Have you ever wondered what it was like for Mary and Joseph to make the journey to Bethlehem? Or, for Jesus and his disciples to make the trip from the Galilee to Jerusalem?
From the earliest times, Christians from all over the world have gone to the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. After St Francis visited the Holy Land in the 11th Century he was so inspired that he began creating nativity scenes in towns and villages in Italy so that people of faith could have some experience of what it was like in the Holy Land that first Christmas.
While towns like Nazareth and Bethlehem are now bustling cities far from anything Jesus would’ve known, the holy sites associated with his earthly life are preserved and revered to this day. Crucially, these places that roll off our tongues when we think of the Gospel are also home to a small but vibrant Christian community.
Through The Irish Catholic I have been privileged in recent years to be part of a series of Christian Solidarity Pilgrimages to the Holy Land. We have walked in the footsteps of Jesus and visited the sites around Galilee where he lived the three years of his public ministry.
In Nazareth, we have experienced the place of the Visitation and the hometown of the Holy Family, while in Bethlehem our pilgrims have been able to enter the Church of the Nativity and touch the place where tradition records that Christ was born some 2,000 years ago. Perhaps amongst the most moving experience is to arrive to Jerusalem and visit the sites associated with the last week of the life of Jesus: the location of the Palm Sunday procession, the Garden of Gethsemane, walking the way of the Cross to Calvary and ultimately the empty tomb.
Some people call the Holy Land the ‘fifth Gospel’, for at these places the scriptures really come to life. Standing at the edge of the Sea of Galilee and remembering all the Gospel passages that speak of the sea instantly brings to mind the ministry of Christ and his encounters with his disciples.
As part of the trips, we have also been blessed to meet with local Christians and hear about their joys and struggles to keep their faith alive in sometimes challenging circles.
In 2019, we will be going again and I invite you to join us and be part of this unique pilgrim journey. The No. 1 question I get asked when people speak to me about the Holy Land is ‘is it safe?’. My answer is always an emphatic ‘yes’. The people who live in the Holy Land – what Pope Benedict XVI called the ‘living stones’ – love to see pilgrims coming. They love to know that they are not alone, and that they have not been forgotten about. Much like during the conflict in the North of our own country, media headlines sometimes frighten people and distract from the reality of the situation on the ground.
The Holy Land is a vibrant and unforgettable journey of faith, fun and friendship. It is also an unforgettable way to bring your faith to life in a new and refreshing way. I hope you will consider joining us.
The Irish Catholic will organise two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in October 2019.
The first will depart Dublin on Tuesday, October 1 and return on Wednesday, October 9. The second will depart Dublin on Sunday, October 6 and return on Monday, October 14. If you would like more information, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Kelly is co-author of a new book with Austen Ivereigh ‘How to Defend the Faith – Without Raising your Voice’ it is available from Columba Books.