As our Vaya Con Dios experiences the flowering of new life, the latest group of St. John’s pilgrims is getting ready to say vamos a Dios. We’re going to God, or, at least, to the place where God did his most mysterious, magnificent work by the Resurrection of our LORD Jesus Christ. We’re heading for the holy city of Jerusalem in January to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and his family and followers, experience the quiet majesty of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Sea of Galilee, and leave the prayers of our church and school community tucked into the ancient crevices of the Western Wall.
It will be the second pilgrimage for St. John’s Church and the third for your vicar. We’re taking a group of 30 this time. We’ll divide our time between Jerusalem and Nazareth, with plenty of side trips along the way.
We’ll see ancient sites, and modern ones. We’ll imagine ourselves walking the hills of Palestine in Jesus’s time, and we’ll experience something of the tension and anger between Israelis and Palestinians today.
Why do we go? What’s the most special part of making a pilgrimage? Each pilgrim, you’ll find, will have a different answer. When I visited the Holy Land for the first time in the summer of 2007 with a group of seminarians and fellow priests, I had a feeling of belonging, almost of homecoming. Within a few days, I knew I’d be back – and I was pretty sure I could talk Kathy and some of my St. John’s brothers and sisters into coming along.
Sure enough, about 20 of us visited in the summer 2009. If you saw the presentation in the multipurpose room on our return, you know that we floated in the Dead Sea, touched the damp rock in the Bethlehem cave where the Church believes Jesus was born, and even walked along first-century streets (literally, perhaps, in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) that had been excavated deep beneath our pilgrim guest house in Nazareth.
Our Epiphany 2011 pilgrimage will be in the Middle Eastern winter, which, we’re told, is a lot like a Rancho Santa Margarita winter. It may be a little chilly at night, and we could get some rain and even snow. Each day, we’ll worship and pray and experience moments of deep fellowship and profound silence. We’ll enjoy quiet evenings in the garden of St. George’s Cathedral in East Jerusalem and explore the labyrinthine streets of the Old City. We’ll laugh, shop, eat and sleep well, and spend a lot of our time with our mouths hanging open as we say to my fellow guide, Canon Iyad Qumri, “Wow!” (He says that’s the word Americans use most often in the Holy Land.)
And when we return, we’ll tell you all about it, and ask when you’d like to go!
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