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We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday evening, Oct. 7. It was the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which commemorates the power of Our Lady over the Islamic Turkish army on that day in 1571, called the Battle of Lepanto.
As our group was descending, many passengers on the plane were saying they saw black smoke ascending into the sky somewhere close by. Some offered that it looked like a controlled burn.
When we deplaned, the tour guides informed us that all planes after ours were rerouted and no other planes were allowed to come to Israel. They revealed that Israel had been attacked by Hamas terrorists. When we turned on our cell phones, we heard of the attacks in the Gaza Strip, which made international news.
Despite these developments, that very same evening our pilgrimage began with our group traveling to Galilee, north of Tel Aviv. It put us in a safer part of Israel — the attacks were to the south of us.
The next morning was Sunday. We visited some holy sites in Nazareth, Caesarea and Stella Maris. But during all that, we were getting information that Hamas had killed over 1,200 Israelis — most of them civilians. Another 2,700 Israelis were injured and 250 were being held hostage, we heard.
That same evening, after returning from our excursions, we went to Holy Mass and dinner. After dinner, there was an emergency meeting between the two Catholic priests who accompanied us on our pilgrimage, the couple who organized the pilgrimage, the tour guides and the tour company.
Although we were in Galilee — considered by many a safer part of Israel — it is nonetheless close to Lebanon, which is the home of Hezbollah, another terrorist organization. In the meeting, I brought up that it's only a matter of time before other Muslim terrorists jump into the fight to help their fellow Muslim brothers.
Our tour guide then gave our group two options: return to the United States as soon as possible or continue the pilgrimage but forego any visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We decided we would head back to the safety of the United States as soon as possible. The tour company scheduled our returning flights for Tuesday, Oct. 10, with departure from Amman in the Kingdom of Jordan, immediately to the east of Israel.
On Monday morning, we took a boat tour on the Sea of Galilee and visited the Mount of Beatitudes. After that, we took a short drive to the Israeli-Jordanian border and spent the night in Amman.
On Tuesday morning, we boarded our plane and flew to Istanbul, Turkey. From there we got a flight to San Francisco and then finally flew home to Phoenix.
The entire time we were in Israel, we could see tanks mobilizing on the ground and attack helicopters and fighter jets flying overhead.
A priest who was with our group — a retired major in the National Guard and a retired Air Force fighter pilot — told me that these didn't look like mere practice maneuvers. According to him, these were battle formations.
He was right. Only a few days earlier, Israel had formally declared war against Hamas.