September pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Jerusalem Pilgrimage

When we, Conrad, Annemie, and Henri—all members of the gemeenschapsploeg/community team of Sint-Kwinten—left Belgium for the Holy Land, none of us knew what an impact our pilgrimage would have on us, individually and collectively.

Jerusalem Pilgrimage

In the middle of the night of 4 September we landed at a somewhat chaotic airport of Tel Aviv, to leave immediately by rental car for the Sea of Galilee. Our destination was Tabgha, traditionally accepted as the place of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-46) and Jesus’ fourth Resurrection appearance (John 21: 1-24).

View of the Sea of Galilee
View of the Sea of Galilee.


Having been assigned our tents, we were not inclined to sleep, despite the already high temperature, for we wanted to see so much, to experience so much, to share so much, and this in the light of the Gospel.
Our first visit was to the nearby church of St. Peter’s Primacy, the spot where Jesus is said to have laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles and, after the miraculous catch, to have told Peter to “Feed my sheep”, this being the third time Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection (John 21:1-24).
Jerusalem Pilgrimage
Our next destination that morning was Mount Tabor, which we climbed by foot at a rapid pace. With a temperature of 35° C, it was quite a job to climb this mountain where, according to tradition, Jesus was transfigured.
“As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:28-36).
Interior of the church of Mount Tabor
Interior of the church of Mount Tabor.


Exterior of the church of Mount Tabor.
Exterior of the church of Mount Tabor.

Each of our visits was accompanied by the reading the Gospel, the praying of the rosary with the many small and great intentions for our families, friends, faith communities, the Church and the world. We also celebrated the Eucharist each day in one language or another.

Jerusalem Pilgrimage

Our journey continued via Tiberias to Capernaum. Cited in all four Gospels, Capernaum is the hometown of the tax collector Matthew and is located not far from Bethsaida, hometown of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Here Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-39). This is also where Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 8:5) and the paralytic lowered by friends through the roof (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26).

Synagogue of Capernaum
Synagogue of Capernaum.

It was in the synagogue of Capernaum that Jesus spoke the controversial words: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6: 58-60). For us, however, it is a deep moment to reflect on the place of the Eucharist in our own lives.

Jerusalem Pilgrimage

We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Stained Glass windows in church of the Mount of Beatitudes
Stained Glass windows in church of the Mount of Beatitudes.

Jerusalem Pilgrimage

We also visited the source of the Jordan River, had lunch in a Druze village, and went to a lookout point on the Golan Heights, from where we could observe Syria.

Source of the Jordan River
Source of the Jordan River.


View from the Golan Heights in the direction of Syria
View from the Golan Heights in the direction of Syria.


While visiting Nazareth we prayed the Angelus with immense devotion in the Basilica of the Annunciation.
The Angel of the LORD declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Behold the handmaid of the LORD.
Be it done unto me according to thy word.
And the Word was made flesh.
And dwelt among us.
Altar in the crypt of the Basilica of the Annunciation
Altar in the crypt of the Basilica of the Annunciation.


View of the tower of the Basilica of the Annunciation
View of the tower of the Basilica of the Annunciation.


We traveled on to Jericho, city of Zacheus and the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan.
On the Mount of Temptation, in addition to the suffocating heat, we experienced a desolate stone desert and could better understand the words:
“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days” (Luke 4,1).
Greek Orthodox monastery on the Mount of Temptation
Greek Orthodox monastery on the Mount of Temptation.


Going down from the Mount of Temptation
Going down from the Mount of Temptation.

Eventually we reached the Holy City of Jerusalem, of which Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39).

We stayed in Ein Karem in a Casa Nova, a guesthouse of the Franciscan Friars.

Our stay in this ancient city, holy site of three monotheistic world religions, divided into four districts, with all possible smells, colors, and people, was for us a moving experience. Passing through all the hustle and bustle and commerce, we went earlier and earlier in the morning to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where we could actually touch the place where the cross stood and stay for a while on the spot where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. The words of the liturgy acquired a stronger meaning:

“We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again”.

Golgatha, spot of the crucifixion, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Golgatha, spot of the crucifixion, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

We visited the the tomb of King David, the Mount of Olives, the room of the Last Supper, and the Garden of Gethsemane, and we prayed the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.

The Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives.

Also impressive was Mount Zion, with its Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, and the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall, the only remains of the Temple destroyed in the year 70 AD. We could touch the wall with our hands and heads, and let our prayers ascend in silence.

Zion Gate in Jerusalem
Zion Gate in Jerusalem.


Western Wall
Western (or Wailing) Wall.


Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock.

Public transportation brought us to Bethlehem on the West Bank in Palestine. It was a profound experience as we reached the birthplace of the Bread of Life, having passed checkpoints, controls and the infamous West Bank wall. We visited the Basilica of the Nativity, where we were able to be alone for some minutes at the place where, according to tradition, the Savior of the world was born.

Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line
Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line.


Place of the birth of Jesus
Place of the birth of Jesus.

We stopped by the Bethlehem Icon Center, where Annemie had followed a course in writing icons, and the Milk Cave, where, according to a tradition, Mary breastfed Jesus for the last time before fleeing to Egypt. Here we also eat the best falafel in the world.

At the baptismal site in Qasr al-Yahud, along both the Israeli and Jordanian sides, soldiers kept guard in full armor. What a deeply moving moment when we joined a Polish group and their priest, who poured water from the Jordan over our heads and blessed us. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God.’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus” (John 1: 35-37). Likewise for the three of us, and for all those who were blessed that day, a call to follow Jesus.

Blessing in the Jordan River
Blessing in the Jordan River.

In Ein Karem itself we visited both the church of the Visitation, where Mary sung her Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55 , and the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, where Zechariah sung his Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79).

One of the many plaques with the text of the Magnificat, this one in Dutch, in the Church of the Visitation.
One of the many plaques with the text of the Magnificat, this one in Dutch, in the Church of the Visitation.

A unique experience was certainly our visit to the St. Vincent home for children and young people with severe psychological and physical disabilities, where Annemie had done volunteer work for a year. With a few of the children we went to eat an ice cream, just to keep our feet on the (holy) ground.

“Jerusalem, we pray that you will have peace, and that all will go well for those who love you” (Psalm 122:6).
This is our prayer since we arrived back in Belgium on 14 September, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.