As Christians a Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy land will include those sites visited by many other Christian denominations but there are a few other sites Catholics visiting Israel may feel more passionately about. For Catholics coming to Israel they can not only walk in the footsteps of Jesus but also the footsteps of the Virgin Mary.
On a Catholic pilgrimage to Israel you can visit the Church of Saint Anne a Crusader church marking the place where Mary was born and grew up in her parent’s house. This site is not named in the Bible but in the apocryphal Gospel of James (AD150) the home of Anne and Joachim, Mary’s parents is said to have been in this area close to the Temple and as early as 450AD the church was named as the site of Mary’s birth. Another tradition holds that Mary was born in Zippori about 4 miles from Nazareth in Northern Israel, and here too you can see a church dedicated to St. Anne and St. Joachim – Franciscan Monastery of St Anne and Joachim.
In nearby Nazareth the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph lived together. Catholic pilgrims can walk the same streets that the holy family walked and visit many places where Mary would have been. The Basilica of the Annunciation holds the grotto where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell that she would be the mother of Christ (Luke 1:26-35). In the Mary of Nazareth International Center you can see archaeological findings from the holy family’s home. At Mary’s Well also in Nazareth the Mother of Christ would come to draw water for the family.
Elsewhere in the Galilee the village of Cana is where Jesus turned wine to water at a wedding also attended by the Virgin Mary. While in the north of Israel visit Capernaum where Jesus lived during his ministry, this was also a place the Virgin Mary had visited.
capernaum and the sea of galileeA Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land has to include a visit to Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Nativity where you can find the cave where Mary gave birth to Jesus on Christmas Eve. Also in Bethlehem is the Milk Grotto in a Franciscan Chapel. Here a drop of Mary’s milk dropped on the rock floor while she nursed the baby Jesus and the cave turned white.
In Haifa visit Elijah’s Cave where the Holy Family stayed on their journey back from Egypt having fled with the new born Jesus after Herod’s decree that all new born males were to be slaughtered. In Haifa is the Monastery of Stella Maris dedicated to the Holy Virgin.
In Jerusalem Catholic pilgrims can enjoy visiting some of the holiest churches in the world and walk the cobbled lanes where not only Mary but Jesus walked in Biblical times. One of the most moving of Catholic sites in Jerusalem is the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion. Mary was present that day and several of the 14 stations along the Via Dolorosa are related directly to her. Within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest Christian church in the city you can see shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Catholics can visit Mary’s final resting place the Tomb of the Virgin in the Kidron Valley near to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All nations. In nearby Ein Karem there are also sites associated with Mary as she visited the parents of St. John the Baptist there and even drank from Mary’s Spring, a fountain in the village center. Today the Church of the Visitation stands where the home of John’s parents Elizabeth (who was Mary’s cousin) and Zacharias once stood.