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It doesn’t matter if it is 1,500 feet (quite a distance) from and to the holy of holies. A five-word prayer between me and our God that took over a year of careful reflection inscribed (last minute) at the Via Dolorosa…



No place on earth (at least the ones I’ve been to, not a beach, a treasure island, a modern city with glittering lights) can match the otherworldly experience of praying the stations of the cross at the Via Dolorosa and visiting the tomb at the church of the Holy Sepulcher. I thought we were the only group in the stone paved street on a chilly Monday morning but no, two Filipino groups were ahead and behind us around 7am (tough to beat).

As I was stooping down to enter the narrow entrance to the tomb, a long-bearded man clad in a worn-out black cassock (must have been an orthodox priest), warned me not to take photos. I hear you and got in.

Down on my knees and head bent as a gesture of reverence before the marble tomb, I thanked Him for finally bringing me here (years in the making), begged pardon, lit a beeswax taper candle, offered prayers for all, inserted a few bucks in the offering box and rubbed my eyes swelling in tears…of joy….

At the urgings of the moment, I stayed for a more minutes by myself between me and him while the rest waited outside…There was silence between us…it was profound…I had no words to say and I felt a huge load was taken off my shoulder before heading out…

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Behold! The wood of the Cross

Mt Calvary

It is timely and fitting that after days of journey, the last Eucharist of this Pilgrimage is celebrated at the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper where Jesus with his disciples broke bread and the Pentecost for a taking us to a deeper level of faith, a new energy & passion for ministry, a spiritual awakening and finally, a revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God that extends beyond historical and literally claims.

No lo puedo creer aqui estoy


I still can’t believe I knelt and prayed over the site where Christ was born proven with 100% historical accuracy. The experience left nothing to my imagination.



We waited in line for over two hours. My legs wore out but I couldn’t quit. As we entered the intricately crafted wooden door next to the orthodox chapel, a rude American, in an attempt to cut the line (not fair at all), had an altercation (shoved the guide) with the tour guide. Since there was no security to ask for help, I instantly threw my arms to stop the mess. And I did it, only because I was afraid it would have been worse and I bet you that would have been a tragedy. It was intense. Satan was causing a lot of trouble.

Just before heading down the cave, I sensed things were getting out of hand again and I cannot in my conscience allow that. I reminded pilgrims around as gently and charitably as I can, not to rush, not to push, stay calm, keep your conscience clear as the star was just a feet away. Everyone will have the chance. It’s just a matter of time. It makes no sense approaching the holy site with a heavy heart.

People nodded their heads in approval. Negative energies disappeared and I’m glad I did it not for applause but to set the mood right. And off we went…

I was on a roll for about two minutes.

We have come this far from all over the world to adore God who chose to be born in the flesh in a stable, in a manger, in a simple, humble and unassuming scenario to unite humanity and absolutely never to ignore the invisible in society (italics was part of the homily).

Celebrated Mass Ad Orientem for the very first time at St Joseph Chapel/Crypt.

I still can’t believe I’m here…


It’s coming along so quickly that I don’t remember many of the places we visited and their significance. And yet, quite a few preserved ruins, marble altars and sanctuaries adorned with mosaics vividly create a lasting impression, a bygone era has come alive. The literal suddenly becomes real.

Depending on anyone’s interpretation, the sign PLEASE NO EXPLANATION IN THE CHURCH! posted in the entrance of the church of gethsemane says it all! with an exclamation mark. It speaks volumes to preachers who attempt in a superhuman way to put everything in words, allowing no room for God to work and the mystery behind engender faith.

Bingo! Rituals are not meant to be elaborately explained and completely understood but to be experienced.

A Mass was offered in Cana at St John the Evangelist Chapel. I was told we can’t use the main church because a Filipino group reserved the space way ahead. Fair enough!

