In the last week of October, a group of 11 young pilgrims from Liverpool Archdiocese travelled to the Holy Land. James Lawry from the Animate team describes a week to remember.
In our hands we held a full itinerary allowing us to occupy every minute of daylight; this was a journey that enabled us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and see the sites of many pivotal moments in the Gospels.
There are two significant thoughts which I retain from the moment we began our tour – the first being that few things, at that instant, felt authentic to me. In approaching this pilgrimage I had disregarded the fact that 2,000 years of history had taken place: wars had threatened to erase any memory of Christian heritage in the region, even if individuals and groups had done their best to salvage these sites amid the rubble they often found.
Even with a Bible in hand, this would not serve as a map to us: cities and locations had expanded, moved and many had even been razed over time. It was because of this process of history that I would come to realise the importance of tradition and how much we owe our predecessors for living a life of faith – their act of service to us.
My other main impression concerned the terrain of the Holy Land, something I often commented on while we were travelling. Many destinations were bunched together, which helped us to visit lots of landmarks as they were all within walking distance. This also made it possible to better understand the context of Jesus’s words, since He would have been speaking to the crowds about things familiar to them.
Equally, there were other places we had to journey far to get to. During these long drives you could see mountains and picturesque views and gain a sense of a time long ago when people roamed far and wide on foot. Galilee was one such place we reached by long and winding roads; our destination was a boat and, with it, an opportunity to sit on the calm quiet waters beneath storm clouds and be still in a moment of prayer.
For the second part of the pilgrimage we went by coach to Bethlehem, which is situated on the edge of Jerusalem. Bethlehem has grown over the years and rests unevenly on many steep slopes. It seemed that not one building sat level with the next, and when we got to the Church of the Nativity at the top of a hill it was possible to picture an exhausted Mary and Joseph pleading with the locals for somewhere to rest. Only after they had got to the highest point of the town would somebody empathise.
What they found was a house built of stone where they would likely have stepped over many sleeping bodies to be put eventually in a place of animals, a place that was unclean. Here is where we, as a pilgrimage group, shared a Mass, in a site which for over 2,000 years has been an anomaly – the only structure in the area that defied war and remained secure. Despite the crowds of people, this one humble place has been kept safe within a church and it still felt pure. This is the joy which we celebrate at Christmas.