Pilgrims to Israel recall Holy experience

Joey Villanueva recently retired as a PAL pilot after having flown for 29 years. His wife, Karen Villanueva, is president of the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO), an NGO that helps build the capacity of patient leaders to advocate and lead their respective patient organizations. They finally fulfilled their dream to visit the Holy Land last October.

Little did they know that on October 7, en route to Jerusalem, they would be turned back because the Hamas militants fired several missiles, killed and took hostages with them in the act of violence.

The Villanuevas were part of 36 pilgrims, which included Paranaque’s Holy Infant Jesus Parish priest, Fr. Christian Emmanuel “Ian” Gabinete. The tour started on October 3 in Jordan, visiting Mount Nebo, Madaba, and Petra’s UNESCO World Heritage site. Then they crossed the border to Israel, spending a night in Nazareth, where Joey and Karen renewed their marriage vows at Cana.

They toured the Mountain where the Transfiguration of Jesus happened, followed by a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee and a visit to the Church of the Beatitudes and the Primacy of Peter, which faced out into the sea.

Finally, they walked into the Town of Capernaum, where Jesus did his ministry, and enjoyed a bonus stop at the Mount of Arbel, where Jesus walked for days.

On October 7, they heard mass at the beautiful Basilica of the Annunciation, on the same site where the angel Gabriel visited Mary and foretold she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Their next stop was the beautiful town of Haifa, and they heard a Holy Mass at the Mount Carmel Church, the headquarters of the Carmelites.

“We were traveling towards Jerusalem when we learned we had to return to Nazareth for safety reasons,” Karen recalled. They returned to their hotels with strict orders to stay within the premises.

News started coming in about the deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and how Israel had declared war on the Hamas militants. “Our tour guide, Elias, thought it was the usual skirmishes that have been part of his life in Israel, but the global news said otherwise,” Karen continued.

There, they learned they needed to cut the tour, cancel Egypt from the itinerary, and head back to Jordan.

“Messages started coming. Our children were frantic, calling to check on us, worried about the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. Leaving Israel to return through Jordan was challenging because our tour operator had to secure our exit visas,” Karen narrated.

On October 9, they left their hotel early, arriving at the Jordan border before 8 a.m. “We were the first bus to arrive. Security was tight, with a big crowd trying to leave. It took us four hours to clear the Israel and Jordan Immigration and Customs,” she said.

On October 11, Joey and Karen boarded a Royal Jordanian flight to Dubai, then a Philippine Airlines flight to Manila, arriving home safe and sound at 9:30 a.m. on October 12.

“We did not feel fear, which may be hard to believe for people who were not there. There was no sound of missiles or gunfire at all. A fireworks display, yes, because it was the end of Yom Kippur, and people were celebrating. But after having a Holy experience walking along the towns where Jesus lived and died, nothing could faze you. And you realize that every day you live is Grace from God, and this was no different,” Karen said.

What is your reaction?

In Love
Not Sure

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *