55 days in Israel

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; for he has looked with favour on his lowly servant…”

I am in Israel for 55 days, I am gradually becoming accustomed to the place, I arrived in the middle of the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Culture is strongly influenced by the Jewish religion, Israel is a land and a people.

Here they speak three languages that mix with the three religions that exist here. I am living in Ein Karem a charming village, which has a good green area for walking, places to have coffee, restaurants, and enjoy a delicious ice cream in the summer.

For us Christians Ein Karem has a special meaning for being supposedly the hometown of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the site of the Visitation, where Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth before John’s birth.

For me it is a privilege to be here, in this place built by Father Alfonso and to visit his tomb is a blessing. Also visible is the connection of Notre Dame de Sion, recalling the Judaism of Mary and her identification with Israel. The choice of the Ratisbonne brothers for this construction, and their passion for the Mother of God is proven when we look at the story from Ein Karem.

Mary is very alive in the place. The Water Fountain where according to the Christian tradition the Virgin, stopped there to refresh herself while visiting her cousin, exists until today.

A few steps from the fountain, there is the Franciscan Church of the Visitation, a lovely two-storey church. In the courtyard, people are welcomed by one of the church’s most beloved hymns, Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), written in various languages on the wall in front of the church.

Going down the hill, on the other side of the village, you reach the other Franciscan church, St. John the Baptist. Inside the church there is a cave that tradition identifies as John’s birthplace. On the inner wall of the churchyard, is displayed the song of thanks that Zechariah said when John was born, the Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79) in 24 languages.

Ein Karem is also home to a beautiful Russian church with bulb-shaped dome, the Greek Orthodox convent of St. John I visited with Iulia. Inside it has a beautiful Icon of Mary so beautiful that it seems it is smiling. As I said before, Mary is the essence of this place.

Within the walls of the Sion Covent here in Ein Karem, there are 3 communities and a very beautiful garden with varieties of flowers, everything is very quiet and silent the noise comes from stones that tell stories and wind blowing in various directions.

I pray to God that a soft breeze blows over me, to help me walk in the novitiate with my eyes fixed on him.

“….He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever…”

Erika Regina, novice/NDS