Rev Helen Blackburn from the East Widnes Team ministry was part of the group that made the journey to the Holy Land this year. Bishop Richard led the pilgrimage once again from the Diocese of Liverpool.
The beginning of June saw a group of pilgrims set off from Manchester airport to go on a journey following in the footsteps of Jesus. Our destination was the Holy Land and we were being led by Bishop Richard. The group came from the Diocese of Liverpool and one person from the Diocese of Sheffield, so some people already knew each other while others did not. All had high hopes of what lay ahead and we were not disappointed. It was about to be the low season for tourism, we were told, due to the heat. But we enjoyed the constant sunshine armed with the statutory bottle of water wherever we went. We quickly got to know each other and I was surprised how everyone looked out for and cared for one another along the way.
First stop was Galilee where we spent 3 nights by the Lake and we visited many places where Jesus preached and performed miracles. We went to the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, Cana, the Church of the Primacy of Peter and of course went on a boat on the Lake. It was very powerful as we heard the scriptures read and worshiped and prayed in each of these places. You really felt as though Jesus had just been there.
Our Guide was a local Palestinian Christian, Amer, who really was experienced and knowledgeable and revealed the history of each place we visited. He and the coach driver safely guided us through the challenges of travelling in a sometimes volatile country. We had to change the itinerary one day as the previous week a coach had had a Molotov cocktail bomb thrown through a window. We felt safe, though one day, after visiting Caesarea Philippi, we visited the Golan Heights and could see the border with Syria, just a few hundred yards away. We overlooked a village, mainly Christian that had been decimated the previous week by ISIS. It was very sobering.
Having just been on a high remembering Peter’s declaration ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,’ we were confronted with the challenge of professing to being a Christian. Risky in this Holy Land.
As we entered Bethlehem we were told the sad fact that only 20% of the population there were Christians. They feel beleaguered. A few years ago the figure was over 70%. We visited the Church of the Nativity and touched the rock marking the place where Jesus was born. Very moving. The picture is in the chapel on the Shepherds Fields, marking the place where the host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to those humble shepherds.
Jerusalem was our home for 4 nights and we crammed in so much there too. We stayed within the old walls and the picture captures some of that. The Western (wailing) Wall, Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Via Dolorosa was just a few things we experienced there. The day we went to Qumran and learnt about the Dead Sea scrolls the temperature soared and by the time we went and floated in the Dead Sea it had reached 104F.
I could go on and on. It was a joyful and memorable pilgrimage and we were free to worship at several places and hold outdoor Eucharists with amazing panoramic views. We were asked to come home and remember in our prayers the people of the Holy Land as they struggle to maintain their Christian presence there. It felt more divided than 2 years ago when we last visited. So I hope to fulfill that promise to pray for the Christians there who are now very much the minority. And if you would like to go to the Holy Land please come when we next go in 2017! It’s already in my diary.
Join us in 2017
The dates for the next Liverpool Diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land have been confirmed as 5th -12th June 2017.
Interested? Then come to the information open evening at 7pm on 12 April 2016, Liverpool Cathedral