We just ended a very historic pilgrimage/retreat in God’s lands. It surpassed anything I had hoped for or dreamt of over the past months… To have had the prvilege of leading 35 fellow pilgrims from across Canada and the USA as well as 14 members of our Salt and Light Television Network Staff, was a tremendous blessing. The reflections we filmed at the various locations, in English, French, Italian and Chinese languages will begin airing on our network over the next weeks and months.
Our recent Holy Lands experience made us all become a real part of the history and geography of Salvation which began in these very lands. It is a beautiful story of how God can write straight with our crooked lines.
Tourists pass quickly through places, but the places pass slowly through pilgrims, leaving them forever changed. And each of us has returned to our homes changed, renewed, strengthened in our faith and commitment to serve the Lord and the Church from our various states of life. On the long journey home on Sunday from Jordan and all day Monday and Tuesday of this week, the images and memories of the past twelve days were swirling in my mind and heart. What did this amazing pilgrimage in Israel, Palestine and Jordan teach us? The biblical story is one long pilgrimage, and a model of pilgrimage for believers. At Salt and Light Television, we who are entrusted with the ministry of communicating the good news and stories of hope and inspiration had a unique opportunity to recharge our batteries and renew our faith and belief in God and his Son, Jesus.
We visited the places mentioned in the scriptures. We experienced splendid liturgies, listened patiently to guides and others explain many things to us, encountered local people and the local communities of the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Suddenly, our own meagre, pinched lives became part of this great story of salvation. Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Isaiah and Deborah, Mary, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the disciples, Nathanael from Cana, the woman of Samaria, Cleopas and his wife, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul of Tarsus were no longer names in biblical books. We went to their towns and villages, met their people, and somehow, through those meetings, we went back in time to meet them, to share their journeys and struggles in faith, and to enjoy their age-old hospitality.
As we read the Scriptures now, our lives are mysteriously bound to the countless tens of thousands of people who journeyed in faith here in this land, experienced the living God, and made him known through their own stories. Somehow, these lands with all their beauty and poverty, their political struggles and hopes and desires for justice, freedom and peace, all of their contradictions and ambiguities, are a reflection of our own lives.
A pilgrim spirituality for the church can only bring us to understand more deeply one of the rich themes of the Second Vatican Council: we are a pilgrim church. We are no longer a fixed society perched on a hilltop overlooking the world below, but a pilgrim people painfully journeying through the valley, journeying in solidarity with God’s people, sharing their joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows. And the journey itself binds us together and heals us of our loneliness. So often, the destination remains a dream that constantly outdistances us. Pilgrim spirituality teaches us that the meaning of life is not found at the end of the journey, but in the very journey itself. Rugged individualism, which only leads to loneliness and despair, decreases along the pilgrim journey, and a new, common spirit begins to grow among pilgrims.
On a pilgrimage we cannot haul everything along – we carry memories which do not need baggage. At the end of a pilgrimage to God’s Holy Lands, baggage of course, would have grown heavier, as is usually the case on such trips. However, the biggest item to be taken back home is memories, and these weigh nothing, pass easily through customs, and can be enjoyed for a long time. It is these memories that will breathe new life into our lives of faith, and into our Church, and transform us in the process!
I know that these memories will sustain us and guide us to Holy Week and Easter this year. I am certain that our celebration of Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum will never be the same after the past 12 days together. May the memories of these days encourage and inspire us along our journeys and help us to recognize Jesus more and more in the breaking and sharing of the Word and the Bread.
Thanks to all who made our pilgrimage possible: to our donors and benefactors, to our staff that remained home doing double duty work for us, to our guides on the ground in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, to the Church leaders and workers who welcomed us royally along the way, and to our Middle East hosts who showed us great hospitality.
Next year in Jerusalem…