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Oh please be careful…it’s so dangerous in the Holy Land

Anticipation

Oh, please be careful. It’s so dangerous over there.”

I knew my friend meant well, but her words were not comforting. I was only a few days away from departing for the Holy Land and my nerves were already raw from packing, checking flights, reading weather reports, finding someone to care for my cat, and scheduling a ride to the airport.

I had dreamed about visiting the places where Jesus walked since High School. That dream was jaded by year upon year of news reports featuring skirmishes and wars in and around Israel. The picture the media had painted was unnerving. I wanted to be excited, but in all honesty, I was a little scared and my friend’s words were not helping.

A family-member drove me to the airport, warning me on the way to, “please be careful.” Was I making a mistake? Was I putting myself in harm’s way? I am normally very excited to get on a plane, but all these warnings made me very anxious.

I flew through Toronto on my way to Tel Aviv. The first flight was uneventful, and I arrived with plenty of time to make my connection. I found my next gate on the monitor and headed there to wait for boarding. When I arrived, there was an additional security checkpoint…only for our gate. I had never experienced this before. I waited in the line and reached the guard who examined my passport and boarding pass and asked me a few questions. He directed me to yet another bag check.

My mind raced: Why is there so much security? Is there a threat? Is something wrong? Should I walk away from this flight? The questions echoed in my head as I eyed every passenger waiting for the flight. With each reverberation, I heard the words of my loved ones, “Please, be careful.” It was only through the grace of Our Lord that I boarded that flight. My mind was working overtime to convince my body to abandon it.
 

The Truth

If you have never traveled to Israel, I imagine you are facing the same fears that I did. I imagine that the news, friends, and family are warning you to, “please be safe,” as well. Most of all, I imagine that you are asking the same question that I did: “Is this trip even worth the risk?

Let me put your mind at ease. Yes, it is worth the risk. And, perhaps more importantly, the “risk” is unjustly amplified. I have never traveled anywhere in the world where I felt safer than the Holy Land. Now that I have traveled there and back, I would return in a heartbeat! But I did learn a lot along the way that might help you feel a little more prepared for your trip.

Additional Security
I learned that additional security is normal for Israel. In fact, the security in place while boarding a flight is only the beginning. There are special restrictions to stay in your seats while in Israeli air-space. There are multiple security stops in the immigration and customs line. And, while traveling through the country, there are random security checkpoints on roads and at Palestinian Territory borders.

It was initially unnerving to answer questions of a security officer dressed in military fatigues and holding a weapon, but, in my experience, they were always pleasant and calm. They asked simple questions, checked my passport, then sent me on my way.

Crime and Common Precautions
Crime rates, in most cases, are significantly lower in Israel than the USA*. Violent crime is significantly less common. Still, this doesn’t mean you should be naïve. Petty theft from pickpockets and burglaries at tourist hotels still happen. So, take the same precautions you would take when traveling to any major city: use the hotel safe, carry a secure backpack or purse, and keep all your belongings on you.

When you stop to rest, eat, or sightsee, keep your belongings attached to your person or on your lap. Don’t leave your bag on the ground or hanging on your chair. Additionally, ALWAYS carry your passport and leave a photocopy in the hotel safe.

Mentally Prepare
The political complexity of the Middle East requires additional patience from travelers. Mentally prepare yourself and expect to wait in security lines, answer questions about your travels, and show your passport. Pay attention to your guides’ instructions. They are familiar with the checkpoints and security requirements and their insight can significantly reduce the inconvenience. Security personnel are simply doing their job to keep everyone safe. A warm smile and friendly demeanor on your end will often be met with the same from them.

 
Upon Departure from Israel
Departing Israel from the airport is far different from most places in the world. There are multiple security checkpoints and it can take much longer than usual to get from the curb to your gate, so be patient and allow yourself plenty of time.

On my most recent trip, we were stopped in the car—before entering the airport—for twenty minutes. They checked my bag, asked me and the driver several questions, and checked my passport and flight documents. When entering the airport, I had to go through two security checkpoints before entering the bag check. At the second checkpoint, they asked me several questions then instructed me to one of four bag-check lines.

In Israel, they profile every traveler and send them to a specific line depending on their “reading” of the individual. Don’t let this frustrate you. It is just part of the trip. While standing in the bag-check line, you will be asked the same questions you were already asked several times. Again, a warm smile and friendly demeanor will serve you well. They will check your bag thoroughly…meaning they may remove every item and inspect it, x-ray it, chemically test it, or even ask you questions about it. The process takes significantly longer than a TSA check in the USA, so exercise patience.

On my most recent trip, I arrived at the airport 3 hours and fifteen minutes before my flight. After all the security checkpoints and bag-check, I arrived at my gate, ready to board, with forty minutes to spare. The whole process took two hours and thirty-five minutes.

After a long flight, I walked to the Immigration officer at Newark International Airport. She glanced at my passport and asked how long I had been in Israel. “Seven days,” I replied.

