As I write this I am traveling from the Sea of Galilee up to Jerusalem.
Israel surprised everyone a few weeks ago and announced they would officially reopen to all pilgrims on March 1st.
As soon as the announcement was made, I put together a pilgrimage group, and wow are my people getting spoiled!
If you visited the Holy Land before 2020, you would not believe how empty it is. There are a number of Protestant groups, but very few Catholics. Nearly all the sites have been empty.
There were a few small groups at the Mount of Transfiguration, we were the only bus at the Mount of Beatitudes, only a handful of people at Capernaum, and almost no one at Tabgha. On the Sea of Galilee I only saw two other boats. In fact, the place with the most people was at the Jordan River, four packed buses of Ethiopians were there for a Baptism.
In many places, the locals are thanking us for having the courage to come back so quickly.
Questions I keep getting…
Is it Safe?
First, I would not bring a group to somewhere I did not feel safe. I even have my 17 year old daughter traveling with me — you should follow her on Instagram to see the Holy Land through the eyes of a teenager.
Over the last few days, we’ve traveled up to the Syrian, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders and we were completely safe. I am currently sitting at a Palestinian restaurant in the West Bank and we are completely safe.
What About the War?
War is a concern in that people are suffering. But the Middle East is used to fighting, so nothing has changed in that sense. Yes, Kyiv is closer to Israel than the US, but it’s still 2262 miles away — about the same distance between NYC and Vegas.
What Are the Vaccine Requirements?
Israel has dropped the vaccine mandate. A PCR before arrival and another test on arrival is required — it’s super efficient and quick. It is even more simple than when Europe first reopened.
Are Masks Required?
With the exception of a California group I saw in Cana the other day, masks are completely gone here.
When is Your Next Pilgrimage?
I am working on dates for the summer and the fall — I am planning to make Jordan an option as well. This current group came together in under two weeks, so if enough people were interested in a parish, school, or family/friend pilgrimage, let me know and we can make it happen before the crowds fully return. Let me know if you are interested in one of these summer or fall pilgrimages, or even something sooner.
Over the last few days, as people have watched my group travel and have these holy places all to ourselves, I’ve gotten lots of group requests for 2023, and my schedule is already filling up. So if you are considering organizing a group for 2023, let me know soon.
As someone who was bringing 10 groups a year on pilgrimage to the Holy Land before 2020, my return has been very emotional and I can’t wait to share more with you.