Mrs Natasha Shields, a devoted Religion and Early Childhood Education Teacher at Our Lady of Mercy College, recently embarked on an extraordinary journey to the Holy Land, offering her a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
During her visit, she had the privilege of exploring remarkable destinations such as Egypt, Israel, and Jordan, including the cities of Cairo, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee, and Petra, among others.
Among her most cherished memories was the climb of Mt Sinai in Egypt to witness the breathtaking sunrise. This iconic mountain holds profound significance as the very location where Moses is believed to have received the divine guidance of the 10 commandments. Standing tall at a height of 2285m, Mrs Shields chose to undertake the entire climb, embracing the opportunity to soak in the panoramic view from the summit. The presence of a Greek Orthodox chapel, built in 1934 atop the ruins of a 16th-century church, added to the sacred atmosphere. Additionally, she was able to go into the Moses Cave, traditionally regarded as the site where Moses waited to receive the 10 commandments.
Mrs Shields's journey to the Holy Land also brought unexpected surprises and challenged preconceived notions. Visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, she discovered that the birthplace of Jesus was not a manger but rather a grotto. This revelation offered a new perspective, shedding light on the way people lived in the region during that time, seeking shelter in caves alongside their animals and families.
Exploring the church's interior, Mrs Shields encountered the convergence of different religious traditions, with the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox denominations situated on either side, while the Catholic church stood nearby. The experience of waking up early to join a small group of Italian pilgrims in celebrating Mass at the site further deepened her understanding and appreciation of the region's rich religious history.
While in Jerusalem, Mrs Shields encountered a story that she had not known about before—the events following Jesus' sentencing to death before Pontius Pilot. Contrary to her previous understanding, she learnt that after the sentencing, Jesus was taken to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas, where he was kept overnight. When visiting the church, she observed a hole in the floor that marked the spot where Jesus was lowered into a gaol cell below. Bound and with his hands tied, he was left hanging in a grim cell that was unfit for any human being. Mrs Shields went under the church and into the cell to pray, feeling a profound sadness, overwhelming emotions, and a heavy heart as she contemplated the great sacrifice Jesus was about to make.
The impact of visiting these holy sites resonated profoundly with Mrs Shields, enriching her understanding of the historical and spiritual significance they hold. Standing in the very places where Jesus and his disciples once walked created an overwhelming sense of connection. As she continues to teach about these sacred locations, her personal experiences bring the stories to life.
The journey through the Holy Land also confronted Mrs Shields with the realities of the region's geopolitical situation. The presence of numerous checkpoints manned by armed personnel and the imposing separation wall in the West Bank provided a stark contrast to the freedoms experienced in Australia. Witnessing these aspects deepened her appreciation for the privileges enjoyed at home.
Throughout her trip, Mrs Shields had the opportunity to meet and engage with local individuals who shared their stories and experiences, enriching her understanding of daily life in the Holy Land. Encounters with knowledgeable individuals like Sheeref and Joe, who shared stories about the ancient pyramids, and Simon, a Palestinian chef and guide, provided unique perspectives on the region's rich cultural tapestry. Meeting Mousa, a Bedouin residing in the Sinai desert, revealed his lifelong commitment to guiding visitors up Mt Sinai, symbolising a strong connection to the land and its sacred traditions.
Visiting the Holy Land and engaging in a pilgrimage allowed her to deepen her faith, reflect, and pray while visiting extraordinary locations. Having previously visited other Holy sites worldwide, this journey further strengthened her spiritual bond, offering not only profound experiences but also joy.
Looking ahead, Mrs Shields expresses her desire to embark on the Camino del Santiago pilgrimage and highlights the significance of World Youth Day, held every three years in a different destination, as a wonderful opportunity for young people to gather and celebrate their faith.
We extend our gratitude to Mrs Natasha Shields for generously sharing her journey through the Holy Land with us.