The night before my 14-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I must admit that I had a moment of second thoughts. I paused as I contemplated being in unfamiliar places with new people, different food, and possibly unforeseen circumstances.
Father Pat Martin, a priest who is blind, had been on several pilgrimages with the Pilgrim Center of Hope. I imagined that he had probably “broken them in.” I called Mary Jane Fox, PCH’s co-founder who said, “We take turns guiding Father Pat.” “May I be included?” I asked. Certainly,” she said. So I signed up to go. I want to thank Tom and Mary Jane Fox, as well as all of those on the pilgrimage who assisted me.
Walking As A Pilgrim
I joined the group in Houston for the 13.5-hour flight to Istanbul, followed by another 2-hour flight to Amman, Jordan.
The trip tested almost every adaptive skill I possess: spiral staircases with railings of differing heights or none at all, steps on the streets with parallel ramps which when wet are very slick, different hotels every few days, etc.
We visited a number of holy sites: the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built over Jesus’ tomb, the Wailing Wall, the Garden of Gethsemane, just to name a few.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to proclaim God’s Word in the church at Mount Tabor. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, built churches on many holy sites after World War I. I understand that the visuals are stunning, but for me, the acoustics in his churches are truly amazing! I have never sung in churches that magnified sound like that.
We took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and were able to see the fishing nets similar to those used during the time of Jesus.
One of the most important things I learned about on my pilgrimage was the plight of the Palestinian Christians who comprise 2.8% of the population living in the Holy Land. (When I speak of the Holy Land I am including Jordan and the West Bank.) On the official website of the visit of Pope Francis in the Holy Land, the Media Commission states that the Holy Land is home to approximately 180,000 Christians who are Palestinian Arab according to their culture and history.
In the Holy Land, 75% of the population is Muslim, 20% is Jewish, and 5% is represented by other religions, 2.8% of this population is Christian.
The Palestinian Christians’ numbers are diminishing because they are emigrating to countries which provide more opportunities.
We visited what some call the Security Fence and others call the Separation Wall, which goes right down the main street of Bethlehem. Its construction began in 2002 and when it is completed, the cost will be approximately four billion dollars. Its height is greater than any of the walls of Israeli prisons.
This wall has precluded employment for many living in the West Bank. We received a small taste of what occupation is like, but these people experience it every day!
Our worship with the Palestinian Christians at the Church of the Annunciation at Beit Jala near Bethlehem was very inspiring, even though the service was in Arabic. The community welcomed us warmly, and it was good to pray in solidarity with them.
Obviously, my two-week visit does not make me an authority on the Holy Land, and this article does not begin to do justice to the complexities of the situation there. All I can share with you is what I observed. However, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to meet so many generous, warm-hearted Palestinian Christians, as well as the people who went on this pilgrimage; with me. I never felt unsafe.
Please pray for peace in the land so many call Holy!
– Alco Canfield