A pilgrim is a person who is not at home, not yet in the place where they can be. Forty three pilgrims left San Jose to fly out of San Francisco International Airport on February 13th on a journey to the Holy Land, Israel, a country sacred and holy to many people and yet it still experiences the tension of being a divided country. I had the privilege of joining this pilgrimage group, five priests including myself with 38 other pilgrims, people willing to explore the origins and reality of our Catholic faith.
We safely arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a bit exhausted but eager to settle in for a few hours of sleep before journeying through the city on Wednesday. We started with the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple on the other side of the Kidron Valley, giving us a panoramic view of the old city. From the top of the ridge we walked down what is known as the Palm Sunday road to Dominus Flevit, the place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem and then celebrated Mass in the Church of All Nations, otherwise known as the Garden of Gethsemane. Each holy site usually features a rock or cave, a feature not easily destroyed by conquering armies that swept through the land. Several times, the city was destroyed and then rebuilt, layers of civilization over the bedrock of this land.
In the afternoon we went to the Israel Museum in the new city of Jerusalem to see a scale model of the ancient city of Jerusalem and the Shrine of the Book that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the last century in Qumran. Throughout the trip we stopped at places either historically significant or places closely related to the Gospel stories of Jesus’ life and ministry. There is something to be said about reading a scripture passage like the Agony in the Garden, and being in that same place with an olive tree that could be almost 2,000 years old.
There is the truth of local tradition and the tradition of the church that mark these places or places within close proximity where these scriptural events took place. Being able to walk the land gives another perspective where Jesus lived, ministered, suffered, and died. People marked distances by how many days it took to walk from one place to another. Within the environs of Jerusalem, so much is literally within walking distance. Each day we began with song and prayer. Walked, reflected, and listened to the Catholic local guide adding an explanation or further context to each particular site, scripture passage read and proclaimed. Through the Eucharist each day we experienced Christ present to us within the land where he once walked, taught and preached. It was a lot to take in, absorb and it will take time to reflect on the whole experience. I will try to focus on one more aspect of the pilgrimage next week.