pilgrimage-1I had never visited Israel, so when the Kanuga Conference Center and the St. George’s Anglican College in Jerusalem offered a course on the Palestine of Jesus, I decided that at eighty-eight it was now or never. So last December I went to the Kanuga in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina where the course director from St. George’s gave us a two day orientation. He warned us to wear walking shoes and to be prepared to do a lot of walking. He also emphasized that the program was a pilgrimage more than it was a course. Now I was ready to go.

The course was strenuous but satisfying. The worst parts were going and coming, two twenty-plus hour days! Once there, the College provided rooms and meals. Each day started with a lecture about the places we would see that day. A bus took us to each location where we read the appropriate scripture about the event, after which we took time to meditate on its meaning to us and to Christians at large.

For the next nine days, we went to Nazareth where Jesus grew up, Bethlehem where he was born, the Jordan River where he was baptized by John, the Garden of Gethsemene where he was arrested, Caiaphas’ house where he was tried and tortured, and the site of his condemnation by Pilate. We walked the Via Dolorosa which is the route where Jesus carried his cross. We visited Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, the tomb where he was buried, and the Mount of Olives where he ascended. Our last stop was Emmaus where Jesus made his last appearance to his disciples.

pilgrimage-2In the middle of the course we took a two day field trip to Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his ministry, and we visited venerated sites.

As you can see, we did a lot of walking, and the Holy Land is not flat! After the first day, I was not certain I could finish the course, but each day my legs got stronger, so I did finish. Before I went, I was skeptical about visiting sites which were admittedly not historically accurate. No one knows where many of these events actually happened. As I progressed however, I became conscious that the veneration and opportunities for meditation were important, not the physical accuracy. My faith was deepened by this experience.

by Jack Gillett