We are safely home now after an amazing trip. Our flight from Tel Aviv was long and crowded. The 787 must have blown a tire on take-off as we landed on a flat tire and they held us on the tarmac in Toronto for 2 hrs. while they changed it out. So we were a total of 14.5 hrs in the plane coming home. The other side of this is that is we were sitting with Bishop Lavoie the whole way so we got to know each other more.
By all accounts this was a trip of a life time, very different in tone and tenor from a pilgrimage we took to Poland a few years back. Here there was much more laughter, light heartedness and joking. Bishop Sylvain and Fr. Susai were constantly joking with us and each other. Our daily Masses were chances to snap multiple pictures and for joyful singing led by Dan and Joanne. Virtually everyone got to read or otherwise participate in the Eucharist celebrations.
The highlight for Marie and I was receiving the Eucharist in the inner Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This was a once in lifetime experience and we felt so blessed and appreciative for this gift. It was a timing thing and we happened to be invited into the inner tomb with Fr. Susai and Bishop Sylvain just as they started to distribute the Host. (There is only room for about 4 people at a time in the inner tomb.) Having a Mass there (in the outer tomb) at 5h30 was a real coup and Maria Drueco our tour organizer deserves much credit for this and her excellent overall organization and care of us: Marianatha Tours.
There was virtually no complaining about anything – perhaps a few raised eyebrows when certain things happened, but that was it. Contrast this with the very vocal complaining one often hears on any major trip like this and the sense of entitlement some display if they have to line up, don’t like the food, etc.. The group bonded very well and we all helped each other whenever necessary. Furthermore, we felt totally safe at all times and saw no security threats. It’s fair to say that the Israelis have state of the art security systems in place and that one is likely as safe here as anywhere.
It was great that our friends from Arnprior, John and Christine came on this pilgrimage too. Plus we made many new friends, some of them Oblate Associates like us.
Should every Christian feel they should make this pilgrimage once in their life? No, it’s not necessary in our view. One good reason is the profound lack of religious unity and homogeneity one experiences here. When we were in Poland, 95% were Catholic and over 80% of these were actively practicing their faith. We felt at home. In the Holy Land, Christianity is a very small minority, so a Christian is surrounded here by much otherness. While the sites are the most holy and meaningful in Christendom and everyone is nice, one cannot escape feeling a sense of sadness at the reality of the Holy Land today – walls up, restrictions on travel, security concerns, intolerance, land grabs, poverty, litter, identity politics, violence etc. Nothing has changed since Jesus time except there is perhaps even more division now it seems. So we are left with an even greater appreciation of St Paul for bringing the message of Jesus to the world – to us!
Uplifting were the faces of thousands of other pilgrims like us eager to visit each sacred site and extend their faith in this dimension. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land can indeed be transformative and for many including us, it is. In the days to come we hope to unpack this a little more.
By the numbers:
- 13 days, 2 countries, 28 pilgrims
- average age say 68, 9 men, 19 women
- 20,000 kms flown, 7 time zones
- about 1000 km bussed
- 6 hotels (2-5*, 2-4*, 2-3*), 12 buffet dinners, 1 served
- food varied from excellent to run of the mill (lot’s of stews)
- lots of sauces and spices, fruit sometimes hard to find, no coffee at dinner
- prices generally expensive and appreciation to be shown by tipping
- photos taken 610, 6 bottles of wine
- 25 sites visited, likely same number of churches
- rain 2 – 3 days, rest sunny, ave high temp 22
- 12 Masses held in the most amazing places
- Overall rating 8.5/10
Thanks be to God for this safe holy trip and to you for travelling with us. God bless.