At a time when many people dream of visiting the Holy Land, we are blessed to be born here! It’s overwhelming to be living just a few meters away from the birthplace of Jesus and to have grown up around the biblical sites where He lived and served. When we see how many pilgrims frequent the Church of the Nativity throughout the year, we just think of how lucky we are to be in the place of the first Christian pilgrimage. Some 2,000 years ago, the Magi travelled from the east to do homage to the child, “and they bowed down and worshipped him”(Mt. 2:11). Their tour leader was the star of God’s guidance. Unfortunately, pilgrimages in modern times are not the same. Many tours are called pilgrimages “in the footsteps of Jesus” but are they really? Saying it is one thing. Doing it is another.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if Jesus were to physically walk around the Holy Land today? Where do you think he would go? I can assure you that you’ll not find him at a fancy hotel drinking coffee and updating his Facebook status! By looking at the model Jesus left us in the Scriptures, one discovers a journey unlike the pilgrimages of today. The footsteps of Jesus were far from limited to famous sites, marketplaces, and hotels. Instead, the Scriptures reveal a path of service, love, and restoration.
If Jesus were visibly present in the Holy Land today, he would be in the streets talking to the marginalized just like he talked to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4:7-26) and shared a meal with the unwanted (Lk. 5:29-32). He would be healing the sick even if they were considered to be the “enemy,” just like he healed the official’s son (Jn 4:46-53). He would be taking care of the poor, the needy, and the weak (Lk. 14:13-24), the orphan and the widow (Mt. 19:14).
If you are searching to join a spiritual journey to the Holy Land, do not seek perfection because a pilgrimage is not always what it seems to be. Let it be a journey of faith where you might experience unexpected delays, wrong turns, or unpleasant lodgings; but always remember where it will lead you. It’s your opportunity to express the love of God and grow spiritually.
We invite you to be a living disciple of Jesus as you visit the sites made sacred by his life and ministry. As a pilgrim, you’re a stranger in a new place. Meet the people of the land; let them welcome you to their homes and let yourself experience their hospitality. Pray with them and share times of reflection. When you walk in Palestine, you’ll discover that the society that Jesus was living in is very similar to today’s society. Consider spending some time with those who have been wrongfully oppressed and impoverished. Visit Palestinian refugee camps and do service work to help those who would have been considered the outcasts of society during Jesus’ time. Help those who are vulnerable whether by providing them shelter by taking part in rebuilding Palestinian homes that have been demolished by the Israeli military or by supporting them in picking their olives during the harvest season. There are so many ways in which you can follow His approach, methods, and teachings and make your pilgrimage more meaningful. Come experience the footsteps of Jesus, a pilgrimage unlike any other, by visiting schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and orphanages in the area, places where Jesus would have shown his love and prayed for others. Come do what Jesus did, not just walk where he walked. Embark upon a powerful spiritual experience in our beautiful land as you truly follow the footsteps of the One who came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28).