At the renewal rite, my group was casually dressed. They didn’t mind at all as the robe worn in the rough and tumble of married life are the virtues of fidelity, integrity, forgiveness, patience and endless love. Spouses who left their better halves back home had the chance to renew their vows as well. Inspired by Jesus’ inclusive style, the single, the divorced and widows in attendance were offered prayers too.

The renewal of vows was lovely. Although we went over the 50min mark. We had so much fun that I’ve never laughed so hard and worn a smile that spread across my face for the better part of the pilgrimage.

I still can’t believe I’m here and said Mass at St John the Evangelist Chapel.


There is something about pilgrimage no literature can adequately cover than the experience of visiting the sacred/biblical sites even if they are restored ruins. Day Two started with a Mass at Capernaum Church where Jesus spent most of his ministry and service, an area by the Sea of Galilee.

In his professional life, Jesus’ charisma was unmatched. His amazing personality of humility, simplicity, deep compassion & sincerity combined no wonder drew much attention and attracted humongous number of people many of whom stuck with him. His gentle touch healed physical ailments, uplifted lowly spirits and inspired empty hearts. His moral backbone was unshakable even by the threats of his day. Everything he said and did pointed to something larger than life, the reign of God. He spoke with commanding authority and as a result, his words became the rule.

Imagine the remarkable impact even at a purely human level a sincere, compassionate and humble individual can make and take anyone to an otherworldly realm.


To stand on the ground of the church of the primacy of Peter, where the gospel proclaimed took place (truth and not a fact) even if it was a memory of a distant past was simply incredible. The Spanish sounds even better, INCRE IBLE!

The experience makes all the difference in the world.

The Mass to cap the day was well represented by various races & nationalities although most, if not all, reside in the States. The divinely revealed word brought us together not by coincidence but for a sacred purpose, to tend the lamb & feed the sheep by working for unity and not division in the church under Peter.

At the sacristy, my legs started to shake, my jaws tight. I was so nervous. I wanted to cry but I can’t as the service was about to start. I’m a running priest and not crying. As I led the crowd with the sign of the cross, I gained back my composure.

I still maintain my claim that this trip has elements of both tour & pilgrimage. We get escorted by a guide with a 30 year experience in the job, stay in nice hotel and enjoy its amenities understandably for safety and comfort, definitely money’s worth. As a chaplain, I was in charge of the spiritual and religious need. Before hitting the road, he reminded me to stay calm, relax and not worry much about my group which was a huge relief on my end. For some, it’s just another day, for me, every minute counts.

I had an information overload. It was overwhelming as it included even the touchy socio/political/religious issues of the day. By the time we stepped down the bus to call it a day, my brain was about to explode.

Welcome to the Holy Land!


I barely missed the flight from Phoenix to NYC. I was the last person to board which was a minute shy of the 10min airline cut-off. TSA gave me a hard time. My carry-on was randomly selected for inspection, a situation highly unpredictable. I complied but told them my flight was leaving in 15min. Maybe an exaggeration but I was prepared to leave my stuff even if there were valuables inside. If I didn’t make it, I would have been the sorriest tour host on record.

I’m ever grateful to the lovely woman in the ticketing counter who happened to be the sister of my former secretary in St James Parish, Coolidge. She immediately recognized me, Fr Jojo, remember me? Yes I do, I replied. I didn’t expect special treatment but she took care of us like she personally owned the business by going the extra miles with the s and I’ll make sure Corporate Delta know such an exceptional service.

The supposedly 11 hr backbreaking flight from NYC to Tel-Aviv was shorter than I thought. I can’t complain though as the level of comfort is nothing compared to the struggles of the first pilgrims who went on bare foot for weeks, even months.

With little less than 5 hours of rest for the past couple of days due to fiesta, as the aircraft slowly took off the runway, I dozed off.

About an hour prior to landing, the captain announced that the Israeli government required all passengers to stay in their seats 30min before arrival without exceptions when entering the country’s airspace. They take security very seriously and I bet that’s just the beginning.

I still can’t believe I’m here.