My Spiritual Renewal in the Holy Land and Petra

When my friend Teddy Diaz de Rivera invited me to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Petra that he was organizing, it was Petra that initially enticed me. The ruins of Petra had been on my bucket list for many years and, if I had to go to the Holy Land before Petra, I thought, so be it. Yet, I did not fail to notice a peculiar feeling, a tug almost, as he continued with details of the trip. Initially, my mind raced with a myriad reasons for why I didn’t need to go…several trips already this year, taxes to be filed and, of course, safety concerns! Nevertheless, I felt an inexplicable calmness about my decision to go, and things literally fell into place.

By definition, a pilgrimage is a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion. Not particularly religious, I wondered about a specifically religious trip surrounded by the more faithful. Nevertheless, I promised to show up with an open mind and an open heart at the very least. As it turns out, that is all you need.

These are the Highlights of our Trip


Built by Herod the Great, Caesarea Maritima was once the ancient capital of the Roman Empire. Through the ruins, you can imagine the grandeur of what must have been a beautiful city by the Mediterranean Sea. A theater which has been restored is still used for concerts today, and a hippodrome where horse-driven chariots used to race coupled with remnants of intricately carved stone columns remind you of the advanced engineering the Romans were known for.

 Caesarea Maritama (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Caesarea Maritama (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

  Hippodrome (Photo by Genevieve Dee)

Hippodrome (Photo by Genevieve Dee)

 Columns at Caesaria 

Columns at Caesaria 

 The Theater at Caesaria with Teddy Diaz de Rivera, Susan and Ted Concepcion 

The Theater at Caesaria with Teddy Diaz de Rivera, Susan and Ted Concepcion 


In the Town of Nazareth, the Basilica of the Annunciation honors the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. The sunken, oval-shaped Church is unusual. Pilgrims descend on stairs to look at the cave behind the altar. We were happy to discover a Filipino interpretation of the event on one of the walls surrounding the Church. Here, we passed through the first of Four Holy Doors through which plenary indulgences are gained without having to travel to Rome.

 A Filipino interpretation of The Annunciation  (  Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

A Filipino interpretation of The Annunciation (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Oval Shape of the Church 

The Oval Shape of the Church 

 The sign at the Holy Door 

The sign at the Holy Door 


An early morning boat ride on the calm, peaceful waters of the Sea of Galilee: Mentioned many times in the Bible, this is where Jesus walked on water and where He calmed the storm. 

 Members of the pilgrimage pose for a souvenir shot on the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. 

Members of the pilgrimage pose for a souvenir shot on the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. 


One of the many religious sites built by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, the Church at the Mount of Beatitudes commemorates the Sermon on the Mount.

 Church of the Beatitudes 

Church of the Beatitudes 

 One of the Beatitudes  (  Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

One of the Beatitudes (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The altar at the Church of the Beatitudes 

The altar at the Church of the Beatitudes 


At Tabgha, simple, modern lines of the Church of the Multiplication celebrate the miracle of multiplication of the loaves of bread and fish. Underneath the altar is a rock that marks the spot where Jesus fed the Multitude. Third and Fourth Century churches were built around this rock.

Each church presented opportunities to light a candle to pray to specific saints for special intentions. 

 The Church of the Multiplication 

The Church of the Multiplication 


The Wedding Church at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine for a wedding feast is small and intimate. A chapel nearby provided the site for Mass to celebrate the renewal of wedding vows for Teddy and Jeanine Diaz de Rivera, Ted and Susan Concepcion, Tito and Marit Yuchengco and Yong and Cookie Cuenca. Our ever thoughtful guide, Shafik Khbeis, provided flowers for “the brides” and an assortment of baklava at the end of the ceremony.

 The Church at Cana 

The Church at Cana 

 Beaming faces of the happy couples, from left to right, Susan and Ted Concepcion, Jeanine and Teddy de Rivera with Fr. Rey Culaba. 

Beaming faces of the happy couples, from left to right, Susan and Ted Concepcion, Jeanine and Teddy de Rivera with Fr. Rey Culaba. 

 More Happy Couples (left to right) Marit and Tito Yuchengco and Cookie and Yong Cuenca.

More Happy Couples (left to right) Marit and Tito Yuchengco and Cookie and Yong Cuenca.

 Different kinds of baklava 

Different kinds of baklava 


One of the many blessings received by everyone was daily mass said by Fr. Rey Culaba. A huge bonus was that we were able to celebrate it in close proximity to the altar. This is the beautiful altar at the Church of the Transfiguration. The peacocks on the stained glass window behind signify beauty and longevity. It is said that it takes 100 years before a peacock feather decomposes. The Church sits on top of Mount Tabor. Shuttle buses are used to navigate the narrow streets and hairpin turns. 

