As some of you know I went to the Holy Land in March. It has taken me some time to take it all in and think about the pilgrimage I went on with 50 other people led by Bishop Nigel Stock. On the pilgrimage I met some of the most amazing fellow pilgrims and other travellers led by our wonderful guide Peter and driver Moussa.
It was probably one of the most amazing things I have done and it reconnected me with my faith in a way that I did not expect. I was shown the places where Jesus walked and talked, preached and healed. What came over to me was the distances he covered and the difficulty of the terrain. An example of this was the road into Jerusalem-in most pictures you are asked to imagine a flat dusty road but it is in fact an extremely steep and rocky hill. Another is the Mount of The Transfiguration which is high, steep and covered with rocks. Then the travelling to the River Jordan through the desert, which is dusty and dirty and very hot.
The emotions I felt ranged from tears when singing Cwm Rhondda in the Crusader Church where Mary’s mother is supposed to have been born, or the anger I felt at the Creche which serves as an orphanage, run by Christians but catering for children from all faiths, to one of why?, when I saw how other people behaved at sites that are supposed to be holy.
I was amazed by the work of, St Phillips Church, the Christian community of just 6 in the old walled city of Nablus-numbers of Christians from the new town swell the community to 500, compared to a mainly muslim community of 10,000. They provide within the church a place of safety and sanctuary. A place where children can learn and play safely, where mothers can talk. The Immans and faith leaders have been invited into that church building and community to be able to speak and air their differences, to bring about community as Jesus wanted us to be. This is also the site of the woman at the well, where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan, the outsider and the woman spoke to Jesus, who in her eyes would have been the outsider, and in that conversation reconciliation and relationships were renewed. That story is lived out by the work being done by the Christian community today.
We walked the Way of the Cross at 6am, Via Dolorosa, stopping at each station and telling the story of Jesus’s walk to the Cross and praying. It was a very quiet morning full of contemplation.. I was moved to tears at the twelfth station when we were reminded of how Jesus held his mother in the same way he had been held by her as a child. A true sense of privilege and wonder to be part of that pilgrimage.
“Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constants be,
Come wind, come weather;
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him one relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.”