My decision to join the pilgrimage to the Holy Land was born entirely out of curiosity. Several people asked me beforehand if I was worried about the security situation in the Middle East, but whilst I must admit to a faint niggle, I thought that if anywhere was going to be safe it would be there, bearing in mind the reputation of the Israeli armed forces.
When I returned those same people asked me how my journey was and I replied 'Amazing!' or 'Fantastic!' or 'Wonderful!' But none of these words really does justice to the pilgrimage, for it was all of these, but much more as well.
When I first returned home, I felt emotionally raw as I related the things we had done and seen to family and friends, the reality of the journey only then fully impacting on me. The joy and peace of the experience combined with sadness and anger at the way fellow humans were treated by those who should know better. I found myself thinking time and again that the teachings of Jesus during his time on earth are still so relevant today - Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. It is this last part that people seem to find so difficult - have attitudes really changed over the two thousand years which have passed since those words of love were first spoken? Are people using their 'love' of God as an excuse to treat others horrendously......?
As with most things, it was the people I travelled with and those whom I met on the journey who helped to make the pilgrimage so memorable. The willingness to share; the sense of fun; the generosity of spirit; the experience of shared prayer; the mutual humour at the absurd; the bravery and courage of those who were suffering in some way, even as we journeyed; the sense of exploration, adventure and enthusiasm exhibited as we visited each new place; the sorrow at the injustices we witnessed; the moments of quiet joy and peace as Our Lord became a unique reality to each of us - It was this combination of people, place and shared experience which made the journey so memorable.
And now, back home, the journey still continues as the Gospel readings come to life, almost as though this is the first time I've heard these readings. Our days spent following in the footsteps of the Lord have brought a whole new perspective to the Gospels, an understanding of how Jesus and his disciples lived and who Jesus was. Life will never be quite the same again. As John, an accountant, said whilst we were away, we now have the story behind the numbers - we have encountered the reality behind the written words.
Several times whilst in Jerusalem I thought of the words 'He is going before you to Galilee' and for me it was in Galilee that I felt the deepest truths in this journey of faith - where the landscape of the gospel stories is still so much in evidence; where I found it easiest to identify with the disciples of Jesus as they followed him around their countryside, where I gained new understandings into the person of Jesus.
Would I return? Yes! I'd love to spend more time in the places we visited so briefly, to explore them properly, to uncover more of their story, to meet and get to understand the people who live there more fully.....
A second phrase which kept intruding into my thoughts while we were in the Holy Land was the call of the disciples to go out into the world and preach the gospels. Living a life in tune with that of Jesus is a real challenge in today's society, where every thought and word are pre-judged, where to profess to being a Christian is seen as a sign of weakness or of something to be ridiculed. And yet this is what we are called to do every day of our lives in the way we live and interact with our fellow human beings. It is in the light of this belief that I felt almost compelled to create these web pages in order to bear my own witness to the Christ who travelled with me on my journey.
So, thank you for taking the time to follow my pilgrimage story. At times I thought about not completing it, but realised quite early on that for some this may be the nearest they may ever get to making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
My apologies it took so long to complete!
My thanks to Lourdes Barnes, Clare Silcock and Damian Roach for allowing me to use their photographs of some of the places we visited.