Pilgrim Reflections: Bringing Home the Holy Land
Thirty pilgrims from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, led by Bishop Andy Dietsche and local guide Canon Iyad Qumri, visited the Holy Land May 24-June 5. The pilgrims were based at St. George’s Guest House at the cathedral in Jerusalem, where they heard of local ministries and shared dinner as guests of Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican prelate in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. They connected with local people of all faiths and prayed at the holy sites throughout Israel and Palestine.
Sites included the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and Kidron Valley, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, Capernaum, the Jordan River, the Judean desert, the Mount of Beatitudes, Jacob’s Well in Nablus, and local Christian health and welfare missions. On the final morning, the group walked and prayed the Way of the Cross at dawn, ending at the Church of the Resurrection. Later that day, the pilgrims closed the trip with Holy Eucharist celebrated by Bishop Dietsche in the open air ruins of a 4th century Byzantine church at Emmaus.
Below are Pilgrim Reflections from many of those on the trip and Photo Albums from St. Anne’s members.
Can’t help thinking that these shoes might have trod in the very footsteps of Jesus.
- Dana Patton, St. Gregory’s, Woodstock
My most spiritual memory was when we were on the Sea of Galilee. I could imagine Jesus walking on the water. Being on the same waters as Jesus and the disciples gave me a feeling of peace, calmness and a closer connection to the stories of the gospels.
- Valerie Powers, All Saints’, Valley Cottage
I feel a deeper connection not only to my faith but a deeper connection to Jesus and his suffering. I am more attuned to hearing the voice of God and listening with my heart. I feel that this pilgrimage was an invitation from God to become better acquainted with him. My spiritual ears are opened even more to hear his voice and what his message is conveying to me. I took in not only the sights but also the smells and tastes of food and the environment and saw the world with new eyes.
- Paula Roberts, Trinity, Morrisania
I felt a personal connection with Jesus standing in the remains of a first century Nazareth home and grave. Nazareth at the time was a village of, at most, a few hundred people.
- Pat Reilly, St. Anne’s, Washingtonville
Being in the Holy Land was nothing like I ever thought or anticipated . . . and as we were told, we were pilgrims, not tourists. Being with fellow Episcopalians brought a feeling of joy and peace to each day. There was a deep feeling of satisfaction, visiting so many beautiful places of worship and praying together where God was so present in multiple expressions of sight, sound, culture, art, and architecture. Outside of my own world, I was in a place where I was always prompted into an awareness of holiness. How can you describe being at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? I had no words and still do not. The recommitment to my baptismal vows at the Jordan River was probably the part of the trip that made me feel closest to my faith. I feel changed. I will hold on to my memories, with gratitude, of Palestine and Israel forever.
- Eugene Bourquin, St. Luke in the Fields, Manhattan
This was a remarkable trip. It changed the way that I read the Bible. As part of an adult education class at my home parish of Christ a & Saint Stephen’s, I finished reading the entire Bible in May. But in reading about the places in the Bible, I had to create mental images based on my own imagination. Actually getting to see the sights in the Bible, made a big difference for me. It made the Bible more real.
Some further reflections on our trip. When traveling to a place of such religious and historical importance, it’s natural to be focused on sites. But I was even more moved by people. Our group is terrific and it was a joy to get to know you and a privilege to share so many special experiences with you. And Iyad, Mark and Omar were a big part of what made our pilgrimage so meaningful.
And the Christians who live in the Holy Land touched me. It was hard not to note the extreme contrast between the lives of the resident Christians with the at times very commercial Christian tourism business.
I remember a conversation a few years ago that Bishop Dietsche had with the vestry of Christ & St. Stephen’s. He challenged us to consider what it meant for a parish to be “thriving” beyond just numbers and pledge income. He mentioned a very small parish in the upstate, rural part of the diocese. This congregation runs a big food pantry that serves the broader community, mostly non-Episcopalians, including migrant workers who really need the assistance. Bishop Dietsche said that this parish was “thriving” too. I’ve come to see the Christian community in the Holy Land, especially the Anglican community, that way, especially after seeing the work of the Princess Basma Center, and hearing Bishop Dawani talk about the schools and hospitals run by the Diocese.
- Lawrence Hui, Christ and St. Stephen’s, Manhattan
My pilgrimage to the holy land along with a favored group of pilgrims was in itself a blessing beyond measure. I set out on this pilgrimage with this simple prayer among others, “Lord, I am an empty and dry sponge. Fill me with your grace and understanding as I enter into the land where much of the biblical stories which shaped my faith took place. A place which also is ripe with conflict, confusion and tension. It was little wonder then that as I stepped into the River Jordan, I felt spasms of joy up to the point of ecstasy to think that I was actually in the waters of River Jordan where our Lord and savior JESUS CHRIST was baptized!
- Chisara Alimole, Christ Church, Pelham
For the first time I felt a sense of community with all those Christians who have gone on before.
- Gerald Dilley, St. John’s in the Village, Manhattan
My Trip to the Holy Land was amazing. While there, I felt I was making dual trips. I travelled through time to the past while I simultaneously traveled through the present time learning of and observing the current political situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The time travel was almost unbelievable as I imagined that Jesus once walked where I am walking or Jesus sailed on the Sea (lake) of Galilee, which I was now doing or Jesus carried the cross along the path I was walking. I marveled at the preservation of the walls of the past and at my emotional responses to the modern-day walls. In my spiritual journey, I came away with more questions than answers and that’s a very good thing because the purpose of my pilgrimage may have been to awaken a new chapter in my spiritual journey.
