On my visit to the Holy Land in May of this year to film for our next production on the Holy Father’s pilgrimage, we went to the Church of the Synagogue, which I hadn’t seen on my previous visit in 2011.
Here, it is believed, is where the event from Luke 4:15 happened, when Jesus read from the scroll:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
After this, the people of Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff.
Throughout my trip, I encountered sacred site after sacred site. Usually, I was rushed and had a lot to do every day. I always tried to allow myself to enter into the history of the sacred sites, but at the end of the day, this was not a pilgrimage. I was there to work.
This was very different from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land we filmed in 2011, with Select International Tours and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Sure, I worked that, too, but I was given the opportunity to pray and enter into the sites more then than I was this May.
The difference between the two experiences makes me think back to an experience I had at the Church of the Synagogue in May. At one point, I was in the interior of the Church when Patrick, one of our other cameraman, came in. “Diana!” he said, “come outside! There’s a woman out there who knows you!”
It seemed inconceivable that anyone in Nazareth would know me, but I went outside anyway. As Patrick had been filming the exterior of the church, a small group from England walked in hoping to visit the site. As often happens whenever we film, the pilgrims asked Patrick what we were filming, and he told them we were filming for a production called The Faithful Traveler.
“Oh, I love that show!” one pilgrim said. “I watch it whenever it’s on!” And so Patrick came to introduce me to her.
Her name was Jean and it was her birthday! Jean was so lovely. (Jean! If you’re out there! Get in touch!)
We chatted for a bit and then I asked her and her group if they’d like to be in our show. They agreed, excitedly.
The cameras rolled and they told me about what they’d seen, that it was their last day in the Holy Land, and they would be going home later on that day. As I looked around at their smiling faces, it occurred to me, and I said so on camera, that from then on, all of those people who had heretofore been complete strangers now shared a bond that only others who had been on the same pilgrimage could understand. They’d go home, I told them, with their 8,000 or so pictures, and they’d try to show their families, but after, oh, the 1,500th photo, their family members would get bored and not understand the fire that they had within. Try as they might to explain how going to the Holy Land had changed their lives, had changed the way they looked at the world, read the Bible, looked at one another, or even at themselves… no one would understand. Except for those who had done the very same thing.
Now, I’m blessed. I get to share my experiences with you through The Faithful Traveler. But let me tell you something: the footage we used to produce The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land is about 1/4th of what we filmed over those 10 days. The footage I will use on my next production, and the next, and the next will be just a fraction of what I film. The same goes for stories. You might hear a lot of them, but how can I tell you everything? There’s just so much! And some of it, well… it’s hard to put into words. You just have to experience it for yourself.
Those who have walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, up Croagh Patrick barefoot, or up the walkway in Fatima on their knees know the feeling.
Those who have dunked in the waters at Lourdes, touched the foot of St Peter in Vatican City, or prayed before the tomb of any saint… they know, too.
Going on pilgrimage is special. It changes your heart and it changes your mind. But going on pilgrimage with others changes the way you see other people. I can’t help but think that God likes that. His Son did, after all, tell us that it was pretty important to love our neighbor.
My friend, Denise Bossert, just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and she experienced some of that, too. I saw it in her Facebook pictures–she grew closer to a group of strangers. They prayed together. They prayed for one another. They prayed over one another. Their individual concerns became group concerns. Like the bag of prayers Denise brought with her, they all had bags of prayers in their minds, prayers for other people. It’s caused them to grow together, from a group of individuals to a group united. United in FAITH.
In May, the theme of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage was “That they all might be one.” Perhaps this is one way of doing that in the microcosm of our lives: going on pilgrimage with others and experiencing the joys and sorrows of it all, and coming out of it stronger than we went in, because going in we were alone. Coming out, we are part of a team.
I know it might be a rather jarring comparison, but the one experience I have had that helps illustrate this point is when I went to Graceland in Memphis. For those of you who don’t know it, Graceland was Elvis Presley’s house, and it’s now a museum.
I was visiting a friend in Memphis and decided to go to Graceland. I went by myself because my friend had a job and I was the tourist. I was so excited. I really like Elvis, so seeing his house was really something I’d longed to do. When I went inside and walked room by room, I was astounded by the things I saw. I’ve forgotten many of them over the years, but the one thing I remember the most was the Jungle Room.
When I saw the Jungle Room, I felt a mixture of amusement and sadness. A witty remark was on the tip of my tongue, but I had no one to share it with. Every laugh, every snarky remark, everything that I had to offer, I kept inside. I’ll never forget that experience. Experiencing some things alone is good. I can appreciate that. But some things are better when you experience them with others.
Pilgrimage is like that, I think.
This is coming from someone who had never gone on any kind of group tour before my Holy Land trip. Yet I long to do it again and again.
So I am. I’d like to invite you all to join me on my next pilgrimage to the Holy Land in April of 2015. It will change your lives.