Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Reflection by Anne Hewitt Reflection by Catherine Ridler Eileen Hayes Reflects Pat Pratelli reflects … Margaret Plumridge sings Jane Rethinasamy writes.. Michael Diapers Reflection Diane Muir reflects in Photographs
To walk where Christ had walked, to see so many of those places we have read about in the Gospels, to be able to visualise the scene of so many of Christ’s miracles, this had long been a cherished wish for me, ever since my father had told me about his experiences in the Holy Land, after WWII.
The pilgrimage took us to some of the most poignant, atmospheric places which had played such an important part in Christ’s life.
For me, personally, as I look back on all we did, it wasn’t so much the larger, most imposing shrines devoted to His birth and death which had the deepest spiritual significance, but rather the desert and many high places we visited which were less crowded and noisy, where I was able to find the peace to pray with moments of grace.
A few of these places which are particularly memorable were the Mount of the Beatitudes at Tabgha, Mount Tabor, scene of the Transfiguration, and the Mount of Olives, with the most wonderful view across the Kidron Valley to the old city walls of Jerusalem and the golden Dome of the Rock. We are told Christ wept as he viewed the city from here. Even today the political situation in the Holy Land should cause us all to weep, as nothing has changed since the time of Christ.
Another delightful afternoon was spent sailing on the beautiful, tranquil Sea of Galilee as the sun went down. It was easy to imagine Christ preaching on its shores, where he met his disciples fishing and told them to follow Him, and where the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand took place. I was particularly touched to visit the crusader Church of St Anne at Bethesda, (my patron saint). believed to be the place where the parents of the Virgin lived and it is thought this is also the site of the Pool of Bethesda, where, according to St John, Christ healed a paralytic.
There was so much more……………………………………………………………………………………….!
These few, inadequate lines cannot do justice to what was a most wonderful, uplifting and prayerful pilgrimage which I am still trying fully to digest. Many of us would love to return to Israel again, with more leisure to spend in those places which definitely deserve more time and study. We must all pray for lasting peace in this most troubled land.
To have walked in the footsteps of the Lord, to have breathed the air that He breathed, to have seen the sights that he saw- what a privilege!
What an experience!
How blessed we have been! In the space of seven days we followed the life of Christ from Bethlehem to Nazareth from Galilee to Jerusalem.
We kissed the place of His birth in the Church of the Nativity.
We cooled our weary, hot feet in the River Jordan where He was baptised by John.
We experienced the peace and tranquility of the Mount of Beatitudes where the Lord gave us His model for Christian living.
We visited Cana, Tabgha and Bethesda where He performed His miracles.
We sailed the Sea of Gaililee and prayed at the site of the synagogue where Jesus Himself worshipped and taught.
We travelled the Jericho Road with the Good Samaritan and experienced the solitude and silence of the wilderness.
We marvelled at the beauty of the Church of the Transfiguration and the spectacular view from Mount Tabor.
We stayed a while with the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane and we journeyed with Him along the Way of the Cross through the noisy and bustling streets of Jerusalem. We stood near to the foot of the cross at Calvary and we prayed at the empty tomb with its promise of eternal salvation.
And at each place we listened to those well known bible passages that were brought to life for the first time and will never be heard again in the same way. And although you all could not be with us physically we took you with us – we remembered you and prayed for you often.
We were meant to be there it was our time and now we must go forth, strengthened by our experience to show God’s love in all that we do and in all that we say in our lives now and in the future.
‘We received so much. To dip one’s feet in the Jordan; to sail on the Sea of Galilee; to experience peace amidst many different groups praying in the gardens surrounding the Church of the Beatitudes, so many very special experiences it is hard to single out a particular one. However there were a number of extra special experiences for me.
And the first of these is a case of ‘Less is more’. I am not a patient person. I was angry about being prevented from reaching and seeing the actual tomb in which Jesus was laid. But by the next morning, the morning of our departure from Jerusalem, I felt blessed with an unusual sense of peace and acceptance which to a large extent has remained with me on return.
We saw so much archaeological excavation. At Peter’s house in Capernaum and in the synagogue close by we could see the layers of successive ages exposed. I began to understand how for the most part the places where Jesus walked are hidden metres below the modern surface. Getting down to this base level somehow made me feel the reality of what we were visiting. Reading the gospels is going to be a different experience from now on
A third impressive element was the paintings and art work on the walls and ceilings in the churches we visited, such as the picture in the Milk Grotto of Mary breast feeding Jesus. I had no idea who the artists were, but many of the works gave me a different feeling about events depicted. It was almost as if the painters had been there at the time.
The pilgrimage I found to be a profoundly spiritual experience, from the awe inspiring Chuch of the Nativity where we queued for a long time to view the place where Christ was born, to the peace and calm of a boat trip on the sea of Galilee. Also I was profoundly moved by the beauty and panorama at the Church of the Beatitudes and at Capernaum where the archaelogical remains of St Peter’s house have been revealed, and the ancient synagogue, foundations of which we told by our learned guide Yacob would have been of the synagogue where Jesus preached.