 The Church of the Transfiguration atop Mount Tabor  (  Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The Church of the Transfiguration atop Mount Tabor (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The altar at the Church of the Transfiguration 

The altar at the Church of the Transfiguration 


Walking the steps to the Church of the Visitation can be physically taxing, especially for those with injuries. Glimpses of the picturesque and serene town of Ein Karem kept us company. With perseverance and the help of fellow pilgrims, everyone made it to the top. This Church honors Mary, the Mother of God, visiting Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptist. This is also where Mary recited the Magnificat, also known as the Song of Mary.

There’s a sculpture of Mary and Elizabeth in the courtyard and in the background, The Magnificat, in different languages.

 The town of Ein Karam  (  Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The town of Ein Karam (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Church of the Visitation  (  Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The Church of the Visitation (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Magnificat in different languages 

The Magnificat in different languages 

 The Magnificat in Tagalog  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The Magnificat in Tagalog (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 Another prayer in Tagalog  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

Another prayer in Tagalog (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

  Sculpture of Mary and Elizabeth with pilgrims Beth Milena (left) and Binky Camara


Sculpture of Mary and Elizabeth with pilgrims Beth Milena (left) and Binky Camara


Worth visiting is the Holy Land Model of Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. This impressive reproduction was based on various historical writings. It gives you an overview of what the city looked like and gives scale and proportion to the many sites of the Old Testament stories.

 The Holy Land Model  (Photo by Kathy Chan)

The Holy Land Model (Photo by Kathy Chan)

 The model of the city of Jerusalem  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The model of the city of Jerusalem (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square holds a special place in my heart. This is where Jesus was born. Currently under renovation, it was a bit difficult to appreciate the Church above all the scaffolding. Greek Orthodox icons and chandeliers adorn the front of the Church and light the way towards the Nativity Grotto. A small flight of steps leads down into a small cave where everyone waits their turn to pray over and touch the star that marks the spot where Jesus was born. You only get a few precious seconds for this. It is over before your thoughts and emotions catch up. Just the same, it visibly affected everyone. People came out smiling and was in awe at what had just transpired. I felt my heart swell with emotion. I felt it fill to the very brim. And, as we celebrated Mass a few minutes later, I burst into tears of joy. I had not expected a reaction remotely close to this. 

 The manger under renovation.  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The manger under renovation. (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The star which marks the spot where Jesus was born 

The star which marks the spot where Jesus was born 


In contrast to the joyful and happy mood at the Church of the Nativity, The Garden of Gethsemane and Basilica of Agony beside it evoked quite the opposite. To get to the Church, you walk through the Garden of Gethsemane located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. You look at the olive trees and notice their wide, sturdy trunks very different from those that abound pretty much everywhere else. In fact, several of the trees here are among the oldest known to science. You realize that these were the trees that surrounded Jesus when he prayed before he was betrayed by Judas. Passing through another Holy Door, you are immediately drawn to the altar. In the middle lies a huge slab of rock surrounded by a wrought iron crown of thorns. The rock is believed to be the where Jesus prayed before his arrest. This beautiful Church has a facade with a mosaic depicting the different scenes honored here.

 The Church at Gethsemane 

The Church at Gethsemane 

 The Garden at Gethsemane  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The Garden at Gethsemane (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The prickly, sharp leaves of this tree were used to make the crown of thorns of Jesus.  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The prickly, sharp leaves of this tree were used to make the crown of thorns of Jesus. (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The mosaic artwork inside the church  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The mosaic artwork inside the church (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The wrought iron thorns that surround the rock where Jesus prayed and sweat blood.  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The wrought iron thorns that surround the rock where Jesus prayed and sweat blood. (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Lord's Prayer in Tagalog  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The Lord's Prayer in Tagalog (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Lord's Prayer in Pampango  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The Lord's Prayer in Pampango (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)


In addition to the many Holy Sites we visited, we saw Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overlooking the Dead Sea, the view is breathtaking from above. Built by Herod the Great, this magnificent fortress sits on top of a mountain which is flat as a result of its geographical formation. It is mindboggling to see the different areas that allowed hundreds of people to live way up high many, many years before. It boasts two palaces one of which is the Northern Palace or Hanging Palace that served as Herod’s private residence. Exploring the area reveals caldariums or hot baths, store rooms, humongous cisterns used to store rainwater and even a synagogue. Remains of Roman base camps can still be seen down below today. It is no wonder that it took the Romans two years before they breached the walls of Masada.

 A model showing the Hanging Palace of Herod the Great  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

A model showing the Hanging Palace of Herod the Great (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 Tour group atop Masada 

Tour group atop Masada 

 The cave where the dead sea scrolls where found  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The cave where the dead sea scrolls where found (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)


One of the most precious memories for the group was walking the Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows at 5 a.m. This was the route taken by Christ as he was led to his crucifixion. Taking turns carrying different parts of a cross made this even more meaningful. Each station commemorated by a wall plaque was sometimes hard to see as we navigated the cobbled streets in the dark. This gave us but a glimpse of what Christ went through. There was not a dry eye as we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to complete the last four stations.

