Holy Land Pilgrimage Q & A

Q. I am still discerning: a bit nervous about travelling to the Middle East. What is security like?

Everyone who ever plans to come to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage has a relative or friend intervene to say “Stop!   Don’t do it.  Haven’t you seen the news lately about what’s going on over there?”

“Over there” kind of means the whole Middle East!  In their mind are news reports from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Israel all rolled up into one!

Even if “over there” were limited to the whole of Israel/Palestine itself, it would be an understandable concern, but over-generalized.  I’ve led tours while there were hostilities reported by the international news media on the border with Gaza and Lebanon.  Our tour was always carrying on peacefully, an entire world away from trouble, unaware and unaffected by any problems.

I made my first trip in Dec 1999/Jan 2000.  Remember Y2K?  When the whole world was supposed to shut down?  We had an incredible time!  Then I went back in 2001 during the Palestinian “uprising.”  Saw no problem.  I’ve been back over 30 times since, bringing my mother twice and my wife and daughters numerous times.  Never once did anyone feel threatened, uneasy, insecure or in danger.  Palestinian Christians and Muslims as well as Israelis were always hospitable and friendly.

The Christian Holy Places around Jerusalem and Galilee have never been the flash points for trouble in Israel/Palestine.  Since 1971, whenever there has been unrest, it has been on the border with Gaza or Lebanon, or perhaps in a nightclub in Tel-Aviv, or at one of the settlements of Jews built on traditional Palestinian territory on the West bank of the Jordan.  All these places are avoided in our tours.

Security in Israel is just about the best in the world! The reality  is that the rate of crime there, violent or petty thievery, is less than most American or European cities.  I’ve been to Barcelona – unfortunately my wife’s purse was nabbed while we were praying in the cathedral (by a person in the pew in back of us).  She lost her cell phone, passports, everything.  I’ve led a few land tours  in Italy, and, sure enough, a gypsy tried to nab the handbag of one of my passengers.  I rode “the tube” once in London, and my traveling companion had some very scary guys try to relieve him of his wallet.  I’ve more than 30 trips to the Holy Land and we’ve had not one such incident!  I’ve felt safer there than I feel in downtown New York or Chicago!!!!!

On the ground in the Holy Land, we are taken care of by a Palestinian Christian tour company – they know the country like the back of their hands and get along with Palestinian Muslims as well as Jewish Israelis.  They do an amazing job of keeping us safe and relaxed, making all things ultra-convenient.  They will not take chances with our safety.  I assure you, if a situation should ever arise shortly before our trip that presented true danger to Christian pilgrims, the trip would be canceled and money refunded to passengers.

Our hotels are all modern, Western-style hotels that are full-service.  We typically are in our hotels by 5 or 6pm.  However, it is safe for passengers to go out if they wish and they do.  I allowed my 16-22 year old children to go out one New Years Eve in Jerusalem, accompanied by a local friend of ours, to a café where there were other young people, music, etc.  Obviously, I never would have allowed such a thing if it were risky.  The Sea of Galilee is gorgeous – our hotel there is right on the water.  Our final hotel is on the Mediterranean Sea.  You feel as safe in the later two places as in any beach resort in the world.

Hopefully, my words here have eased your concerns.  However, if you would feel better speaking to me or one of our pilgrimage team members about the safety issue, we’d be happy to talk with you via phone.  Call Jane at 1-800-842-4842.

Remember – the single most often repeated sentence by Jesus in the Gospels is “Do not be afraid!”  I encourage you not to allow fear to rob you of this incredible opportunity for spiritual growth.

Faithfully in Christ,

Marcellino D’Ambrosio (“Dr. Italy”)

Q. What class of hotels are we staying in during the Crossroads Initiative Holy Land Pilgrimage?

A. We always stay in deluxe, superior, first-class hotels that are recently renovated.

We have been careful to avoid cut-rate establishments and select only deluxe hotels.  Also, keep in mind that some tour operators, in an effort to cut costs, avoid paying for a hotel on the last night of the tour since they arrange a midnight return flight departure .  No matter how early the return flight departs from Tel Aviv, we believe that it is important to provide our passengers with a hotel for this final night so that they can freshen up and get some rest before we depart for the airport.  We want people arriving back in the states refreshed, not exhausted!

