For some the last day began at 4.45 am with the call to prayer from the Mosque in Manger Square. Rather than turning over for a couple more hours of sleep some a few intrepid pilgrims set off to the Church of the Nativity once last time for a prayer where Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’ (Luke 2:7).
Our bags had to be packed and down at reception by 7am. No one was late, as has been the case for the whole pilgrimage. After breakfast we set off into the sunshine, passing once again through one of the checkpoints that divide Israel and Palestine. We cast our eyes over the wall that is such a terse reminder of how the beauty of this Holy Land continues to be afflicted by tension and war. We have experienced the warmth and kindness of the Palestinian Christians over this pilgrimage and our prayers and best wishes will be with them back home.
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.” Luke 24:13-16
The real location of Emmaus isn’t known and indeed there are three possible locations: Amwas, El Qubeibah and Abu Gosh. Our final Mass for the pilgrimage was at the Abu Gosh, situated in about 10 miles from Jerusalem on the way to Tel Aviv. The Church is from the Crusades with some frescos of the story of Emmaus amongst other depictions of the Christ and Our Lady. However the Church had at one stage been under the ‘protection’ of the Jewish community who defaced the images. Fr Paul celebrated the Mass with Fr John giving his final homily, encouraging us to go back with all that we had learnt and share it with others. Although we were tired it was a very prayerful and uplifting liturgy with full voices for the music. At the end of Mass Fr Paul blessed us: “O God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. From all races of the earth you have chosen a people dedicated to you, eager to do what is right. Your grace has moved the hearts of these, your friends, to love you more deeply and to serve you more generously. We ask you to bless them, so that they may tell of your wonderful deeds and give proof of them in their lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”We were able to enjoy the beauty of the Garden tended to by the Benedictine Monastery there, before heading back to the bus and up to the nearby Church of the Arc of the Covenant.
Church of the Arc of the Covent
Here, in a bright airy Church Fr John Farrell gave us a final talk on the Arc of the Covenant holding the very presence of the Word of God – the commandments given to Moses. He then spoke of Mary, Our Lady, in whose womb grew the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Outside, beneath a large statue of Our Lady, we enjoyed the sunshine and the 1,000 year old olive trees in the garden.
Our final lunch also had some thanks – to Rami and Ibrahim, our guides; to the bus drivers; and to the pilgrimage director Fr Paul McDermott. From there we got on the bus one last time and made our way to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we lined up, underwent the tight security questions, went through into departures, boarded the plane, flew back to Heathrow and dispersed. Our Pilgrimage came to an end but as Fr John said in his Homily, this is no end but a beginning of something new.