spirit inspired him with the answer. Peter raised his eyes and looked at the man along the shore. Instantly, he knew it was the Lord. He dove into the water, and swam to the shore. It is here that Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter, do you love me.” The questions are hard to hear. Peter feels anguish as he responds. But, it is time to clean the slate. Peter denied Jesus three times while the Lord was beaten and condemned to die. And the healing grace would come in the form of these three difficult questions from the One he had denied in the hours of His greatest suffering. Yes, Lord. I love you. You know that I do. Then feed my sheep, Peter. Care for them – care for all of them. And the one who had held the place of primacy in the list of the Apostles is once again the first among disciples. For all time, his name would be listed first. For all time, Judas Iscariot’s name would be listed last. Even Scripture provides a subtle word on Peter’s place. He is the first among brothers. Our Lord’s question revealed many things. Though he would have a place of distinction among the Apostles, he would be called to a life of service to his brothers and to Jesus Christ. He would not be called to lord it over the brother Apostles. He was called to serve them, as Christ served them. He was called to love the sheep and seek the lost sheep and bring them back, as Christ had done. Peter would be marked for a singular death – one that pointed back to the Passion. One that pointed forward to days of martyrdom-that-glorifies Christ. A death that leads through dying and speaks words of Truth as powerful as any Peter spoke. This Christ has risen, and the one Peter denied is worthy of everything – including death. Peter had been transformed by the glory and power of the Cross of Christ. There is a shore near Tiberias, along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. And on that site, there is a church. In the sand along the shore, just a few feet from the front door of the church, there are a number of rocks large enough to sit upon. Three of them are in the shape of a heart. They serve to remind us– Simon, do you love me? Yes, Lord. Simon, do you love me? You know that I do. Simon, do you love me? Yes, you know everything about me, my Lord, and you know that I love you. The rocks remind visitors to the church of the three exchanges between the risen Savior and the one who denied Him. Each rock stands for love. Each rock is a mandate to go – and to love to the point of death, as Christ has done. The day we were on the shore near Tiberias, children played in the water, couples sat on the heart-shaped rocks, and off to the right, a man cast a fishing rod into the water. I was tempted to call out to him. “Child, have you caught anything to eat?” But instead, I merely pondered it all and smiled. There was a time I did not see anything special in Peter, nothing to distinguish him from any of the other Apostles. He was just one among many. And now, in this place where the Gospels seem to be alive, it is very clear. Peter’s Primacy is clear. From there, we visited Capernaum, and the lessons on Peter continued. My journey to Peter’s Primacy began the day before – at Caesarea Philippi – where Jesus says to the Apostles, who do men say that I am? To this, Peter replies, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus says to Peter, “And so, I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Two thousand years have proved these words. Peter is the rock. And the gates of hell have not prevailed. Thanks be to God! Matthew 16 & John 21 May – 22, 2014 – Mount of Beatitudes – one of the most overwhelming moments so far. I was moved to tears when I saw the people from so many countries all gathered there. The Sermon on the Mount has gone worldwide.   The Church… 1     2           Mount of Beatitudes–notice the Tabernacle Candle. He is here.   tabernacle candle mount of olives                     May 22, 2014 –  I am sitting in my room with the patio door open, and I can see the Sea of Galilee as early evening falls. The wind is coming off the waves and coming through the open patio door, and children’s voices are rising up to my fifth floor room. There are hills here, in Tiberias, and I can see them across the Sea. What an amazing day. I visited the Church of the Annunciation where Archangel Gabriel greeted Our Blessed Mother. And then we drove to Cana of Galilee. I had wished these two biggies were not on the first day because I wanted to be rested and ready to receive, but grace showed up, and it was amazing – especially the site below the Church of the Annunciation. An Altar is over the place where Mary heard and received the Word Made Flesh. In fact, the words on the floor say just that. The Word was Made Flesh HERE. Isn’t that incredible? I feel a little like I did when I first encountered Adoration. I know that something really profoundly amazing has happened in these places, but I find my human senses too weak to grasp it all, and I already sense that the graces will come in wave upon wave – just as the surface of the Sea outside. It is so close. I can clearly see fishing boats! I can see distinct waves as they lap up along the surface. May 21, 2014 –flight to Israel! And then we visited the Church of the Annunciation–where Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear the Son of God, the Lord, Messiah, and Redeemer, for the sake of the world.


