Monday, May 21, 2012


I have always desired to pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and an opportunity arose early this year, when a priest friend asked if I would join a journey he was leading in the middle of February.  Normally, as a teacher at a liberal arts college, I could not take a week off, but the dates overlapped with our reading week, just before Lent.  Divine providence seemed to be at work, so I said yes, and, after a very early icy drive to Kingston to meet up with the group, mostly Queen’s University students, off we went to the airport on a cold Canadian morning. 

Much could be said about our pilgrimage:  We saw the primary sites, Galilee and the Mount of Beatitudes, where we spent a tranquil first few days, Caesarea Philippi, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, before journeying south to the Jordan River, Jericho and, for the last few days of our ten-day pilgrimage, the holy city of Jerusalem, a winding maze of narrow streets, leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

People speak of the beauty of Israel, and it is a picturesque country, made more so by its ancient and colourful history.   The land does have a profound scenic charm, lush and green in the north, barren desert in the south, but this, for me, is not its main charm.  On a purely scenic level, I prefer my adopted home of Ontario, with its unspoiled wilderness, lakes, rivers, and forests.  I did not travel thousands of miles to see hills and deserts.  Nor did I travel to ooh and aah over historical sites, as interesting as these were.  No, rather, the primarily beauty of Israel, and primary purpose of my pilgrimage, is and was spiritual.  Following in the footsteps of the God made man, the land where the Holy One chose to live, is a profound experience.
How does one encapsulate this in words?  To walk in the very places where Christ also walked , to kneel and pray where He died, was buried, and rose from the dead is, in a word, ineffable.  At the time, one does not fully appreciate the spiritual depth of such an experience.  Tourists or, if you will, pilgrims, are ubiquitous.  Each site is often crowded with immense buses jockeying for parking spots, out of which descend uncounted people of all races and creeds taking photographs, crushing forward to see the sites, talking, yelling, with a leader of some sort commenting, often through some kind of sound system.  Lineups are common.  Baubles and mementos are for sale everywhere, in stores and street corners, and one is bombarded with the cries of vendors hawking postcards and rosaries.  Yes, it is difficult at times to put oneself into a spiritual frame of mind. 
I say difficult, but not impossible.  Standing on the shores of Galilee, where Our Lord cooked breakfast for this disciples on a brisk Easter morning, or kneeling a few feet from Golgotha, one cannot help but be put into some spiritual frame of mind, to block out the noise, and imagining what is was like in the time of Christ. 

Of course, one cannot take the spiritual depth of such an experience in at once.  I see a pilgrimage to the Holy Land like planting seeds in the soul:  The fruits of such a journey are only known and seen in time.  Like Our Lord’s own life, one will only realize what such a pilgrimage means afterwards, perhaps even years later, in hidden ways.  That to me is the key to the Holy Land:  It is a geographical reminder, nay, more, a relic, of the Incarnation.  We walk on holy ground in that land, and it is incumbent on us to keep and guard those sites hallowed by God Himself during His time on earth. 

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to have made such a pilgrimage, and I hope I brought many graces back for those with whom I live and work, and for my own spiritual journey.  God be praised, now and forever. 

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