BUDDHISM Thursday, December 8th I traveled to Southern Nepal: The Lord Buddha was born in 623 BC in the sacred area of Lumbini located in the Terai plains of southern Nepal, testified by the inscription on the pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Asoka in 249 BC, which soon became a place of pilgrimage. The site is now being developed as a Buddhist pilgrimage centre, where the archaeological remains associated with the birth of the Lord Buddha form a central feature. It includes the Shakya Tank; the remains within the Maya Devi Temple consisting of brick structures in a cross-wall system dating and the sandstone Ashoka pillar with its Pali inscription in Brahmi script. Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist viharas (monasteries) and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines).
ISLAM Saturday, December 10 I traveled to Mecca Saudi Arabia: The Ka'ba is a small building located within the courtyard of al-Haram Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Ka'ba is the holiest site in Islam; the Haram Mosque was built around it and because of it. The qibla, the direction Muslims face during prayer, is the direction facing the Ka'ba. The Ka'ba houses the mysterious Black Stone, which was revered in Mecca in pre-Islamic times as well. It became a Muslim relic in the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The Ka'ba is roughly the shape of a cube (Ka'ba comes from the Arabic word meaning "cube") and is made of granite from the hills near Mecca. It stands 15 meters high, with sides measuring 10.5 m by 12 m. It is covered by a black silk cloth decorated with gold-embroidered calligraphy. This cloth is known as the kiswah and is replaced yearly.
HINDUISM Monday, December 12 I traveled to Mt. Kailash, Tibet: A great mass of black rock soaring to over 22,000 feet, Mt. Kailash has the unique distinction of being the world's most venerated holy place at the same time that it is the least visited. The supremely sacred site of four religions and billions of people, Kailash is seen by no more than a few thousand pilgrims each year. This curious fact is explained by the mountain's remote location in far western Tibet. Hindus believe Mt.Kailash to be the home of Lord Shiva. Like many of the Hindu gods, Shiva is a character of apparent contradictions. He at once the Lord of Yoga and therefore the ultimate renunciate ascetic, yet he is also the divine master of Tantra, the esoteric science that regards sexual union as the most perfect path to spiritual enlightenment. Hindus do not interpret Shiva's behaviors as contradictory however, but rather see in him a deity who has wisely integrated the extremes of human nature and thus transcended attachment to any particular, and limited, way of being.
CHRISTIANITY Wednesday, December 14 I traveled to Vatican City, Rome, Italy: St. Peter’s Basilica, also called New St. Peter’s Basilica, begun by Pope Julius II in 1506 and completed in 1615 under Paul V. It is designed as a three-aisled Latin cross with a dome at the crossing, directly above the high altar, which covers the shrine of St. Peter the Apostle. St. Peter's was until recently the largest church ever built and it remains one of the holiest sites in Christendom. St. Peter's Basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter - the apostle who is considered the first pope - was crucified and buried. St. Peter's tomb is under the main altar and many other popes are buried in the basilica as well. The interior of St. Peter’s is filled with many masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art, among the most famous of which is Michelangelo’s Pietà.
JUDAISM Friday, December 16 I traveled to Jerusalem Israel: The Western Wall was part of the most magnificent building Jerusalem had ever seen. It was one of four walls Herod the Great built to support the 1,555,000-square-foot plaza on which the Temple stood. It was almost 1,500 feet long – the rest can still be seen inside the Western Wall Tunnel . Originally it was some 90 feet high and reached some 60 feet into the ground. When Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., only one outer wall remained standing. For the Jews, however, this remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries Jews from throughout the world made the difficult pilgrimage and immediately headed for the Kotel ha-Ma'aravi (the Western Wall) to thank God. The prayers offered at the Kotel were so heartfelt that gentiles began calling the site the “Wailing Wall.”