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A geography of faith

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

By Regina Ramos-Urbano

A pilgrimage is not a journey one does lightly, but is done on faith, with intention and purpose. So it was that in early November, a group of 23 pilgrims from Canada set out for Israel and the Holy Land. Linda Ramos organized the trip with Fr. Rainerio Sarce of St. Edward’s Parish as the spiritual leader.

As a pilgrim on this journey, I was struck by the contrasts and contradictions of Israel. Ancient buildings and modern office towers can be found side by side. Churches and synagogues are only steps away from tourist shops and souvenirs. While we followed the tradition of the Via Dolorosa (The Way of the Cross), the residents went about their marketing, oblivious to our prayers and intentions, focussed solely on their own intentions and the business of their everyday lives.

And amidst all of this, opportunities for prayer and contemplation were all around. We were filled with wonder and strong emotions as we followed in the footsteps of Jesus. We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Fr. Sarce was overwhelmed as he said his first mass in the Holy Land on the Mount of Beatitudes.

“I never thought I would ever in my life celebrate Mass where Jesus fed the multitudes,” he said.

For nine days, Fr. Sarce shepherded the group from Jaffa to Jericho, from Capernaum to Jerusalem, the Masada and Ceaesarea, making sure no one strayed, and always doing a head count so that no one was left behind. We swam, fished and danced in the Sea of Galilee, were refreshed in the waters of the River Jordan and were renewed while floating in the salt saturated Dead Sea.

“Come and see – go and tell,” was the catch phrase of our tour guide Bishaza. We came to see the places of our faith, to experience in a small way, the life of Jesus, and to take the time to pray and reflect with gratitude on all our blessings.

“The places of pilgrimage have marked a kind of geography of faith in our country, that is, they make visible, almost tangible, how our forefathers encountered the living God... Yes, HE is there, and HE is still there today.” ― Pope Benedict XVI, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year.