Some people went together to the Holy Sepulchre Church at 6am before we left and headed north.   They had somehow missed the trip at the same time the day before where about 40 people had gone to see the Holy Sepulchre when it was quiet.  Some wanted to see it for a third time. Then after breakfast we left the Golden Walls hotel after four nights stay and began our journey. But before we spent very long on the coach or really set off we went to the Latin Patriarchate for an audience.  We were warmly greeted by Bishop William and were pleased to hear about the churches and people of the patriarchate and of some of the work that the churches are doing. There was time for a few photographs and then we were back on our coaches and off.

The coaches set off towards Jericho and the red coach stopped at Wadi Qelt and looked from the viewing point to the 4th century monastery of St George.  It is extraordinary to see and to imagine the monks living a very frugal life.  There are very few of them now as two of the monks died during Covid.  They have recently installed solar panels so that they can have hot water – something that they have lived without up until now.

Lunch followed and then we hurtled north in our coaches towards Lake Galilee through the green and lush looking dessert.  Everything was much greener than we had expected in a dessert but we were told that this is winter (it is 28 degrees!) and there have been good rains, but in a few months the dessert will be arid and dry.

Soon we had our first glimpse of the water and not long after that people were unpacked and were swimming in it or the nearby pool.  It is hard to believe that the food here could be any better than our previous hotel but it certainly was and after people had eaten – probably rather more than they should have – it was off to our meeting and then many went to bed early in order to be ready for tomorrow being spent around the Lakeside in what many refer to as Jesus’ parish.

Fiona Weaver has reflected on our time in Jerusalem.  Pilgrimage offers different possibilities and learnings from different people. She writes:

‘As we prepare to leave Jerusalem I have been reflecting on how the different levels of pilgrimage help us connect or reconnect with who we are. We have had the privilege of walking the streets that Jesus walked, the streets and places with familiar biblical names. At this physical tourist levellevel I make a connection with the accounts of Jesus life and passion. This physical leads me to a spiritual pilgrimage of a deeper understanding of the choices Christ made and challenges he faced.The inner journey I have experienced has also been formed by the personal pilgrimage to visit the places my parents spoke: the places and events of their lives here in the late 50s. So, as we wandered around the Mount of Olives and thought of Christs time here, I also recalled the stories I heard of them coming up here for picnics.

As we drove away from Jerusalem again I thought of that journey Joseph and Mary made and reflected that they could not make it now as they would never get through the wall of separation.

As we visited the L’Arche community and heard the personal realities Palestinian Christians and Muslims face living life day to day we learned that the disabled young people are given a chance to have a life through the activities  at L’Arche. All too often these people are the rejected and are on the edges of society. Sadly this is a connection through the ages as we read the stories of Christ caring for the marginalised.  It connects too with  and accounts my mum shared.  She told me of how, with other nurses from the hospital, she would go and find blind children who had been abandoned and bring them to the school for the blind with which they worked.

This journey has granted me precious time for deepening my connections with who I am through Christian and family heritage.’

We’ve heard from Justine and Cecilia before but this blog would not be complete without this amazing story:

‘Today started early again, 6am brisk walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, third time in 3 days, as we were determined to see the Tomb of Jesus Christ (or the area where Jesus was laid down).  On arriving at the Church a Mass was in progress in the Chapel of the Angels, at 6.30am they finished and our pulses started to rise as we thought we would be able to go in.

Alas, another pilgrim group of about 50 were lead in by a priest and we were told to queue up.  We were number 4 in the queue and we waited about 30 minutes for their Mass to end.  Time ticks by slowly at 6.30am in the morning. At about 7am, 50 people poured out of the small Chapel.  Finally it was our turn, we moved excited inside the Chapel and then stooped into the second chamber where the tomb is situated.  We gathered our thoughts and prayers in this ultimate holy place and during that unique 30 second experience our minds were flashing back 2000 years.  Then comes the voice of the priest “hurry up others are waiting”.  We reversed out of the Chapel and felt we were now ready to leave Jerusalem and onwards to the days travels east.

The power of the Holy Spirit uniting friends. Today we met friends of ours at the Temptation coach/ souvenir shop.  Now the odds of this happening are remote.  Mossi and Gillian (from Cecilia’s church) were keen to come on this tour but unfortunately it was full, so they decided to book another tour that started in the Sea of Galilee and ends in Jerusalem.  Now our tour went from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee.  Now the red coach arrived in the car park of the Temptations and upon descending the coach I spotted Mossi in the car park.  There was a huge emotional reaction and disbelief, we embraced each other and shared a few stories and hugs.  But time was against us and we had to move onto lunch but we agreed to meet for a beer to regal our stories when we get home.’