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Building an Effective Pilgrimage Itinerary to the Holy Land

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With the exception perhaps for the itinerary programs of pilgrimage groups with specialized interests, or pilgrim groups comprised of those that have visited Israel many times, nearly all holy land Israel itineraries will include basic pilgrim travel components: Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa, the Galilee and the Sea of Galilee; Nazareth and Bethlehem.

While the focus of a tour are certain to change from group to group, depending on the denomination, country of origin of pilgrims, the personal preferences of the church leaders and organizers, the length of the tour and the like, but still however, to a degree pilgrimage trips are based on the text of the Holy Scriptures, and participants follow in the footsteps of Jesus or have another biblical or Christian focus.

Just about every pilgrim will have visited Capernaum, the Mt. of the Beatitudes, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and or the Garden Tomb, to name a few Christian holyland tour "highlights." For this reason, many itineraries in the Holy Land sound so similar, which by the way an itinerary is no more then a suggestion, and every itinerary, each day, every holy site and destination should be looked upon as to a module or a thread, an individual piece of a fabric that in it’s totality will make up a unique spiritual trip experience in the end.

The itineraries on our Israel tours refer to scriptures during each touring day; to serve as a basis for the significance of visiting a particular holy land site and following a route, “walking in the footsteps of Jesus.” While building your trip mix and match what best serves your group and your temperament. In a final analysis, there are many ways to structure a pilgrimage trip and none is really "right" or "wrong." You may prefer to spend additional days in Jerusalem or more in the Galilee. Whatever the structure, the challenge facing pilgrimage leaders and organizers is to generate and regenerate enthusiasm by creating a trip full of vitality.

One way to do this is to structure an itinerary thematically, arousing interest and encouraging a fresh perspective, as a result provide a unique and authentic encounter with the Holy Land that’ll continue to impact participants well after their return. Have an overall purpose, “provide a once in a lifetime scripture and trip experience making stronger bonds between church members to its ministry.” After all as Grace Chapel advice when planning a pilgrimage, “You are not just sightseeing but are invited by the Lord to engage and to forge an even stronger relationship to Him in the Holy Land, through people, places, and experiences.” It is not a question of checking off holy sites to be seen of a list. No pilgrim should leave a site without having been given the opportunity to hear its challenge and context, and to formulate a response.

Many Christian Leaders bring their pilgrimage groups to the holy sites to lecture, making pilgrims passive participants. Alternatively, planning can create discussion and interaction and can lead to greater participation. Build a tour to the Holy Land with a concept that reinforces your purpose, and think in terms of creating encounters with sites that excite through a meaningful combination of facilitators, setting and group. For many groups, the more experiential a pilgrimage is, the richer the final effect. Brings energy to a location; don't just visit it. Many operators offering Israel tours to the Holy Land lack this understanding, it’s not just a destination, but a once in a lifetime experience to pilgrims, that more often than not come back home with renewed vigor and stronger faith.

Introduce pilgrims to the people of Israel, have them listen to the same language Hebrew, spoken by Jesus and His disciples, in the very same land where they lived. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus doesn't have to mean going from place to place; rather, it might mean traveling from person to person. Jesus met people from every walks of life, simple people, politicians, educated scholars. Allow your pilgrims to do the same. Traditionally, pilgrimages to the Holy Land were arduous journeys, and perhaps to an extent you can continue with this tradition. Let your group be pilgrims, provide them opportunity to feel and breathe the land. Jesus often used the topography of the Holy Land as a metaphor in His teachings, and Christian organizers can recreate this meaningful methodology today. Just as Christianity talks about moving from the catacombs to the high cathedrals, encourage your pilgrims to hike and climb. Let them walk, walk, walk. Let them travel by foot from Capernaum to Tabgha, and see the Church of Multiplication, descend to the fields from the Mount of the Beatitudes. In short, allow your program participants to undergo and experience transformation. Encourage re-commitment and reaffirmation through authentic encounters with people and place. Thrust your pilgrims into challenge, both intellectual and physical, by opening your itinerary up to the resources of the people of the land and the people who know the land.

The following is a suggested Holy Land Tours itinerary for first time visitors:

TEN DAY TOUR

Day 1


Departure on your way to Israel, The Land of the Bible.

Day 2
Tel Aviv
Welcome to Israel, upon arrival into Ben Gurion International Airport, you will be met and assisted by our airport representative. Transfer to Tel Aviv – Israel largest and modern city with short distance to Jaffa. Check in at your hotel for dinner and overnight. Your hotel is conveniently located near the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and close to Tel Aviv city center, shopping and attractions, and famous promenade sidewalk's with outdoor shopping stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. If your time permit, visit the artistic neighborhood of Neve Tzedek.