Cana had a beautiful Church and it was wonderful to be included by Father Reg in prayer there. The Mount of Olives was also very moving because the ancient Olive trees believed to have been present at the time of the agony in the garden. The highlight of the pilgrimage for me was the way of the cross where everyone resolutely followed in the last footsteps of Christ to Golgotha accompanied by prayer and singing. Even some pilgrims bore large wooden crosses which made Christ’s final journey more real somehow. Our guide was very knowledg- eable and we witnessed through him the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people which seems like another holocaust. I am eternally grateful to Father Reg for having had a chance to go to the land of Jesus and I was humbled by the suffering of many of it’s peoples there…
The most memorable place for me was Mount Tabor. The sun was shining strongly that day and there was a strong wind. The group had been split into different taxis at the foot of the mountain, as the bus could not travel the narrow, winding road.
While we waited at the foot of the mountain at a rest area, we encountered a lot of different pilgrims of many nationalities from around the world. There was the Africans, Nigerians and Brazilian pilgrims and I stopped and talked with one of them.
As we waited for our taxi to climb the mount, a group of Nigerian pilgrims began to sing, they were very happy and were dancing around. It was a very special moment, they were bursting with excitement. And it wasn’t long before they were joined by others. It was a joyful sight and extremely entertaining, they were all filled with the spirit and very glad to be there.
Once we reached the top of the mount by taxi, we waited for the other pilgrims to join us. As we waited in the car park, we heard the sound of a huge bell ringing in the near distance, I can still hear it ringing, it was extremely loud and it dulled all other sound. It was as if the heavens were ringing out!
We made our way on foot, eventually to beautiful ancient remains of an old church and gathered around and sat there, while we heard the gospel reading of the Transfiguration.
As I sat on the ancient dilapidated wall, my eyes were closed tight because the sun was beating strongly and heating my face, I tried to imagine the wonderful and illuminating sight, the scene of the transfiguration and began to think of the feelings of fear and awe that Peter, James and John would have felt in witnessing this extraordinary sight. I find it hard to believe I was here at this special and significant place.. where Jesus accompanied by Moses and Elijah, was transfigured. It was a very peaceful, serene and calming place.
I remember opening my eyes and large black spots appearing in my vision, I could focus, but the black spots were still there for some time after. As I approached the church of the Transfiguration I noticed that the windows were also depicting those same black spots.
I couldn’t help think about how the apostles coped with what they heard and saw. And how excited they must have been and how they must have been dying to tell all about what they saw.
On returning home from our pilgrimage, I have felt enlightened and also a bit unsure of what I am supposed to be doing on returning, its like I have a lot of things to achieve, I have received a lot of food and have been overfed and overwhelmed with all the significant places and events that have enfolded on my journey through faith in the Holyland. I am keen to talk to people about my experiences there but why do I find it hard to begin? I find it easier to talk with those who have been and seen with me.
I find it hard to understand that this beautiful country, with great overwhelming history through the life and death of Jesus and life again through his resurrection has given us an enormous power of love to change our lives, this place, a place of different cultures that have such strong belief in their faith, is still divided and living in disharmony.
As I was carried through this journey in a whirlwind of a Pilgrimage from Bethlehem of the humble beginnings and near where the shepherds were filled with excitement at the good news that was delivered to them, then I too should have nothing to fear in sharing my story. Just like the Nigerian piIgrims who outwardly showed a strong fearless expression of openess and joy in the presence of being, in anticipation of meeting Jesus on the mountain.
On the seventh day in the Holy Land, Sunday 11th November Fr. Reg led us on The Way of the Cross. By the fourth station the realisation that Christ faced this journey ‘taking up His Cross’ hit me with an awareness that it is the only way to live for peace, happiness and health.
As the awareness settled, I slowly moved along the marble like slippery cobble stones already well washed and whitened by a second day of rain. Crowds were milling around and with no sign of a fellow pilgrim, my only option was to walk towards the Church of the Sepulchre. The message was clear now, ouch… if I face the pain of life and take up my cross, hurtful though it be, it will lead to peace, joy, happiness ..and resurrection.
Outside the Church, a fellow pilgrim and I waved from across the crowded forecourt, like long lost friends we were thrilled to find each other! Jacob, our guide, told us on the phone that our group on the Via Dolorosa would be arriving in 25 minutes so we headed for refreshments after watching the procession and listening to the heavy beat of the dark robed Coptic leaders leave the Holy Sepulchre.
Around the corner we ordered and paid for refreshments, then sat and waited to be served as the 25 minutes ticked away while our waiter dealt with others in a queue! On telling him we were time challenged, I witnessed another form of change and transformation while he brutally crushed sunkissed pomegranates to juice for his customers that would be totally transformed again within each human body! Ouch, do all areas in life go through forms of pain’, change and transformation, without a choice, working together for the benefit of us all?
I am a slow learner and my hope, choice and prayer after a life giving experience in Jerusalem is
..to try to accept life in a realistic way like Mary and her Son.