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A Pilgrim is not a Tourist - #SLPilgrimage

Noel Ocol

Thursday, March 31, 2016

To be where Christ was, where He was born, where He was raised, where He performed miracles, where He suffered and where He died was truly a humbling experience. To have walked where Christ had walked, in the places you only hear about in the gospels: Galilee, Capernaum, Magdala, has left an impression in my mind and soul that will forever be a part of me.
I came to the Holy Land, not as a tourist but as a pilgrim looking to pay homage to the scenes where many of Christ’s miracles occurred, with an open heart hoping to find Christ in the mind and in the hearts of the people in the Holy Lands.
And what a spiritual journey of enlightenment it became, one that I certainly did not expect.
Going on this pilgrimage with my co-workers at Salt and Light not only placed me in those gospel stories, but also cemented many friendships that will last long beyond my Salt and Light days. Many of us laughed together, prayed together, ate together, hiked the Via Dolorosa in the rain and most importantly we contemplated on what was needed to deepen our spiritual lives. Each of these places came alive in the most vivid ways as we listened to the bible passages and gospels as though we were hearing them for the first time.
All of the places that had a profound effect on me are far too many to mention, but the ones that triggered a spiritual reformation were the places Christ himself taught: the Mount of the Beatitudes at Tabgha, Mount Tabor and the scene of the Transfiguration, the calm waters of the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives with the beautiful view of the Kidron Valley and of course the old city walls of Jerusalem where we were told Christ wept. It was as thought I was there with Christ himself, listening, learning and understanding, for the first time.
Naturally, the church of the Holy Sepulchre was a personal highlight for me. History tells us that no crusader, (from the First Crusade of 1095 AD), would consider his journey complete unless he had prayed as a pilgrim at the Holy Sepulchre. So it was the same for me. My pilgrimage would not have been complete without homage to that holy site. It was truly humbling to see the place of the crucifixion and to attend Mass at the empty tomb of Christ, as so many crusaders before me have done.
However, despite the beauty of Holy Lands, this pilgrimage was not without its sorrows and heartbreak. It was truly painful to see the discord and injustices between the Christ’s beloved lands of Palestine and Israel. We were all  first-hand witnesses to many instances of poverty and injustices in Bethlehem and Palestine. Even today the political situation in the Holy Land should cause us all to weep, as nothing has changed since the time of Christ.
My Holy Land experience has allowed me to become a real part of the history of Salvation which began in these very lands. As it was for crusaders to complete their pilgrimage with prayer at the empty tomb of Christ, it should be for all Christians to complete their pilgrimage of life with a visit to the Holy Lands.

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