A Gift from the Vatican to the Church of the Annunciation


On our way up to the Church of the Annunciation


The Church of the Annunciation


Inside the Church of the Annunciation


Standing at the doors of the Annunciation

Mary's Home

Mary’s Home


Israel 005

“The Word Was Made Flesh Here”

May 20, 2014 -I was the only hotel guest on the shuttle back to the airport this morning, so the very kind driver took me to the front doors of El Al check-in (otherwise I would have had to take a bus, from the shuttle drop-off, to the airport, and then find my way to El Al airlines. Another gentleman asked me the usual questions – why are you traveling to Israel (do you know how great it is to be able to say, “Well, I am traveling with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of the Israel Ministry of Tourism in order to visit the holy sites and cover the Holy Father’s visit to Israel?)! Then, I was again shown the red carpet at baggage check-in and directed to go to the Art and Lounge. The lounge, by the way, is amazing. Enjoy the pictures!lounge1lounge3                 May 19, 2014 – Just before take-off, a flock of birds took to flight outside my window. He gives flight to the birds. He also gives flight to my soul. I shall mount up with wings as an eagle. And I pray that I shall walk and not grow weary, run and not grow faint, as we journey through these holy places together. I have prepared in every imaginable way, except physically. My backpack is already too heavy. I will be leaving the laptop in my suitcase at the hotel most days, I think. This iPad is much lighter. And it does the job. It is dark outside the window (yes, I have a window seat to Newark). And Mark Doman is singing softly through my new Bose noise-canceling headphones. (Thanks, Hon! Love them!) All in all, a very good beginning to this pilgrimage – if one forgets my mad-scramble to purge the extra pounds in my suitcase just before check-in. My quick-temper raised its head. But now, I am eight pounds lighter- though I only needed to purge four pounds. So, there is some wiggle room on the return flight. I miss John and Jen. It feels like a retreat. So quiet. But tomorrow, I connect with the other travelers. Blessings, friends! May 19, 2014 – John and I went to Mass this morning and Fr. Tom prayed a special pilgrimage blessing for me. What a great way to begin the journey to the Holy Land. I am sorting through the clutter on my little desk and ran across a journal I started on December 27th (2013). I haven’t had time lately to make entries, but I reread the first few pages. The words seemed to skip through the months and reach me right where I am today.

St. Therese Writing Desk II

St. Therese’ writing desk.

