Holy Land: The pilgrims' dilemma

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Holy Land: The pilgrims' dilemma

By Giorgio Bernardelli/ Vatican Insider

Can one go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem despite the war that is raging on in Gaza and the rocket missiles that are raining down on Israel? Is it too dangerous? And aside from the concerns to do with security and the difficulty of travelling to Israel now that many airlines have cancelled all flights to Tel Aviv, is it right to travel to the Holy land when so many are dying there?

Questions like these are the order of the day now in many parishes and dioceses across the world: the Israeli-Palestinian war that has been going on for three weeks now has forced many groups that had planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem this summer to make a choice: to go or not to go? The responses have been varied. The French Bishops' Conference cancelled the big national student pilgrimage tp the Holy Land which 2200 young people were supposed to set off on round about now. The President of the Bishops' Conference, Georges Pontier, said the decision was taken after the French foreign affairs ministry advised them not to go, also taking into account the size of the group. In addition, it would have been impossible to reach certain Christian communities in the West Bank and access to some of the Holy Places was not guaranteed. The students were, however, encouraged to spend this week praying and expressing their closeness to Christians in the Holy Land: each diocese has proposed specific initiatives.

But Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi groups have been setting off on their pilgrimages as planned: yesterday, a group of eighty people concluded a pilgrimage which Mgr. Liberio Andreatta, vice president and CEO of the agency - which is a branch of the Vicariate of Rome - also participated in, in person. This was a way to show that it is possible to travel to Jerusalem right now and the pilgrimage was welcomed in Italy and by the Israeli tourism office. “The various intifadas and wars have never put us off. In fact this is the perfect time to go, also seeing as though the pilgrimage route is very safe, calm and far away from where the war is being fought; so it really inspires dialogue, friendship and offers an opportunity for encounter between the Palestinians and Israelis. Pilgrims are the third people of this land and they cannot miss a moment like this, when two peoples are suffering together,” said Mgr. Andreatta, who has visited the Holy Land numerous times over the past 40 years.

Emanuela Compri, who works in the pilgrimage office of the Italian diocese of Vicenza, has just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.She started off in Eilat and passed the Negev desert, just a stone's throw away from Gaza. “Was this foolish? Crazy? An immoral act?” she asks herself. Her response was not so much a “yes” or “no” answer but focused on “how”.

“This was not a deaf and blind experience: we heard bomb sirens, we heard missiles go off and from afar we could hear bombs explode in Gaza,” she said. “It was precisely because it was not a deaf or blind experience that she was able to see and feel that what is happening is not affecting the security of all parts of this land but suffering is felt everywhere. Palestinian fear and Israeli fear, Palestinian tears and Israeli tears … It is precisely because there is suffering there that Christians cannot turn their attention and the hearts away.”

“All Christians in the Middle East are asking for,” Emanuela Compri adds, “is not to be left alone. They - Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians- are a minority that is tenatiously hanging on … it is impossible to reach them physically in the areas that have been hit by violence the worst. But it is possible to reach them through the eagerly anticipated Christian experience of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; an opportunity to pray for peace, justice and forgiveness there. In the very place where the deep roots of our faith lie...”

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 10:40
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