So, today was our penultimate day in the Holy Land! And we started with a brief stop at the Bethlehem separation wall.
It was an emotional moment, as we retraced the steps of Pope Francis, who was also at the Wall when he visited earlier this year. All of us got out of the coach to touch the Wall and pray for peace in a moment of personal silence.
We then boarded the coach and headed to Bethany, where Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus. Shortly after arriving, we had a Mass at the crusader chapel there. Fr David and Fr Greg presided for the intimate celebration. However, a few times during the Mass, we heard the call to prayer from the nearby mosque, bringing home to us just how closely the Christians and Muslims live in this part of the world. As we Christians were celebrating the Mass, the Muslims were providing the background music.
After our time in Bethany, we returned to the hotel for a short rest. We then went to the Christ the King bookstore, in Beit Sahour, founded in 2011 and is part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Professor Qustandi Shomali, of Bethlehem University, then gave a talk to us in the bookstore. He talked about the history of the situation in the Holy Land, speaking about the difficulties imposed on the Palestinian people, and the Christians in particular. “Our life is very difficult on all levels,” he said. In the Q&A session, Prof. Shomali said that there are obvious difficulties for all Christians in the Western world understanding the situation in Palestine.
Afterwards, we were given a tour of the Beit Sahour parish by one of the young parishioners. In particular, she showed us the centre where the parish’s large youth groups meet and work. We then went to the kitchen and met a number of women who were making pastries for their Christmas party in December; they warmly greeted us and allowed us to help out in the making of their sweet treats! However, we couldn’t stay long and had to leave. However, it was a lovely afternoon, to be sharing our time with our brothers and sisters in Beit Sahour.
We then went to the Cheers bar to have a drink, followed by dinner in a restaurant called the Tent (indeed, it was in a tent!). We had some nice, typically Arabic food and had engaging chats about youth work. At the beginning of the meal, Fr Greg proposed a toast, commenting on how our pilgrimage has been marked by such a degree of friendship and fun. We hope that these good relationships will help to strengthen our faith and experience of the Church back in London.
So, not long now before we fly back to England. This pilgrimage has been an incredible experience; we’ve been so blessed to have this opportunity – and its legacy will live long in our hearts.
Our next blog will be from England!
p.s. My fellow pilgrims have noticed I have a tendency to talk about Brazil a lot. However, I won’t be doing that in this blog today. Oh wait…