There is, when all is said and done, only one place to go on pilgrimage – or perhaps it is fairer to say that one pilgrimage destination ranks above all others: The Holy Land. A large group of pilgrims from the Cathedral parish visited Israel in November, accompanied by the Administrator, and (from Pax Travel) by seminarian and one-time Cathedral intern Andrew Gallagher.
Geography is everything in the Holy Land; the north is low lying and sparsely populated. This is Galiliee, the site of Jesus youth and his ministry, and here the landscape remains much as it was in his time. Walk down by the reedy shore of the Sea of Galilee (above), or stand upon the heights of the Mount of the Beatitudes, and the Gospel comes to life.
Southern Israel is more mountainous, and at one of its highest points is the city of Jerusalem. Throughout the gospel, Jesus travels upwards as he moves towards the great city, so that his final revelation as God’s Son will take place – as always in the Bible – on the heights.
The hardest place in Jerusalem is the Holy Sepulchre: the hill of Golgotha and the tomb are now encased in the crusader Church. The photograph above is taken outside the basilica - the steps on whch we stand are the external entrance to Calvary. Visually, there is little to call forth the sites of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Worse still, this holiest place in Christendom is the frequent scene of brawls and arguments between the Christian denominations. Yet again, it is the heart which validates the shrine: there is a thread connecting this site to heaven; the momentous events of our salvation have left their imprint upon the atmosphere of the building. It is not what one expects, but neither is it possible not to be moved, to pray, to wonder.
Into such a place was our Saviour born, and it is perhaps no accident that the geographic heart of our faith lies amid such political uncertainty, human frailty and scandalous division. This was the humanity that Christ redeemed. In the Holy Land we celebrate that event, the pivot of our history, and we realise how much more our world is in need of his salvation.