Bishop Paul Hendricks reflects affectionately on a trip to the Holy Land at the end of his Seminary days and considers his Holy Land Ecumenical Pilgrimage early March 2020
Bishop Paul with ecumenical friends
I’ll never forget the first time I entered Jerusalem. As our coach approached the holy city,
I joined in saying the words of the psalm that pilgrims were already saying for many
centuries before the time of Jesus. ‘I rejoiced when I heard them say, “Let us go to God’s
house”, and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.’ I was making the
journey, along with five other recently-ordained priests, in our final year of studies in
Rome, along with our seminary Spiritual Director. The psalm was already familiar to us,
through saying the Divine Office – that selection of psalms and other, mainly Scriptural,
texts – which is the official daily prayer of the Church. It was quite an emotional moment
for us, feeling that we were somehow inserted into a tradition that has meant so much to
so many people, stretching back over so many generations.
This experience came back to me with particular vividness as I worked with a
planning group for a new pilgrimage to take place from 3rd to 10th March 2020, which was being organised by our cathedral of St George’s, along with Southwark Cathedral, our Anglican neighbour down the road at London Bridge – although we were also expecting to attract pilgrims from other parishes around our two dioceses.
Both cathedrals have had plenty of experience with pilgrimages, with the Holy Land – and, perhaps even more important, with the Christian communities who live in Israel and
Palestine. Bishop Christopher is one of the Anglican members of the ‘Holy Land
Coordination’ group that is organised by our Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
Led by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton diocese, they describe the purpose of their annual visit: in order to ‘remind the “living stones” of the Christian communities in the Holy Land that they are not forgotten by their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.’
Archbishop John Wilson is also Grand Prior of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in England and Wales and Canon Richard Hearn is a Knight of the Order – an organisation that is very supportive of local Christians.
The pilgrimage started with four nights in Jerusalem, which brings to mind many
scenes, particularly the view of the city from the Mount of Olives. I also remember our
visit to the monastery at Gethsemane, when it was my turn to preside at Mass. About
halfway through, we had a power cut and all the lights went out. All we could do was wait, while a number of monks scurried around lighting candles around the church,
so that we could continue with the Mass. Visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was
very special, of course. Although it was very crowded and our group only had a limited
time, I was able to go back on my own another time, where I found a corner in which to
pray quietly, while the pilgrims came and went around me.
From Jerusalem, we went to Galilee for three nights. I have a vivid memory of our Spiritual Director from the seminary tucking into one of the honey cakes – and then realising that he’d got sticky honey all up his sleeve! But my main memory is of just looking out over the Sea of Galilee and being able to get an impression of the setting of so many of the scenes in the Gospels. It always puzzled me that what is only a very large lake could have the sort of storms that nearly sank the disciples’ boat. I learned that there are indeed some strange weather effects, caused by the way the winds interact with the mountains surrounding the lake. One guide told me that, even with a motorboat, there was one occasion when a storm came up so quickly that they were only just able to get to land before it hit them.
I do hope you will be able to experience pilgrimage before too long, perhaps to the Holy Land. I’ve no doubt that, if you do, you will find it a very moving and totally unforgettable experience.