“Wow. Short trip. Welcome home.” She waved me through.

I found my friend waiting for me outside the bag check. “Well, how was it?” She asked.

Great. Israel is nothing like I expected. I can’t wait to go back.” I said.

Really?

Yes, really. My trip was short, but life-changing. There really is no way to translate all that happened to me in the Holy Land. I know that I’ll never be the same after the trip. I can see the whole story of our faith so differently now. And when friends ask me if Israel was frightening to visit, I tell them, “It was, no big deal.” They think I’m an intrepid traveler, but really, I’m just being honest.

*According to nationmaster.com (accessed September 12, 2019)

Above article reprinted courtesy of Select International Tours, organizer of this tour and many others.  Be sure to check out their many offerings to the Holy Land and elsewhere.

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Send your prayer requests to the Holy Land

Maybe you can’t make it to the Holy Land right now, but would love to have some prayers offered for you in this special place.  Well you can…..by checking out Select International Tours….they offer the opportunity to submit your prayer requests online and they will be taken to the Holy Land by one of their departing groups each month and carried to all the Holy Sites in the Holy Land.

The group will pray for your requests at each site they visit and the spiritual Father of each group will offer your intentions at all Masses.

This is a really great way to get your prayers said at some of the most famous…and holy…sites in this special place.  That is, until you get to travel there yourself someday!

All requests are kept confidential.

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Hopeless? Turn to Saint Philomena

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One of the most popular saints among Catholics is Saint Philomena, patroness of impossible causes.  As Saint John Vianney said: “To Saint Philomena God refuses nothing.”   Or as Pope Gregory XVI said:  “Whatever you ask from her, she will obtain for you”.

Her shrine in Italy at Mugnano de Cardinale, Avellino, is a short distance from Naples.  Churches around the world will honor her on her Feast Day August 11th.

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Fliers in the U.S.A. face new ID requirements in October 2020

Nothing can ruin a trip more than being denied boarding at the airport….absolutely nothing.  For U.S. travelers, you need to take a look at your driver’s license. Does it have a star in the upper right corner?  Most do not…unless they have been issued fairly recently.  Of course if you are traveling internationally you most likely have a passport, so that is not a problem.  But if you are on a domestic flight, new rules require that driver’s licenses be REAL ID compliant (meaning that they are more secure than the old style).  This rule goes into effect October 2020……which is not that far away!

Real id photo
Photo courtesy N.Y. State Dept of Motor Vehicles

Your license will be accepted if it has a star in the upper right hand corner.  If not, be sure to have an alternate form of I.D. available such as a passport; a trusted traveler card, or a border ID card.  If your license is due for renewal before that date, almost every state will be in compliance (a few have gotten extensions, so check with your state).

Our advice is to get a passport….even if you are not planning to travel overseas right now, they are good for 5 years, and universally accepted.  Then, if you have a sudden opportunity to travel out of the country, then that is one less thing for you to worry about.

While we are on the subject, here are a few other passport tips.

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FRANCE (Paris) Annual Paris to Chartres Pilgrimage

The Paris-Chartres Pilgrimage occurs every year on the Feast of Pentecost in early summer, and is a multi-generational, multi-national gathering of Catholics who draw closer to God through the centuries-old act of pilgrimage.

The walk is roughly 62 miles over 3 days—beginning at daybreak on the Saturday before Pentecost, and ending with an afternoon mass on the Monday after Pentecost.

Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral

The trek takes 8,000-10,000 pilgrims from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, through the French countryside to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres. Participants brave the weather, blisters, and humble food and accommodations as an act of faith and an act of reparation in these modern times.

The theme for the 2019 Pilgrimage is “THE PEACE OF CHRIST THROUGH THE REIGN OF CHRIST”.

Pilgrims will meet in front of Notre-Dame de Paris at 6:00 am on June 8th, 2019 where the journey of faith on foot begins.

Click here for the official Chartres Pilgrimage  website.

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Reminder: Pilgrim Masses in Santiago de Compostela temporarily moved

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is undergoing renovation in 2019, and as a result pilgrim masses are celebrated in other churches throughout the city rather than in the Cathedral itself.

However, there is a daily mass in the Chapel of la Corticela, which is inside the Cathedral.

The Cathedral itself is open daily from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm….only the masses have been moved.

Here are the temporary locations:

Iglesia de San Francisco: Daily Pilgrim’s Mass – 12:00 am noon

Iglesia de San Fiz de Solovio: Daily Pilgrim’s Mass – 7:00 pm (from June). After the mass, Pilgrim Prayer (from Monday to Saturday).

Iglesia de Santa María Salomé:

From Monday to Friday: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 7:00 pm

Saturdays: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm

Sundays: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 6:00 pm, 7:00 pm

Chapel of la Corticela: Every day – 11:00 am

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Special Pilgrimage for Priests to the Holy Land Led by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

Despite all the troubling news out there, we know that the vast majority of our priests are caring, and faithful to the Magisterium, but also……overworked.  We forget how much is demanded of them daily, and that they–perhaps more than anyone–need a break from time to time.