 Via Dolorosa 

Via Dolorosa 


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits on the Hill of Golgotha. From the courtyard outside, it looks fairly simple. Yet, it is one of the most important churches in all of Christendom. It commemorates the Crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Christ. A steep but short flight of stairs leads you to Golgotha. The Rock of Calvary protected by glass is from the site of the crucifixion. It borders The Altar of the Crucifixion. Underneath the altar is a hole where the cross was placed. Here, we were unencumbered by the usually long lines to a sacred site. By the main entrance lays the Stone of Unction. This was used for the anointing of Christ’s Body after his death. It is covered in oil whose scent permeates throughout the Church. Underneath the large dome of the Church is the chapel called the Aedicule. The outer chamber shows you a fraction of the stone that was used to seal Jesus’ tomb. The inner chamber is where the tomb actually is. It is difficult to process all the emotions and thoughts that run through your mind. Everything leading up to this moment … it was truly overwhelming. I was overcome with so many mixed emotions. I felt I needed some time and a chance to sort it all out. I was grateful for the chance to just sit and be.  

 The Church of the Holy Sepulchre  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 The Stone of Unction 

The Stone of Unction 

 The slab that covers the Tomb of Jesus  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

The slab that covers the Tomb of Jesus (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)


Filipinos love food and shopping. Any trip would not be complete without both. We enjoyed sampling all the familiar and not so familiar fare. We had all kinds of hummus, lamb, olives, dates, labane, pomegranate juice, many types of cheese, babaghanoush, kibbe, falafel, tabouleh, lime mint juice and Za’atar spice on anything, even bread! Then there was pita bread, naan bread, flatbread…and, baklava! We LOVED the Food! On the other hand, the Market in the Old City provided wonderful opportunities for shopping, extreme haggling encouraged. There were different colors and scents of exotic spices, local delicacies, food, clothes, incense and of course, ALL kinds of religious souvenirs. It was everything I imagined a souk would be!

 Spices in the market 

Spices in the market 

 Street at the Old City lined with shops

Street at the Old City lined with shops


Taking a dip in the Dead Sea was quite an experience. We laughed as we gingerly made our way to the water and squealed with delight as we sat back and floated instantly. Our raised hands and feet were testimony to the Sea’s legendary buoyancy. Later, we covered ourselves with mud, eager to partake of its many benefits.

 Taking a dip in the Dead Sea 

Taking a dip in the Dead Sea 


And then, there was Petra! Established by the Nabataeans around 312 BC, it was once a busy metropolis and a center for trade. Walking through the passageway or Bab-el-Siq to the Treasury is remarkable in itself. The winding gorge is cool and filled with examples of monuments and water channels carved out in the stone. At the end is the view of The Treasury, magnificent in the sunlight! The rich, red color of sandstone gives it its characteristic glow. We rode camels led by Bedouin guides to the Royal Tomb, a huge city complete with a theater and temples. Your eyes marvel at the intricate carvings and chambers deep in the rock. This archeological site truly deserves its place in The New7Wonders of the World. I want to return to explore this marvelous city some day.

 The narrow passageway known as The Siq is the winding entrance that leads to Petra. 

The narrow passageway known as The Siq is the winding entrance that leads to Petra. 

 The view from End of the Siq that gives you a peek of The Treasury. 

The view from End of the Siq that gives you a peek of The Treasury. 

 Annabelle Yuchengco poses with the Petra guards.  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco  )

Annabelle Yuchengco poses with the Petra guards. (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

 Al Khazneh or The Treasury is Petra’s most famous ruin.

Al Khazneh or The Treasury is Petra’s most famous ruin.

 Obelisk Tomb and the Triclinium  (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

Obelisk Tomb and the Triclinium (Photo by Mona Lisa Yuchengco)

As I put away my luggage, I reminisce with great fondness the many things I saw. I marveled at the tenacity of many of my companions to sometimes just keep up with the group. I welcomed the small opportunities of getting to know different people at unexpected times and places. I graciously accepted the help and encouragement generously shared. I basked in the wide smiles that brought even more sunshine to my day. I miss the laughter and banter with my newfound sisters. Father Rey constantly reminded us to keep still and take mental pictures of the many Holy Sites. Instead, I chose to remember the feelings these sites evoked. Many times, I would find tears running down my cheeks not quite sure why I was crying. But, this I know. Literally walking the way, touching sacred objects and seeing the Bible come to life gave me a deeper understanding of my faith. It has also given me a thirst for more. And, most important of all, as I continue my life journey, and breathe in God’s peace, I know that I am Truly Blessed, Highly Favored and Deeply Loved.

I would like to thank Shafik Khebeis for helping me with the many, little details of each of the places. He truly was the difference that made our pilgrimage a great one.

Photos used were taken from a compilation of the Group's photos. Photos used with Group's permission.


 Genevieve Dee

Genevieve Dee

Practicing dentistry for the last 20 years and counting, Genevieve Dee feels deeply about helping others. Health and wellness have been a constant in her life, exercise and healthy living a priority. Her passion for food and travel has also allowed her to indulge in her love of learning and exploration. A mother of two, she tries to live life with gratitude and appreciation