Q. Will I have reliable Wifi access during this pilgrimage?

A. All of our accommodations are in upscale, modernized hotels, so their wifi should be generally reliable, though wifi speed will vary.  If any of the hotels should have a temporary outage during our stay, there are often cafes with wifi within walking distance.  Sometimes our motor coaches are also equipped with free wifi.

Q. That brings up a good point, what flights will we be taking?

A.  For the Jordan pre-tour (departing Nov. 2, 2023), flights depart from DFW and New York City area (usually JFK airport or Newark, NJ airport), overnight flight to Amman, Jordan.  Buses will transport pilgrims to Jerusalem for the beginning of the Holy Land pilgrimage.

For the Holy Land pilgrimage, Nov. 6 – 16, 2023, flights depart from DFW and New York City area (JFK airport or Newark, NJ airport), overnight flight to Tel Aviv.  Other departure cities may be added, please check back.

For the Holy Land pilgrimage, April 16 – 26, 2024, flights depart from DFW and Newark, NJ, overnight to Tel Aviv.

Q. What will our guides be like on this Holy Land Tour?

A.  A tour of holy and historical places is only as good as your guide.   Many local guides leave much to be desired in terms of their knowledge, their ability to comment on the spiritual significance of a particular site for Christians, and their command of English.  Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio has twin academic specialties that make him an extraordinary guide to the Holy Land – he is an expert in the interpretation of Scripture and in Church history.  Furthermore, his commentary, however informative, is always understandable and spiritually uplifting.  He will be assisted by local guides as well.  These men are Arab Catholics who are knowledgeable but also spiritual.  Their English is very good and clear.  It has taken us years to identify Catholic guides of this caliber — of the thousands of local guides available for tours, these are the cream of the crop.

Q. Will this be a tour or a spiritual pilgrimage?

A.  Both.  We will have wonderful times of prayer, liturgy & music daily, with Mass in one of the holy places that we visit each day!   Each person who wishes will have the opportunity to serve as a lector in one of our special masses.  If you are a properly authorized extraordinary minister of the eucharist, there may be an opportunity to serve in that capacity as well.  But the information and insight you will get into the places we visit as well as the biblical texts that talk about them will be extraordinary.

Q. Who is arranging all the practicalities of the tour?

A.  Select International Tours is our US Tour company and are available Monday – Friday to assist you.  They are a Catholic company that tithes with a special concern to support the Christian community in the Holy Land.  We have a dedicated tour manager for our pilgrimages – Jane Allison jane@select-intl.com 800-842-4842.   The Agency in the Holy Land which works with Select on our pilgrimage is called Jordan Tours and is staffed by Palestinian Christians.  This means that, on the ground in Israel, we will be hosted by a company that knows the ins and outs of the Holy Land like no other.  Should any problem arise, we don’t need to call the States for help.  The local office of Jordan Tours will be in constant touch with us.

Q. Can I take your Holy Land tour but arrange for my own air transportation? I’d like to use Frequent flyer miles.

A.  Absolutely.  The price for the land only package is listed on the main pilgrimage page for the Fall 2023 Holy Land Pilgrimage, and in the downloadable brochure that can be found on the same page.  But remember, you’ll have to arrange for your own transfers from airport (Tel-Aviv) to hotel (Jerusalem) and final hotel (Tel Aviv) to the airport.  Our tour company can help you with this.

Q. What is the weather like in the Holy Land?

A. From November through March, most days will probably be Spring/Autumn-like temperatures and gentle sun with a day or two of possible rain and colder temperatures.  In April & May, it will be spring-like with lower chances of showers but a chance of a day or two of early summer temperatures in the afternoon.  Generally, the climate in Israel is more pleasant for touring in fall, winter and spring than during summer when the heat can be withering.  Temperatures in the mountains around Jerusalem tend to be a bit cooler.   The lower elevations on the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea generally have ideal sunny and comfortably warm weather except in summer when it is very hot.  The best approach is to bring layers.  You may need a jacket and/or sweater in the morning which you may choose to take off midday and put back on after dark.

