by the Rev. Mac McIlmoyl, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church, St. Helena

Twenty-nine Pilgrims from Grace Episcopal Church left St. Helena on Tuesday, February 17, 2015, the day before Ash Wednesday. It was an amazing thing to begin the season of Lent in the Holy Land. We were met by our guide, Iyad Qumri, and our driver, Omar, at Ben Gurion Airport. Both are Palestinians, Iyad is Christian, Omar is Muslim. We could not have been in safer hands. We stayed at St George’s College, just outside of the Holy City, and found the food and lodging exceptional. We were welcomed to meditate and worship in the Cathedral whenever we wanted, and they were truly gracious. One of the cool things that happened is that six inches of snow fell during the second night we were there- very unusual for Jerusalem! A group of our pilgrims waded through the early morning snow to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, finding it virtually empty, which it never is. A sacred moment. There were many of these.

For a while we were in Jerusalem, for a while in Galilee. We stopped at all the traditional sites, read scripture, prayed and bonded. If you haven’t gone, you must go. It’s beyond just ticking off another item on your bucket list. It’s……deeper. I’d like to share one moment that, for me, was poignant. We had walked the Stations at 5:30 a.m. that morning, went back to St George’s for breakfast, then off to the Mount of Olives to begin what is known as the “Palm Sunday Walk” down from the Church of the Ascension to the Garden of Gethsemane. On the way is a little Franciscan Church, relatively new, called the Church of Dominus Flevit, “the tears of the Lord.” We read from Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather 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.” The view of the Temple Mount and the Holy City is spectacular! And legend has it that this does mark the spot where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

Jesus is still weeping over Jerusalem. Bishop Beisner has always encouraged us, as clergy, to bring our folk to the Holy Land, not only to visit these ancient and sacred places, but also to increase our awareness of the contemporary political reality. It would make you cry, too. The status of Christians in the Holy Land, now evaporating faster than anyone can keep track, as are the status of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim, especially in the West Bank and Gaza. The plight of the nation of Israel, as she seeks to establish her own homeland... Complex? Bitter? Outrage? Those words don’t even come close.

We heard presentations from three scholars: one from an Israeli academic, another from a Palestinian Muslim and a third from an Anglican Priest in Nazareth. All three had powerful and heart wrenching stories to tell. It was good to hear them. It was eye opening for our group, and also deeply disturbing.

So, I wept at the Church of Dominus Flevit as well. What are we doing to each other? To our planet? What am I doing? It was very sobering. It was a gift to be there. As hard as it was, I would go again in a heartbeat- and bring another 28 people who would see and know more about what happened there when Jesus was hanging out, and more about what is happening there now. If you have questions or are interested in talking more about Holy Land pilgrimages, I welcome you to contact me.



2 comments (Add your own)

1. Alice Macondray wrote:
Fr. Mac,
Your account stirred me a lot---smiles and tears. I did St. George's "Palestine of Jesus" course in 1999, just about a year before Sharon set off another intifada,in a more peaceful time for Palestinians. Yet troubling signs were there, must visibly Israeli bulldozers carving out still more settlements in the West Bank--one visible from the barren wadi where we meditated on Jesus' temptation. Thank you for this sharing!

Alice Macondray, Church of the Incarnation, Santa Rosa.

Wed, April 22, 2015 @ 9:01 AM

2. Alan Chesterman wrote:
I too recently returned from Israel (3 days ago) and two comments - one from the letter and one from a commenter. Yes, the "status" (numbers) of Christians is evaporating rapidly, because they are marginalized by the Jews and the Muslims. They have little to offer to either group and seem unwilling to exert any influence or fight for access to significant Christian sites.
The comment that visible Israeli bulldozers were carving out settlements in the West Bank is troubling is, well - troubling. Things have changed there in the past 16 years. The Muslims restrict access to sites they consider holy - notably the Dome of the Rock, while Jews and Christians welcome everyone to their holy sites. The Israelis have gone overboard to accommodate Arab Muslims in their country while Muslims have become more stringent in their desire to restrict access to sites considered holy by several denominations.
Every time Israel fights with their Arab neighbors (beginning in 1947) they gain territory which they give back in hope of brokering peace. It has not worked, so my feeling is they should quit giving anything back and tell the Muslims to share their holy sites as does the rest of the world.

Wed, April 22, 2015 @ 9:29 PM

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