A native San Diegan, Diana calls herself a ‘cradle Catholic’, and has always gravitated toward Catholic places. Over the years she increasingly found herself fascinated by Catholic art, architecture and history. After completing law school and even starting to practice professionally, she realized law simply wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. Deep into planning her own honeymoon, she struck up the idea of a travel show focusing on religious and historic sites and thus, “The Faithful Traveler” was born.
Diana von Glahn, “The Faithful Traveler”
Diana von Glahn, produces and hosts “The Faithful Traveler”, a travel show carried regularly on EWTN featuring Catholic shrines and places of pilgrimage all around the world. Recently, Diana made her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land and experienced the holy sites first hand. Travelujah asked her about her recent journey.
Travelujah: What were some highlights of your recent trip to the Holy Land?
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” – Picking highlights from the most amazing trip ever is hard to do. But I’ll try. The thing about going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as a Christian, is that you must realize that very few of the places you will be visiting are what they were during the time of Christ. Two thousand years is a long time, and during that time, many groups of people have come and gone from the Holy Land. So, you won’t be seeing the manger where Christ was born, or a church built by St Helena. You’ll be seeing a church built on the ruins of a church built on the ruins of a church where this historical event occurred more than 2000 years ago.
Still, everything is amazing. My favorite places were the Garden of Gethsemane, which is beautiful, and which is the home to olive trees that are more than 2,000 years old! I had no idea olive trees could live that long, and to think some of these trees might have seen Christ during his agony?! Wow. It blows your mind. My other favorite place was the Sea of Galilee. Another spot of nature that can’t have changed much since Christ’s time. There is an electricity at the Sea of Galilee that is unmistakable. It’s like the water is brimming with pride, for having once supported Christ’s footsteps. Going out on a boat into the sea is moving, and visiting the historic spots along its shores brought me to tears many a time.
Sea of Galilee boat ride, courtesy the Faithful Traveler
Every place we visited in the Holy Land was amazing. But something completely unexpected was the FOOD! Oh my goodness, the food. Everything we ate was glorious. I couldn’t get enough hummus, pita, olives, cheese. It’s the Mediterranean Diet in the most ideal circumstances. And I looked forward to every meal.
Travelujah: Every trip has things that don’t go exactly as planned. Can you share one of those stories?
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” : It’s just life that things don’t go as planned. And when you’re trying to produce a travel-based television show, compound that by ten!
Our trip to the Holy Land provided us with many of these blips. For instance, shortly before we left, I got some kind of cold that held me in its grip for more than a month. As I started to feel a scratchy throat the Monday before we left, I visited my doctor who said it would be gone by that Friday. I even lost my voice for two days, which is unacceptable when you have to speak in front of a camera!
One morning, I had to wake up at 3:30 am to get ready for a 5 am bus meeting. Our group would be walking the Stations of the Cross in the early morning, to avoid the normal bustle of shopping that surrounds the Stations, and to allow for quiet reflection. I felt horrible. And as we came off the bus, I remember thinking, “I can barely breathe!” And then it struck me: Jesus walked this very road, and more likely than not, he was having trouble breathing, too. AND he was carrying a huge cross, AND he was being whipped, and spat upon, and cursed at, and he kept falling, and he had a crown of thorns on his head… and he knew he was about to be crucified. At that moment, I felt BLESSED to be feeling so awful. I know, it may sound odd, but we Catholics often say “offer it up,” meaning that you should offer your sufferings up to Christ. It’s like you’re saying, “I offer my sufferings to you, as a way of sharing in your Passion.” And what better place to share in Christ’s Passion, even in that teeny tiny way, than along the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa?
Travelujah: How did your Holy Land experience impact and or strengthen your faith?
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” -I’ve never had a doubtful moment in my faith, thank God. But our trip to the Holy Land made the historical aspect of our faith more concrete. Before, I believed without seeing. But this trip enabled me to get just a little closer to actually seeing something of the Divine. Of course, I believe that God is every where, in all of His creation. But in the Holy Land, God became man, and breathed, walked, ate, and died. That’s what makes that land so special. Now, whenever I read the Bible or hear it at Mass, I KNOW what it’s like. I’ve BEEN to Shepherd’s Fields! I’ve seen the dry and yet plentiful lands. I’ve touched the rock that held his cross. And it all feels a little more real.
Travelujah: As an art lover, can you tell us a bit about the mosaics, frescos and other art treasures that you saw?
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” : The image that first comes to my mind is the spectacular mosaic of Christ in the Church of the Transfiguration. It is bright and shiny, just as you’d imagine Christ to have been, during his Transfiguration. Then there are the peaceful gardens outside, which are, in a way, God’s art, created for us, beautifying our surroundings.
The images along the walls of the Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, also comes to mind. I’ve always had a great love for Christ in Agony, so that was truly special.
The Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth is wonderful, beginning with the words of the Annunciation carved into the facade, and moving on into the many images of the Blessed Mother, from all around the world. It’s an artistic representation of her life as mother of us all, from her “Yes” that changed the world, to her loving care for all of the children of God. Every where you go in the Holy Land, you see something spectacular.
Mosaic donated by the Philippines, outside the Church of the Annunciation
Travelujah: What surprised you the most about coming here? What do you think other faith travelers would find surprising about a journey to the Holy Land.
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” : How nice everyone is, and how safe I felt. I don’t want to pretend there isn’t strife for the people in the Holy Land, but everyone we met was glad to see us.
Travelujah: Did you feel safe during your trip to Israel and Palestinian Territories? Are there any traveling or security tips that you can share with us?
Diana – “The Faithful Traveler” Absolutely. Granted, we didn’t enter into any trouble zones, but we didn’t meet with any issues on our trip. In fact, many of our pilgrims were saying they felt safer there than in Philadelphia!
I think, no matter where you are, whether it be Europe or Israel, or any city in the United States, you just have to be aware of your surroundings and be smart. Once, when David and I were in Rome, we almost got mugged by two thirteen-year-old girls wielding a box cutter hidden behind a piece of cardboard! If I hadn’t been hyper aware, we would have far worse memories of our time there. Bad things can happen to travelers no matter where they are. The key is just being smart, being aware, and being safe.
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The Faithful Traveler series of thirteen episodes can be purchased from the www.thefaithfultraveler.com. Clip from previous episodes and upcoming episodes on the Holy Land are also featured on the site. Footage from their trip to the Holy land can be found on Vimeo here: Visit the Faithful traveler on Facebook
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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.