Pilgrimages to the Holy Land are very important for a number of reasons. As our November 2010 pilgrims can tell you, being in Jerusalem or Galilee gives three-dimensionality to the Bible. No longer is the synagogue in Capernaum just another building as I read the Gospels. Now when I read those words I see the large, stone-tile floor, the benches built along the inner walls, now only halfway standing. I see the Sea of Galilee glimmering at the edge of the town. It comes alive.
Another reason to someday make a pilgrimage, if possible, is to get in touch with an important part of history. Archeological sites continue to be discovered and explored, giving our understanding of their way of life a more complete perspective. Stepping into the Holy Land is like literally stepping into history. Buildings, some over a thousand years old, still stand. Cities, one of the oldest on earth (Jericho), can be visited on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Living in a country that is only 234 years old, this gives us an appreciation for antiquity that cannot be found, in the same way, in the United States.
A third reason pilgrimages to the Holy Land are of spiritual value is that they connect us with our Christian brothers and sisters who are currently living there, and are doing so under very difficult situations. We hear much in the news about the troubles between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Rarely is it mentioned that the “Palestinians” can be either Christian or Muslim. The tensions do not exist with the Christian Palestinians as they do with the Muslim Palestinians. Why? One simple reason is that the Palestinian Christians are such a minority. Unfortunately, as that minority, they tend to be persecuted by both Israelis and Muslim Palestinians (some, not all, of course). This, then, causes even more Christians to leave.
Pilgrimages to the Holy Land bring us into solidarity with the Christian Palestinians. We are able to learn more about their lives, their struggles and their efforts to peacefully live in the land where Jesus lived, the land of his birth and theirs. None of them take it for granted. By entering into their lives, we begin to see that the threat to Christianity in the Holy Land is not one of guns and bombs. It’s one of subtle persecution that can be oversimplified as “bullying”. You won’t see it in the newspapers, but as the November pilgrims can tell you, you’ll hear it firsthand as you visit with families.
Now, this is not to point fingers, only to recognize that as in the days of St. Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, Christians throughout the world have the responsibility to pray for and support Christians in Jerusalem and it’s surrounding areas. They need our prayers, our financial support (especially with college-level education) and our help in reinforcing their living situations, rather than letting them simply dissipate into nothingness.
How can you help? Prayerfully begin discerning a pilgrimage. Not gonna happen, at least not in the near future? How about attending a dinner hosted by The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land? The next dinner, with keynote Patrick Madrid (Professor, Catholic Apologist, Author and Publisher), is scheduled for March 12, 2011 in Indianapolis, IN and will be held at the Keystone Crossing Marriot. The dinner this year is themed: Preserving the Remnant of the Family of Christ. For more information about this dinner or about the detailed mission of the Franciscan Foundation, please see their website at http://188.8.131.52 Let us continue to pray for peace in the Holy Land.