My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 23 December 2013

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land: Jerusalem and the Healing of Wounds

Lunch on that first day for the Hope pilgrims is by courtesy of the Sisters of Sion in the village of Ein Karem, the home of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the elderly parents of John the Baptist. The Faith and Love coaches go to two other lunch venues. It is a bit much to expect any one place to feed 128 people for lunch although there are large restaurants on the Holy Land pilgrimage/tourist trail which are geared to cope with coach loads. As my readers will understand, they do tend to lack atmosphere, with some notable exceptions.
Our hosts for lunch today have a peaceful retreat guest house set among beautiful tranquil gardens and the lunch break is not only welcome but a good opportunity for the pilgrims to get to know each other better. Here my fellow pilgrims with large appetites discover that it is a good idea to sit next to me at mealtimes; my appetite is quite tiny and as a veggie I am not always able to eat what has been put in front of me.

All too soon it is time for us to move on, suitably refreshed, our destination the Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist in the same village. The blue tiles within this church are stunning, and seem Dutch to me, but in fact they have been brought over from Valencia in Spain. This site dates from the fifth century and marks the traditional place of the birth of St John the Baptist. Also in the village we see the Church of the Visitation, where tradition says the Virgin Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth. There are ceramic plaques which reproduce Mary's canticle of praise, the Magnificat, (Luke 1: 46-55) in some 50 languages.

entrance to the Church of the Nativity
of John the Baptist
The afternoon is drawing to a close and now we are off to the Anglican Cathedral of St George the Martyr in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, one of four Dioceses in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Here the three groups, Faith, Hope and Love, are to celebrate the Eucharist together.

It was a beautiful end to our day's travels, bringing us all together in this way around the Lord's Table to take bread and wine together, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
a gathering at one of the Magnificat plaques

The information leaflet which I find at the back of the cathedral after the service tells us that the Cathedral is home to two different congregations, one Arabic-speaking and the other English- speaking. Services are also held in Hebrew, we are told. There is an adult education center in the grounds of the cathedral, which combines academic study, spirituality and travel in its range of courses. The present Bishop, Suheil Dawani, believes very strongly, as I do, that education is the key for our futures.
another Magnificat plaque!
In addition to the adult education center there are about 7000 young students in the schools across the Diocese. I quote from the leaflet:
“Our schools are educating the next generation of peace makers even as our hospitals are healing the wounds of the present generation.” 
Essential Healing
Here I crave your indulgence while I digress just a little into this whole idea of healing. I think we need to be aware that such wounds are mental and spiritual as well as physical: as such they can seep into the next generation without being obvious. This we have to guard against, not only in Jerusalem and the Holy Land but across the world.

Do we have time? The unhealed wounds of mankind inflicted through millennia of evolution by strife and violence and disaster mean that hundreds of millions of people are psychologically, emotionally and physically scarred and wounded and in need of healing.

It has even been suggested by some psychologists that ‘human culture as a whole has been saturated by unhealed wounding, which, if unchecked, will continue on a downward spiral toward inevitable disintegration.’ (see Judith Thompson and James O’Dea, 2005 Shift Issue 7, May 2005, ‘Social Healing for a Fractured World; a Summary Report to the Fetzer Institute.’

So how very important this healing is. And at the very core of any healing are the spiritual gifts of faith, love and forgiveness.
Anthony de Mello in his Contact with God: Retreat Conferences counseled  the offering of prayer and meditation with Christ as Healer, to mend our inner conflicts and our past wounds.
Alastair Campbell in his book Rediscovering Pastoral Care (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986) p. 38. explains how ‘the wounded love of Jesus Christ has a healing power because it is enfleshed love, entering into human weakness, feeling our pain, standing beside us in our dereliction.’ This is apt for the places we have visited today and is very much the idea at the heart of the true Wounded Healer, a concept which interests me a great deal in the context of social healing, healing this wounded earth.
The Cathedral of St George the Martyr Jerusalem
And this is something which is very much in the forefront of my mind throughout this pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a place which has seen so much conflict and war, where there should be peace and understanding and respect between the different Abrahamic faiths.

Tomorrow we are off to Bethlehem ... another busy day promised...

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