Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has commended new guidelines from its International Affairs department which help would-be pilgrims and pilgrimage leaders better understand the life-changing and challenging experiences a Holy Land pilgrimage can offer. “The complexities and vulnerabilities which people face in the land where Jesus lived need to be understood and our heartfelt support for Christian communities need to be well judged and generously delivered. “These guidelines can definitely help us in this important process.” The guidelines can be downloaded here. The Church of Jerusalem is the Mother Church of the Christian faith. It was from Jerusalem that the apostles went forth to spread the Gospel and it was to the Church of Jerusalem that other early communities of faith looked for guidance.
For a Christian, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land can make every Bible reading come alive and have new meaning. We understand Scripture better when we have seen Judea with our own eyes and discovered what still remains of ancient towns which Jesus himself knew. It is, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, the ‘fifth gospel’ which is not written in ink but written on stones. A Holy Land pilgrimage is not a political exercise so the guidelines examine the ‘spirit’ of a good pilgrimage – a healthy balance between visiting the holy places and encountering the local Christian community. The guidelines look at the realities for the Christians of the Holy Land – those living in and around Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel and Jordan.