It’s so easy to lose track of the days when you’re traveling, especially overseas.
So I hadn’t realized this morning was Sunday when my journalists’ tour group arrived at the Church of the Visitation in En Kerem, Israel, just outside Jerusalem.
It was a gorgeous morning — pure blue skies, perfect cool temperature — and the hills, pine trees and picturesque vistas in En Kerem were enough to take my breath away.
But this little town holds much more than just visual beauty. It’s the home of two Franciscan churches built on sites of huge significance: the birth of St. John the Baptist and the Visitation.
We first visited the site of John’s birth, commemorated by a marker on the floor. The church was virtually empty, and I stood alone in the chapel. I had a feeling that something truly special was in the air there. It was peaceful and reverent and stunningly beautiful in that quiet simplicity.
A short walk away is the church that marks Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth. That’s one of my favorite Bible stories; it seems so rare to have such a pivotal moment in church, and Christian, history that’s focused on two women. I imagine the cousins talking the way girlfriends do, sharing the joys and struggles of pregnancy and wondering about the futures their sons would have. I’m sure they shared things with each other that they couldn’t discuss with anyone else.
What will the baby look like? Will he be healthy? Will I know what to do?
As I walked into the church itself, I realized a Mass was beginning.
Duh! Of course! It’s Sunday!
Then I noticed the priest was Indian or perhaps Pakistani. And, wait a second, so was the entire congregation. As it happens, the Mass had been specially arranged for a tour group from India.
My mind was officially blown. I was at the site of the Visitation, attending a Catholic Mass being said for Indian travelers in the Jewish state of Israel.
It’s truly amazing to me the beauty of the world when we allow faith to play a part in it. We can be united in so many unpredictable ways. To be a part of such moments is an extraordinary blessing.