Q. Is much walking required?

A. Generally much less than on other tours that I’ve organized, such as to the Vatican, for example.  Most of the time, our bus gets quite close to the sites we are visiting.  The most walking we’ll probably do will be 1) the way of the cross in the Old City of Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa; 2) our visit to the site of Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth (uphill) and 3) walking the Palm Sunday Road down the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is possible to pay $100 extra for a local gentleman to take you on the Via Dolorosa in a wheel-chair.  During the other two walks, some people opt to have a cappucino in a cafe while they wait for us to complete these two walks.  People who often use a cane and sometimes need a bit more assistance have done fine on this tour but we regret that those requiring wheelchairs  throughout (except on the Via Dolorosa) cannot be accommodated.  If you are in doubt whether your particular state of health is adequate to enjoy the pilgrimage, please call Jane at Select International Tours ((800) 842-4842 jane@select-intl.com) and discuss the situation with her.  She will give you candid advice.

Q. Do you visit where Jesus is said to have carried His cross?

A. Absolutely, we will walk the Via Dolorosa, the original stations of the cross, on the day we tour the Old City of Jerusalem.  Our procession will conclude at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and will include special time visiting the top of Golgotha and the empty tomb of Our Lord.

Q. What sort of reading or viewing can we do to prepare for this trip?

A.  The very best thing to read is the Bible itself.  Top priority would be to read the Gospels of Luke and John from beginning to end, and then the Acts of the Apostles, noting the places as well as the words and deeds spoken in those places.  If you have more time, read Genesis and Exodus as well as Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel and I & II Kings.  I & II Maccabees would also be great.  All this would give you the historical framework to appreciate more deeply the places we are visiting and the works of salvation the Lord did for us in these places.  In terms of movies, it would be awesome to watch Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ before you depart or after you return.  And then there is the wonderful TV series called the Chosen available through Angel Studios.

Q. Will daily Mass and Confessions be available on this pilgrimage?

A. Yes! Our group will have Mass daily in some of the most special and moving places in the Holy Land.  Since we will have a priest traveling with us, confession and the Sacrament of the Sick will also be available for our pilgrims.

Q. What is the maximum number of pilgrims you will take on this Holy Land pilgrimage?

A. Some people think that only small groups are logistically manageable. Not true. Chaos, waiting, etc has to do with organization. Our trips with 80 run more smoothly and get around better than some small parish groups of 20.
For us, an important factor is the people’s ability to meet and know one another and to get input and contact with Dr. Italy and the clergy who come. We don’t want any of our pilgrims to feel like just another passenger in the crowd. We have organized nearly 30 Holy Land pilgrimages over 23 years with groups as small as 25 and as large as 95. Our experience is that with up to two busses in the Holy Land (up to 100 people), we can maintain and excellent sense of community and unity. Plus all pilgrims are still able to get extensive input from our expert guide Dr. Italy, author of Jesus: the Way the Truth and the Life, filmed in the Holy Land; he’s able to meet and even break bread with most people on the trip.
In the Holy Land, once you get beyond 2 busses, this dynamic of community and personal relationship with the tour leader gets harder. For example, several of Dr. Italy’s good friends and fellow authors take up to 6 busses when they go. Their local guides have to do all the on-site explanation. The tour leaders give some talks to the whole group at night sometimes – we prefer to leave evenings free after a full day of pilgrimage – with 1-2 busses, Dr. Italy, our tour leader, shares the on-site commentary with our very special local guide so there is no need for evening talks so the people can learn from him. Very large groups of 150-300 also make it impossible to stay in the very special hospitality center which we prefer, which puts our group right across the street from the Old City of Jerusalem. Our pilgrims have the opportunity to walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher early, before our tour day starts, or later after all big groups have left for the day. These convenient, quiet moments are priceless. Very large groups usually have to stay a good bit farther from the Old City making such quiet, prayerful visits much more difficult.
So these are some of the differences between our pilgrimages and a small parish group on the one hand and a very large pilgrimage led by other well-known Catholic authors on the other.

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