[Dec. 27, 2013–One of the first epiphanies to come as a result [of keeping a journal] is that I want to be a contemplative writer…. I will share – speak…but this closeness, this bond in grace is the only thing that matters. I want others to encounter Christ like this. So I will write. But I will not be fully me in that public space. I will be fully me…here…where I am known by Him, by the One who formed me from dust…I will wait for Him. Cry out for Him. And He will come, because we always save what belongs to us. 2014 will be a year of writing. It’s what I was made to do – how I was made to share Christ. But it is Christ first. The entry in my journal matches today’s Responsorial Psalm: Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory.   May 18, 2014 -Last night, I finished reading the Gospel of St. Mark. I read them out of order – Luke & John, then Matthew & Mark – but I did read them all. And now, I am ready to encounter that fifth Gospel. The Holy Land. Estimated time of departure… T-minus one day. Lord, help me to remember that today is your day. Sunday. Quiet this racing mind. And thank You for helping me to get that suitcase packed – even though I keep realizing that I still need something that I packed in it. But it means that the bulk of what I must do is done. It saves today for You. If I can’t quiet my heart and soul today for You, how can I ever quiet it in the Holy Land? This is good practice. An exercise in contemplation while in the tsunami of travel plans. If I can order the racing thoughts to “stand down” on a Sunday in May, then maybe I can find that place of contemplation that I so want to have when I am there… where You walked… where Your mother walked… where everything began.   May 17, 2014 – I’m exhausted tonight, but it feels good. The suitcase is packed, and I will work on the backpack tomorrow. (I ordered a TSA-friendly backpack for the laptop, iPad, and carry-on items.) Just praying I don’t forget my passport and Catholic Press Association pass – two key items! I made it to daily Mass this morning and made my last stop in the confessional before the trip. Tonight, my husband and I went out to eat and returned home & watched a recorded episode of Survivor. It’s just what I needed. For a few minutes, I was able to take my mind off trip preparation.   May 16, 2014 – Here is an interview I did with fellow Catholic Press Association travelers. These are some of the cool folks I will be traveling with in the Holy Land! Enjoy! May 12, 2014 The dates have changed slightly. We will be leaving for Israel on May 20th and returning on May 29th. (Originally, we were scheduled to leave May 18th and return May 28th.) Please keep David von Glahn of The Faithful Traveler (EWTN) in your prayers. David and his wife Diana are scheduled to travel with our little group to Israel and film a series on the Holy Land. David had a heart attack yesterday (May 11th) and had surgery. The doctors will be evaluating him in the next 24-48 hours to determine if he is able to travel abroad. Thanks for your prayers! And check out their website!!! Today, I am putting together my TSA 3-1-1 liquid bag for carry-ons. The checked bag does not have to meet this standard. Carry-on standards are set at 3.4 ounces (100ml) bottle or less (by volume); 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure. Yesterday was Mother’s Day. My daughter gave me this for my transatlantic flight! Bose May 2, 2014 The countdown has begun. The laptop, iPad, and iPhone are ready. The customs-friendly backpack awaits. I have sensible shoes for walking, jeans and t-shirts and skirts ready to pack. I have a notebook and pen with the Archdiocese of STL logo on them, and I can’t wait to jot every little thing down.       The electrical adapters arrived in the mail.adapters           I am making my way through the Gospels – and feeling a little like the college girl who always over-prepared for every test. I am more than half-way through Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage. And I have noted every passage I may want to reference while in the Holy Land. Don’t believe me. Here’s my proof (and this is only one camera shot of the inside front cover):James Martin I have mastered the messy-bun – my go-to hairstyle for the 10-day trip. And I have all the necessary hair products in miniature for the carry-on bag. Soon, I will drive to Lambert Airport and make my way to Israel where I will be traveling with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. And you are invited to join us. I will post my travelogue here at and on my Facebook Page. Stop by and LIKE the page:   And to get the celebration started, I am posting my first travelogue entry here. Enjoy– It is, perhaps, the most ecumenical thing I will ever do. It underscores every Bible story I heard as a preacher’s kid. It was on my father’s bucket list, though he was never able to check it off. It is something every Catholic and Protestant hold in common. It is a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. From May 18th-28th, I will walk where Christ walked. In January, I applied for the Catholic Press Association trip to Israel. A few Catholic writers are chosen every year to go to the Holy Land as guests of the IsraelI Ministry of Tourism. In November 2013, I signed a contract with Ave Maria Press on a book entitled Hills of Judea. At that moment, I knew that I simply had to go to Israel – somehow, some way. I wanted to be able to stand on the soil and scan those hills with my own eyes. I wanted to experience places Mary called home – to see what she saw, feel a bit of what she felt, see Christ through her eyes in the land they both knew. When I received word that I was one of the journalists chosen for this year’s trip, I was filled with a spiritual joy that I cannot explain. The Gospels come alive there. The rocks, the hills, the holy places – it all stands as a witness to what we believe through faith. Christ lived. Christ died. Christ has risen. But the story goes back even further. The land itself holds the history of Israel, a history that runs through the matriarchs and patriarchs of salvation history. I will become like a little child, sitting on grandma’s lap and remember how she read aloud the story of David fleeing from King Saul. I will stand where David knelt to cut a square from Saul’s garment, where David swore he would not touch God’s anointed one, even if King Saul was on a hunt to the death. I will remember anew how David fled a short distance and then called to the king, saying, see here, I have cut a piece of your clothing, my king, but I did not harm you, even though I had the chance to end it all right now. I will not touch God’s anointed one. And Saul wept for shame, but continued to hunt David like a man possessed. I will stand on Mount Carmel, where my favorite Old Testament prophet had a showdown with the false prophets of Baal. I will look up into the heavens, remembering the fire that rained down, lapping up the altar and the offering – and all of the water Baal’s prophets poured out upon it in an effort to thwart the hand of the one true God. And I will remember the Lord who works miracles – and how all the miracles began right in this land, culminating in the greatest of all – a birth in Bethlehem, a resurrection in Jerusalem. I will see these places, too. I will visit the Upper Room, where Our Lord first shared His Body and Blood with his apostles. I will think of the first time I read the Gospel of John with eyes ready to receive the truth about the Real Presence. I will stand at the wailing wall – all that remains of the Temple they both knew. And I will pray for Our Lord’s return and for Christian unity – for the New Evangelization that will lay a foundation for both of these. The Holy Land is also the site of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras I which occurred fifty years ago. To commemorate that historic meeting, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople on this holy ground. Yes, the Holy Father will be there as well. And I will be praying for him. Indeed, this is an ecumenical pilgrimage the whole Church is taking. An historic moment. A moment in which anything is possible. I invite you to join me May 18-28th on Facebook or through my website. Let us journey together – where it all began. Let us intercede for ecumenical dialogue that leads to unity. Miracles have taken place on that soil throughout Salvation History. May the Holy Spirit descend again!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dorothy Anderson #

    I saw your article in the St. Louis Review inviting readers to share your experiences as you traveled to the Holyland but it wasn’t until today that I actually read it. Mainly because I was supposed to be traveling with a group leaving Wednesday, June 4 and am heartbroken that I will not be with them. Even though I have been there three times, it is never enough. As time goes by, you will find that you will yearn to return. It changes your life forever. Whenever you read scriptures you are brought back to the spot where it happened and it is so real because you were there. I was especially touched in Galilee where the actual hills were the same ones where He walked. It was closer to my heart than all the beautiful churches and shrines. And to be in a boat on the sea…how often did He do that. My memories will have to keep me going as at age 80, by body wouldn’t let me experience it again. But still my heart is aching more than my body. Thank you for letting me share what is in my heart right now. Shalom

    June 2, 2014
    • Denise Bossert #

      Shalom, Dorothy! And thanks for your comment. The Holy Land was everything you said – and more. I already want to go back!

      June 2, 2014

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS