Well, we have been back from the Holy Land for a week and a day and the WhatsApp group that the Pilgrims have been using has still been very busy as people re-enter everyday life.  It is sometimes hard to come back to reality after the intensity of the Pilgrimage.  Pilgrims see so much and hear and learn so much together that going back home can seem like a bit of a let down, especially if they did not travel with others with whom they live.  And it’s not just that. The Holy Land in February – this February at least – was warm.  Not just warm really: it was hot. So coming back to the cold that is typical in February here in the UK is also a bit of a shock, particularly for those who, like me, like it warm.

A week later it is good simply to stop and reflect upon all that we did together and to anticipate our reunion later in the year. Soon more of the photographs taken on the Pilgrimage will be circulated and once again the Pilgrims will be able to relive some of what they saw.  As we head to Holy Week and Easter, those who were on the Pilgrimage will be able to have a real sense of the places that they will hear about during the days in which we reflect, once again, upon Jesus’ death and resurrection. Somehow having walked the Mount of Olives and been to the Garden of Gethsemane makes everything seem more real.

One of the Pilgrims has written about the importance of Pilgrimage and part of this piece will be in the April edition of the Bridge, the Diocesan newspaper.

Eleanor Stoneham writes:

‘Before the pilgrimage I re-read the Revd Rob Marshall’s book A Pilgrimage in the Holy Land – a Journey with Dame Thora Hird. Thora died in 2003 but not before going on a rather special pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Rob in 1994 where she celebrated her 83rd birthday. She had a very deep and sure faith, and it was her firm conviction that all Christians should undertake this trip in their lives at least once for a life changing experience. I have to agree.

Many things have changed in the world and in Israel since then, but Thora’s reflections at the many biblical sites then are surely still as relevant today, as so many of us struggle with our own questions and doubts and try to make sense of a troubled world in our own spiritual journeys. 

I first came to the Holy Land in 2013, also with Southwark Diocese.  Our group travelled in a bus called Hope. This seems to have a stronger resonance than our 2023 Red Bus group! Never have we needed more hope, than in these uncertain times. We hope and pray for peace, which will only come through justice and reconciliation.

We enjoyed a different kind of peace and calm on the shores of the sea of Galilee when we arrived after a first few days spent in Jerusalem. The old walled city of Jerusalem was certainly noisy, dirty, smelly and far too busy for me, not used to the bustle of city life and more at home in the countryside. And of course it contains a  sometimes tense melting pot of the various cultures and religions within those walls. But it still remains a tremendous experience to see so many sites connected with the Gospel story, even if it is almost impossible for many to find any opportunities for real personal spiritual reflection when everywhere is so crowded.

But once in Galilee we found more time to process our previous experiences as we looked forward to a somewhat calmer pace there. 

On our way to Galilee we stopped at a viewpoint at Wadi Kelt gorge, to look across at the Greek Orthodox St George’s Monastery clinging to the side of the sheer rock wall above the ravine. Somewhere along this route across the desert from Jerusalem to Jericho is the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10.

We heard the passage at this windswept place and I was struck by Dean Andrew Nunn’s reflection that the Samaritan did much more than simply help the injured stranger before going on his way again. He followed through with his care. He carried the man to an Inn, looked after him for a day and then gave instructions for his ongoing care and paid the innkeeper for this. Not only this but he promised to return to follow up and pay more as may be necessary.  Now that is being a true neighbour.  And how often do we fail to follow up with that continuing display of care and concern? That resonated with me. 

Throughout the pilgrimage we all found and felt our own personal resonant moments in the thoughtfully chosen readings, prayers and homilies, the group acts of worship and in so many other experiences as we made this spiritual journey together. Do come on at least one  pilgrimage to the Holy Land if you possibly can.’ 

I hope that in the coming years those who have been Pilgrims this time will feel like Eleanor and encourage others to want to experience the joys of a Pilgrimage in the Holy Land.