Well, we have found an incredible solution…a pilgrimage to the Holy Land…….. especially designed for priests!  And what makes it even more special, it’s led by Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.

The cost is around $2800 per person…a bit expensive on a priest’s salary (if he even gets one) but a few parishioners ( or just one) could easily pay for their priest to travel on this meaningful and rewarding pilgrimage.  This would make a great thank-you gift for all that they do.

For more details on this pilgrimage for priests to the Holy Land click here.

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What do you mean no refund? How do I get home?

It doesn’t happen often, but if it happens to you then once is enough to cost you hundreds…or even thousands of dollars. Not to mention the possible loss of time….either on vacation when you can’t get back home on schedule or prior to departing while you look for another option.

On March 27, 2019 discount carrier WOW Air suddenly discontinued operations.

WOW Air offered flights to Europe, North America and Tel Aviv through its hub in Reykjavik, Iceland.

No warning, no notice whatsoever.  People waiting in line for flights suddenly found that their flight status went from “delayed” to ” cancelled”.

Bad enough if they were heading out of town…a trip back to the house would be necessary.  But for those already out of town…and in most cases out of their home country….this meant finding a hotel room, then booking a flight on another airline (last-minute tickets are very expensive) and hoping you can get a seat.

Some airlines are offering “rescue fares” reduced prices for tickets….but you still probably aren’t getting money back from WOW Air, and even rescue fares are not cheap.  You might, however, get your money back it you happened to take out travel insurance.

It is not the first time this has happened…..and probably won’t be the last (there have been six already this year).  Most of these were either small carriers or discount carriers…but if you lose money it won’t matter what size the airline was.

That is one of the reasons that we recommend travel insurance and urge you to read our page all about travel insurance. It can help you protect you and save you money.

If you are currently booked on WOW Air, here are your options.


We worry so you don't have to.

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The Oberammergau Passion Play is only a year away, better sign up now

 

If you are planning to attend the world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play, you had better make your arrangements sooner rather than later.  Tickets went on sale beginning March 6, 2019 (Ash Wednesday) and they sell out quickly.

Crucifixion scene from the Oberammergau Passion PlayEvery 10 years, the small town of Oberammergau, in Bavaria, is transformed as the village performs the scene of the Passion of Our Lord. Almost all the residents of the town (about 2200) are involved in the production and performance of this play, and roles are often handed down from generation to generation.  And, starting on Ash Wednesday 2019, as established by tradition, the men have begun growing their beards and letting their hair grow longer in preparation (only those playing Roman soldiers and stage hands are exempt from this requirement).

The Oberammergau Passion Play next occurs May 16th thru October 4th of 2020. There are only so many performances available, and tickets are selling out quickly.

If you wish to attend, you can make your own arrangements and buy your own tickets, or book with many of the tour companies offering pilgrimages to the play.  Some of these tours are just a few days long, but many others combine various locations as well as Oberammergau.  If you book with a group we suggest it be a Catholic group since they will have a different perspective than a Protestant or secular group.

One itinerary we find particularly interesting is combining the Holy Land with Oberammergau.  You will travel to the Holy Land and see where it all began, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion, and then on to Germany to visit the Ettal Monastery, the healing shrine of Altotting, Munich and then the highlight of the trip:  witnessing the passion Play.  This itinerary, offered by Select International Tours, has eleven departures scheduled in 2020…..and, in addition to the itinerary we mentioned,  some of them include a Danube River cruise or other extensions as well.

But it is very important to sign up right away.  There are a limited number of seats and a limited number of performances, so once they are gone, they are gone until 2030.

You can check out the Official Oberammergau Passion Play website here.

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Fake News: U.S. & Canadian citizens traveling to Europe do not need a visa

Recently some new reports stated that, starting in 2021, U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling to Europe would require a visa.  Before you panic, please note that this is not the case:

For U.S. citizens traveling to Europe in 2021 and beyond, the will simply have to complete an online application and pay a small fee through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), a pre-screening program that aims to protect European Union (EU) borders.  Americans and other non-EU travelers can still travel to Europe without a visa for up to 90 days as long as they complete their form in the ETIAS before travel

ETIAS costs about $9.00 U.S. and you can do it in less than ten minutes, according to a fact sheet issued by the European Commission in July.  It calls  the ETIAS “a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travelers” that would help them “avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the border.”

The ETIAS will be required for any of the territories in the Schengen area of Europe — 26 countries that are part of the E.U. It is valid for three years, (or less if a passport expires before then).  Do not confuse the Schengen countries with the European Union…not all countries are in the E.U.

The Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland,  Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,  Switzerland.

This is a far less difficult and certainly less expensive than applying for a visa.

You can find out more information on their official website here (external link).  You will also find a list of the 61 countries whose residents will need to get the ETIAS authorization.