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  • Kelly Luttinen

A Miraculous Trip: A Catholic Wife and Her Jewish Husband Visit the Holy Land

David and Yolanda Richter

David and Yolanda Richter have been married for 37 years. Since their love for travel brought them together, taking trips as a couple has been a major part of their marriage. They have visited Rome, Croatia, Spain, and many other countries.

But there was one place they had always wanted to visit, but had not until now– the Holy Land in Israel. During April of this year, they finally took the trip of a lifetime, and they attribute that decision to a miracle.

Yolanda is a devout Catholic, and David is Jewish. When David broached the idea of visiting the birth place of both their faiths, Yolanda said she did not think she would enjoy the trip if she went with him. “I thought I would be too emotional. I told him to go with his temple group, and I will go with my Christian group.”

According to David, the couple usually liked to travel during the spring break period each year, and none of the tour dates seemed to fit for a trip to the Holy Land. So in early March, 2019, David asked Yolanda where they were going to take their annual trip.

“I said, ‘I am going to (Eucharistic) adoration tomorrow, I am going to ask Jesus’,” Yolanda said. “I pray for the trips, he plans them,” she explained. “So I went to adoration and prayed.”

There she told Jesus that she and her husband wanted to take a trip, and she wanted it to be a “holy vacation”.

“Afterward, I came home and David said, ‘Honey, you cannot believe it. Gate 1 (the tour company) sent me an email and they have an opening for a trip to Israel with a $700 discount’.”

David said he was amazed. “It was only three weeks before the tour, and one just pops up on the Gate 1 website.”

“This is from Jesus,” Yolanda said. “This is a sign. I prayed for it. We are going!”

How the Richters Met

Providentially the couple met each other on a trip David took to Cartagena, Colombia -- Yolanda’s native country.

“I missed my graduation,” he said of the ceremony to receive his master’s degree. “Instead I went on a tour and met my wife.”

Afterward, they would write letters to each other. David then visited Colombia again, and the two got engaged. In 1982, Yolanda took a trip to the United States, and they were soon married.

“David is very understanding of my beliefs, which I appreciate,” said Yolanda about her Catholic faith. “He goes to church with me, and I go to temple with him.”

Yolanda said she enjoys going to services with David. “I feel at peace. They are talking about my holy Father! They praise my heavenly Father. They read from the Bible.”

Their Holy Land Experience

Not only do the Richters believe they experienced a miracle before their trip, but they said they experienced many more while in the Holy Land.

“There were so many, one after another,” said Yolanda.

The first took place the evening they arrived in the city of Jerusalem.

“It was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” said David. “We got to Jerusalem on Sunday, and Yolanda had not been to Church. It was about 5:00 pm on Sunday. According to the Internet, the only Mass was at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at 8:00 pm, but we didn’t know it was THE Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”

The staff at their hotel said they could walk to the old city easily enough, so they gave it a try.

“We started walking, and the old city was quite far away,” said David. “Finally we gave up (walking) and took a taxi. It was 8:09 (when we arrived) and it was practically deserted.”

“We asked where the Mass was, and no one had a clue,” said Yolanda.

She and her husband noticed a line of about 15 people waiting to go inside a small structure inside the church. They would later learn that this was revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’s burial and resurrection, and decided to get in line.

“And we got to go into the tomb!” said Yolanda.

“But we never found the Mass,” said David.

The next day, their tour group was scheduled to visit the same site -- the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“We went at about 2:00 in the afternoon, and our tour guide said we were not going to be able to go inside the tomb because of the line,” said David.

“It would have taken at least two hours to get in,” said Yolanda.

“But when we went the night before it took us about 10 minutes because all the tourists were gone!” said David. “If we had only gone with the group, we never would have got in. There must have been 500 people in line.”

Their tour group did, however, get to visit the site of Jesus crucifixion, also inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That line was not nearly as long as the one going into the tomb.

“We were so lucky,” said Yolanda.

They would experience another miracle while visiting the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, where they saw the birthplace of Jesus.

Referring to the crowds that normally are at the popular tourist site, Yolanda said, “The guide said it was amazing. There was practically no one there.”

“I just wanted to stay there,” said Yolanda. “They let us stay for a long time.”

Some Obstacles for Yolanda

At the Jordan River baptismal site

Unlike many Christian tours to the Holy Land, the Richter’s tour was not hosted by a priest or a Christian guide. “It was a secular tour group,” said David.

Consequently, Yolanda had to find Masses to attend wherever she could. While they were visiting the Jesus’ baptismal site at the River Jordan, Yolanda noticed a Filipino priest saying Mass for his group. “So I ran over there,” she said. “But it was not in my language. I would love to have understood. But I didn’t care. It was a Mass.”

During the service the priest began blessing his people with water from the river using an olive branch. “I said, ‘Father, Father, I am Catholic!’ So he came over and blessed me to. He said, ‘In the name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit’.”

Providentially, during the couple’s visit to Nazareth, they would have a guest tour guide. “Just for that part of the tour,” said David. “He was an Arab Christian.”

David remembers the guide mentioned “how sad it was so few (Christians) are left (in the Holy Land).”

“He said we should pray for peace,” said Yolanda. “We do need peace there.”

David’s Love for History

They really appreciated the Gate 1 tour guide on this most recent trip to the Holy Land. “He was an archeologist,” David remembers.

“David loves archeology,” said Yolanda.

David relished seeing the ruins, including a synagogue located in the ancient city of Capernaum near the house of St. Peter in Galilee.

“It was built during the Byzantine area,” said David. “I asked how they were able to do this since the Byzantines persecuted the Jews horribly. Our guide said there were some (Jews) who were actually driven out of Jerusalem and they took refuge in Galilee, which was somewhat out of (Byzantine) reach, so they build this synagogue.”

Another site David appreciated was the ancient Roman city of Bet She ‘an. “It had been buried, and not rediscovered until modern times,” David said. “It is huge! It dwarfs Caesarea. And Caesarea had been well known and was never lost.”

They also went to Masada, where the Jews would have their last stand against Rome. But David’s favorite place on the tour was the only remaining section of the old Jerusalem temple, known as the Western or “Wailing” Wall.

“For me it was the holiest site,” he said. “It is where God presented himself. I did feel God’s presence there.”

Yolanda’s most memorable site was the Cenacle, famous as the site of the Last Supper for Jesus and his apostles.

“I cried,” she said. “I cannot explain to you what I felt -- something in my soul.”

Another wonderful part for both of them took place before they even left the United States for the Middle East. Their flight was out of New York, and they had the chance to visit their daughter and her family in Brooklyn. “We stayed three nights,” said David, beaming as he displayed photos on his phone of their three grandchildren.

“It meant a lot for me to go (on this trip) with my husband,” said Yolanda. “I prayed about it. I think this is what God wanted, and I want to be obedient. I said to him, ‘You want it this way, Ok!’ I went with an open heart. I really enjoyed it.”

David agreed. “It was really nice. It was special.”

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