Day 3
From Tel Aviv/Jaffa to the Sea of Galilee, Mediterranean coast and the Valley of Armageddon
Caesarea / Mt. Carmel / Megiddo / Nazareth/ Sea of Galilee / Tiberias

In the morning visit to the Old Town Jaffa, walk through the narrow passages of Old Jaffa, believed to be the oldest port city in the world and where cedars from Lebanon arrived to build Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 2:16), see St. Peter's Church and take a spectacular view of Tel Aviv Shoreline from Jaffa Hilltop. Peter came to Jaffa (Joppa) from Lydda to raise Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead (Acts 9:36-43 ). While in Jaffa, the apostle stayed at the house of Simon the Tanner. St. Peter's Church marks the traditional site of Peter’s vision of the Great Sheet (Acts 10:9-16). Depart Tel Aviv driving north along the coastal plain to Caesarea Maritima (Acts 9:30 Acts 10:24-48) which was the center of early Christians, and capital of Judea under the Romans. Visit the excavations of this ancient city, the Roman theatre and aqueduct, here where Paul made his defense before Festus and King Agrippa prior to his final journey to Rome (Acts 25-26). We'll stop at Mount Carmel (Muchraka), where Elijah issued his challenge to the False Prophets (1 Kings 18:16-24). We continue and enjoy a breath taking panoramic view of Haifa Bay and the Western Galilee region. Continue to Megiddo (Joshua 12:21, 1 Kings 9:15, 2 Kings 23:29 & Revelation 16:16), identified as the site of Armageddon (Revelation 16), see the remains from Solomon’s days, view the site where the Battle of Armageddon will be fought (Revelation 16:14-16). Visit the archaeological excavations at Megiddo, including the well preserved water supply system. Continue along the Jezerel Valley to visit the town of Nazareth (Luke 1:26, Luke 4:16, Luke 4:29 & Matthew 2:23) we will take a beautiful view from the top of Mt. Precipice, also known as Mount of Precipitation, or Mount of the Leap of the Lord. It's believed to be the site of the rejection of Jesus (Luke 4:29 Luke 4:30), continue to the Church of Annunciation if time permits, and we'll drive to Cana of Galilee where Jesus performed his first public miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast (John 2:1 John 2:11), and the Lower Galilee region to the beautiful Sea of Galilee to the town of Tiberias. The hotels situated right on town’s center and the shores of the Sea of Galilee make it possible to walk along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and explore the town of Tiberias.

Day 4
Sea of Galilee, the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights
Sail on the Sea of Galilee / Jesus Boat /Golan Heights / Upper Galilee / Caesarea Philippi / Yardenit

We begin by boarding a wooden boat and sail on as the disciples did 2000 years ago on the Sea of Galilee where the Lord calmed the storm (Luke 8:22-25), and where he made one of the most dramatic miracles walking on water (Mark 6:47-52), and it was along the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared for a third time after being raised from the dead, and asked his disciples to throw their net to the right side of the boat and caught many fish, and where the Lord made the disciples breakfast (John 21). We'll dock at Kibbutz Nof Ginosar and visit the "Ancient Jesus Boat" the remains of a 2,000 years old boat that was discovered in 1986. This boat was used at the time of Jesus and his disciples. We will drive to the beautiful Golan Heights. Visit Banias- ancient Ceasarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13 and Mark 8:27) where Jesus said “On this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Continue to the Hula Valley and the Upper Galilee, returning to the Sea of Galilee and visit the baptismal site of Yardenit on the Jordan River, where believers celebrate and some take the opportunity to submerge themselves in the same waters where the Holy Spirit of God descended like a dove from heaven, when John the Baptist baptized up out of the water Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17).

Day 5 – WEDNESDAY
Jesus early Ministry along the Sea of Galilee, Jordan River
Mount of Beatitudes / Tabgha / Capernaum / Beath Shean / Dead Sea

Today will visit early Jesus Ministry around the Sea of Galilee, visiting Mount of Beatitudes (Matthew 5, Matthew 6, Matthew 7, Matthew 8) where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, see the famous Chapel, constructed in 1939 by the noted architect Antonio Barluzzi and enjoy the view. Visit Tabgha- the site of the Feeding of the 5,000 and Primacy of Peter (Matthew 13, Mark, 33, Mark 45, & John 21), Church of Multiplication with its 4th Century Mosaic floor, Capernaum (Matthew 4:13, Matthew 13:54, Matthew 17:24, Luke 7, Mark 1:2, John 4:46 & John 4:54) where is believed to have been Jesus' home and the center of his ministry, here we can stand in what is left of the synagogue in which Jesus ministered, and where he preformed many miracles, and it's in Capernaum where Peter’s mother-in-law lived and was healed (Luke 4:38-40). Through the Valley of Beth Shean to the ancient city of Beth Shean (Mark 5:20 Mark 7:31), view the archeological site. It was here that after defeating Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines hanged their bodies on the walls of Beth Shean (2 Samuel 21:12-14), continue through the Jordan Valley past the city of Jericho and arrive to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Check in at the hotel located at the shores of the Dead Sea, enjoy optional spa treatments and a massage, float on the salty water of the Dead Sea or enjoy a swim in your hotel pool.

