By Godfrey Ransome
Thirty-five pilgrims, under the spiritual direction of Msgr Esau Joseph, departed Trinidad on September 13 to undertake a religious reawakening in the Holy Land and Medjugorje.
After disembarking at the Ben Gurion Tel Aviv airport at about 11 p.m. on September 14, we were immediately bussed to Haifa, Israel’s industrial city, arriving in the wee hours of the morning of the 15th.
To put our pilgrimage into perspective, we first had to assimilate the complex and tumultuous history of Jerusalem from our erudite tour guide, Abdou. The obvious focus was to first embrace and witness the key episodes of the Old Testament to enable a deeper understanding and appreciation of the events that embodied the New Testament.
We were therefore eager and ready to first explore the engaging sights of the Baha’i World Centre; Stella Maris—a Carmelite monastery in Mt Carmel (where Elijah defeated the 400 prophets of Baal); Caesarea Maritima—where the Romans held Paul prisoner, all amidst the remnants of the Roman city built by Herod the Great.
With the historical timeline ever present, we were fortunate to trace the steps of Our Lord from His birth in Bethlehem to His Crucifixion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.
We were continually humbled in spirit as we were transformed in time at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Church of the Visitation, and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the home of the Holy Family.
We marvelled at the great expanse of terrain Jesus and His apostles traversed as we envisaged His first miracle at Cana in Galilee and His journeys from Galilee through the Judean valley and on to Capernaum where He spent the last three years of His life.
Reflecting on that journey, how can we not reminisce on our outing on the Sea of Galilee; our ascent to Mt Tabor—the site of the Transfiguration; our climb to the Mount of Beatitudes; and our deep admiration where the Lord was baptised at the river Jordan.
We were amazed as we traced the Lord’s journey from Mt Hermon and Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do they say that I am?” and headed south down the Jordan valley, journeying towards Jerusalem through the oasis town of Jericho, and ending the day with a salty dip in the Dead Sea.
From the Mount of Olives, we were enthralled with the panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem. We followed the Palm Sunday route stopping at Dominus Flevit where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
At Mt Zion we visited the site of the Upper Room where Jesus presided at the Last Supper. Our meditations at the garden of Gethsemane—at the foot of the Mount of Olives—where Jesus prayed before His arrest was naturally compelling.
With an early morning start, we simulated the Via Dolorosa as we carried the wooden cross through the markets of the Old City following the paths of Jesus at the Stations of the Cross.
Our visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre provided us with an intense appreciation of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified; the Anointment stone; and the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest.
We were delighted to examine the Wailing Wall and observe the Temple Mount on which stands the Dome of the Rock, and the El Aqsa Mosque, the sacred Muslim shrines.
Having said a nostalgic good-bye to Israel we moved on to Medjugorje, a village in the mountainous southern region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The village has grown in prominence since June 1981 when it is claimed that Our Lady has been appearing to six people.
Those of us who made the climb must have felt on top of the world in overcoming the menacing rocky slopes, first to the Apparition Hill, and then even steeper to the 1,500-ft summit to the cross on Krizevac.
The cross was erected in 1933 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Our Lord. It is reported that Our Lady told the visionaries that the cross was in God’s plan for Medjugorje.
And of course, attending the daily international Mass and reciting the rosary at the evening Croatian Mass at the church of St James provided the reverence, grace and solemnity that permeated throughout our return on September 29.
Walking the paths of Jesus and tracing His steps from birth to resurrection has created an indelible reawakening within the hearts of everyone. It has transformed the Bible into a picturesque landscape that we can now visualise and relate to. It has brought virtual imagination into a new domain of realism and hope.
Infused with a daily diet of Holy Mass and rosary recitals, the pilgrimage has indeed challenged us both physically and spiritually to climb the steep, rocky road of life as we struggle to reach our Saviour.
Although we began our journey as lone individual sheep we returned as an inspired flock, a family of believers, and so grateful for the opportunity to witness the reality that shapes the reason for our existence.