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After the pandemic: A pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

AlexDonin | Shutterstock

Bret Thoman, OFS - published on 07/23/21

Pilgrims can once again walk in the footsteps of Christ in the Holy Land.

Now that COVID vaccinations are well in place, many countries have once again reopened to tourists and pilgrims. Israel, in fact, recently opened its borders to its first pilgrim groups in almost 18 months. Now pilgrims can once again walk in the footsteps of Christ in the Holy Land.

The Holy Land is not a geographical area on a map. Nor is it limited to the confines of any modern country. Instead, it is a biblical land, a prophetic land, where the prophets and personages of the Old Testament as well as the New dwelled and sojourned. The sites associated with the Holy Land include not only modern-day Israel and Palestine, but also in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

Throughout the course of history, the Holy Land has frequently witnessed conflict and strife. Due to its location straddling three continents on vital sea and land routes between Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Holy Land has frequently been sought after by geopolitical superpowers. 

Even today, occasional clashes between rival factions in the area are commonplace.

Why go to the Holy Land?

The question many Christians are asking themselves now is: “Given the ongoing strife, in addition to the threat of the pandemic, should we make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land?”

While each pilgrim should answer that question according to their own situation, there are still many reasons to go.

After journeying to the Holy Land, pilgrims frequently remark how they never hear the Scriptures read the same way again. St. Jerome, who translated the Scriptures from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, described the Holy Land as the “Fifth Gospel.” He once remarked that as “we have a better understanding of the Greek historians when we have seen Athens … [so] we have a better comprehension of Sacred Scripture when we have seen Judea with our own eyes and contemplated the ruins of its ancient cities.” 

Visiting the same places where our Lord was born and lived, and personally witnessing what Christ saw during his earthly life, stories from the Scriptures take on new meaning and understanding. In the Land where the “Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14) our understanding of the Word of God takes on “flesh” too.

Another reason to go to the Holy Land is to show solidarity with the Christians who live there. Staying in Christian-owned hotels and patronizing Christian souvenir shops really does help our Christian brothers and sisters who live in difficult economic situations. The pandemic has only made it worse.

Though the current coronavirus pandemic is novel, since the era of Emperor Constantine, when his mother, Helena, began constructing churches and shrines in Palestine to memorialize events from the Gospels, there have been reasons not to go. Over the centuries, or millennia, pilgrims have braved disease, violence, shipwrecks, and strife to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land helps us come to know Christ in a much deeper way — an unforgettable way — that will change how we hear the Scriptures for the rest of our lives. Despite the potential dangers, a journey to the Holy Land brings to life the Scriptures in a unique way.

Prayer for Travelers

Father of mercies, 

Our life journey is in your providential and loving hands. 

Your son, Jesus, is the way, the life, and the truth as we make our pilgrimage on earth to our heavenly home. 

Your Holy Spirit gives us enlightenment and courage as we meet the challenges and responsibilities of our lives. 

Through Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother as well, you extend to us the unique and loving care of a mother. 

With all the angels and saints, we come before you, Father, and give you thanks for these and all your gifts that accompany our lives. 

Hear our prayers, as we begin our journey: 

-bring us safely to our destination;

-be with those who are responsible for making our journey possible: the flight crew, airport workers, and those charged with our safety and security;

-Accompany with your consolation and encouragement those among us who make their journey in sorrow or with a sense of loss;

-give us patience and a deep spirit of respect for all whom we will meet along the way;

-when our earthly journey is completed, bring us home to You with joy.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Father … Hail Mary … Glory Be…

Our Lady of Loreto, patroness of aviators and air travelers, pray for us.

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