Day 6
Dead Sea, Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Judean Desert, Jerusalem
Today on your Holy Land tour will visit the 1500 feet mountaintop fortress of Masada famous for being the last stronghold of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans. We will ascend to Masada by cable car and discover the first century Synagogue, King Herod’s Bathhouse and other sites atop of Masada, descend and continue to the oasis of Ein Gedi, where David hid in a cave when running from Saul (1 Samuel 23), it was here that David composed several of his Psalms, next visit to Qumran where a cache of ancient biblical texts the Dead Sea Scroll were discovered in 1947. Continue to the Golden City of Jerusalem, and proceed to a panoramic view of Jerusalem from Mt. Scopus, and take time for prayer. Continue to the hotel conveniently located within walking distance from the Old City Jerusalem.

Day 7
Old Jerusalem, Temple Mount in Jesus times, Mount of Olives/Kidron Valley/Garden of Gethsemane/Western Wall tunnels (Kotel Tunnels)/Pool of Bethesda/Church of Holy Sepulcher/Via Dolorosa/Christian Quarter
From the top of Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended into heaven (acts 1) we will have a view across the Kidron Valley to the Eastern Gate where the prince of Peace will enter (Ezekiel 44). We pass by Pater Noster Church and visit Dominus Flevit where "The Lord wept" as he beheld the Holy City (Luke 19:41-44). Through Palm Sunday Road proceed down to the Gethsemane (Mark 14:32, John 18:1 & Matthew 26:36) where you will see 2,000 year old Olive trees that date back to the time of Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane the place that Jesus prays (Luke 22:39) and his disciples customarily visited, which allowed Judas to find him on that fateful night of his arrest (Luke 22:47-52), and it's in Gethsemane where an angel from heaven appears to strenghen Jesus (Luke 22:43), and where he found his disciples sleeping and awakes them and tells them to get up and pray (Luke 22:46). Then to the Western Wall- The holiest site in Judaism and one of the original walls that retained the Temple. We will visit the Western Wall Tunnels running along the base of the Western Wall will lead us through the Second Temple era and reveal the amazing construction of the Temple Mount, water supply and Roman street where our Lord was led to judgment. Continue to St. Anne Church and the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus performed the famous miracle of healing of the paralytic (John 5). We will walk the Stations of the Cross- the Via Dolorosa including Station 2 Judgment Hall of Pilate (John 18:33), located at the Church of the Flagellation and Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross, all the way to the final Station 14 inside Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Matthew 27, Matthew 33:57, Matthew 28:10). In the afternoon you will enjoy time to shop the colorful bazaars (markets). We'll join the prayer at the Western Wall, and after return to the Hotel for Shabbat Dinner.

Day 8
Jerusalem Old and New City
Mt. Zion / Upper Room / King David Tomb / Jewish Quarter / Ein Kerem / Bethlehem / Church of the Visitation/Church of the Nativty / Shepherd’s Field / Garden Tomb

We begin the day by going to Mt. Zion, visit the Upper room (Luke 22), Lord’s Supper, visit King David Tomb, and walk through the Jewish Quarter. Drive through the New City pass the Israel Parliament (Knesset) and continue to Ein Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80), the one to announce the coming of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3). Visit the Church of the Visitation which commemorates the visit made by Mary the mother of Jesus', to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-56), then continue to Bethlehem where Joseph traveled there (Luke 2:1-7) with Mary whom was pregnant, and where Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1-5), and visit the Church of the Nativity. Proceed to see the Shepherd’s Field where an angel appeared to announce the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:8-20). In the afternoon visit The Garden Tomb, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15, Luke 24:6-7, Mark 16:5-7) with a time for prayer. Enjoy a evening farewell dinner at the hotel.

Day 9
Enjoy free day in Jerusalem later in the day transfer to Ben Gurion airport according to your flight schedule
After Breakfast, and by 12 noon, Check out from your hotel and store your luggage at the hotel storage room to enjoy free day in Jerusalem. Passengers booked 4 Stars First class hotels ,in Jerusalem the Grand Court hotel within walking distance to the Old City. Passengers booked 5 stars Deluxe hotels, in Jerusalem The Leonardo Plaza hotel within walking distance from the Old City and the center of West Jerusalem.
You can visit again the Holy sites and the colorful bazaars, Ben Yehuda street with shopping stores, restaurant and coffee shops, Mahaneh Yehuda market, with authentic Jerusalem Restaurants, and food markets. Explore on your own the newly renovated Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book.

Day 10

  If your flight departs in the morning you will arrive back in America the same day of your departure.
If your flight departs in the night you will arrive back to America the following day of your departure.

Arrive this morning and start planing your next memorable trip to the Holy Land.
Holy Land Tours

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