- Dianne Roberts, All Saints’, Manhattan
I like many others have been asked “How was your trip? Was it everything you expected it to be?” I find myself, initially, at a loss for words. How do you articulate the deep and very present moving of the spirit? And as for “Was it everything you expected?” That would require me to have had certain expectations. I allowed myself to be open to what it became. For me it became a deep, internal affirmation of the consistency of my faith. I notice that I am present to life in a new way.
- Rev. Susan J. Roberts, Utah
So many have asked, “how was your trip?” So far I have stared at them and smiled as words do not come easily. How does one describe the presence of the spirit or a sense of deep soulful joy? So I choose to live out what was poured into my soul during the visit to the holiest space on the planet. Faith for me is even more grounded in the perfect love of Christ for all mankind.
- Rev. Deacon Kay Howard Swindell, North Carolina
As I reflect on our pilgrimage, there were many great moments, but one comes back to me again and again that I am particularly thankful for – celebrating Eucharist at dawn in the Judean desert.
- Rev. Bob Fitzpatrick, St. Anne’s, Washingtonville
One beautiful moment I have kept with me from our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May was a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt. of Olives. As I meditated there I expected to dwell on the sufferings of Jesus as he waited for his execution the next day. Instead I was drawn to the beauty and quiet of the garden. Several ancient olive trees mingled with roses and other flowers in a well tended, small area. A profusion of Bougainvillea cascaded over a wall and birds sang. Bright sun and shade interwove. In the peace of the garden I experienced the risen Lord in calmness and happiness – “God with us.”
- Chantal Haskew, St. Anne’s, Washingtonville
We are still actively trying to understand what we saw and learned at those holy sites where “the Church remembers” the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through the people we met and with whom we shared a few moments, we now have a deeper, more personal, understanding of the issues that divide so many in the Holy Land.
What a joy it was to join in Sunday worship in Arabic and English with the congregation of Christ Church in Nazareth. We felt uplifted as we took part in the Holy Eucharist with those faithful Christians. Then, the very same day, deep under the convent where we stayed, we went down to visit a first century tomb, with the stone rolled away.
This truly was a pilgrimage, a deeply spiritual journey to a holy place. Sharing it with the other pilgrims, our sisters and brothers in faith, most of whom we had never met until we found ourselves in Jerusalem, was a gift we will always treasure.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” Ps. 122:6
- Rev. Constance Coles and Bill McKeown, St. Saviour, Manhattan
Our pilgrimage was a gift to me in so many ways. Having celebrated a significant birthday shortly before our departure it was my hope a trip to the Holy Land would set the tone for this new decade in my life. I feel particularly blessed to have been able to share this experience with clergy. As a layperson I’ve come away with a sharper focus on my spiritual growth and a renewed sense of purpose. As we sailed along the Sea of Galilee while I read the corresponding Gospel to our group the scripture came alive for me in a way it hadn’t before. I have a deeper understanding now of many of the bible passages we read while visiting the actual site and a fresh perspective that I will enjoy researching and discovering for years to come.
- Arlene Roberts Grant, Grace, White Plains
We woke up early on the last full day to walk the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross. At each station, we stopped and read Scripture and prayed, for those wrongly accused, for prisoners and those condemned to die, for all who suffer abuse and torture, for those who lose loved ones, for people living with injustice, for all of humanity. I felt as though we were accompanied by the whole world in its agony and passion. We took turns carrying a cross, and we sang or were silent between stations. It was touching to see Muslims nod to us, and Christians take off their hats and cross themselves as we went by. Despite our sad divisions, faith still has the power to unite us. Jesus, in his humility and willingness to suffer for us, still humbles us with his love. Finally, we made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over Calvary which used to be a quarry outside the city walls, but is now under the church, inside the 4th century walls of the city. We prayed inside the church, and touched the stony hilltop where Jesus was crucified. The whole walk took about an hour and a half, but it seemed much longer. When we finally entered the Chapel of the Empty Tomb, which is a large undecorated stone cavern in the church, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude. For God who loves us so much that he died for us. For love, which is victorious over death and evil. For Jesus Christ, friend of sinners, and healer of the world.
It was a truly awesome experience to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, to see sites sacred to all three Abrahamic religions, and to connect with people a world away. It was especially a pleasure to witness the work of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Although Christians are less than 1% of the population, they have a tremendous role in operating schools, clinics and hospitals on the West Bank and Gaza, and in interfaith dialogue and peacemaking. I will be praying for their work, as well as for peace in the Holy Land. There was a quote from Nelson Mandela spray painted on the separation wall in Bethlehem: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
- Rev. Alison Quin, Christ the King, Stone Ridge
I just found myself eating vegetables with yoghurt, olive oil and za’atar. I told the family that we are having it for breakfast too. Miss you all!
- Rev. Alison Quin, Christ the King, Stone Ridge
Compiled by Rev. Bob Fitzpatrick, 6/29/2016