(From top) Pilgrims participate at the Stations of the Cross through the Via de la Rosa; T-shirts on sale can be seen in today’s Via de la Rosa; Father Terence Pereira prepares for Mass on a boat, on the Sea of Galilee. Photos from Teresa Sawitri

Teresa Sawitri went to the Holy Land and found it to be a “must do” trip for Catholics

WHEN MY FRIEND told me that she was signing up for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I signed up too. As a newly baptised, I wanted to find out more about Jesus. The pilgrimage was coordinated by Church of St. Anthony under the spiritual direction of Father Terence Pereira.

Monthly preparation sessions were held from November 2006 and these gradually became more spiritually intense as we drew closer to the pilgrimage date – August 2007. The preparation, which included reading and reflecting on the Gospels, helped me to internalise Christ’s journey and mission on earth.

Israel had of course changed in the last 2,000 years. The places where people make their pilgrimage have become tourist-like places, complete with food vendors and souvenir shops. It took a lot of prayer for me to reconcile the places that I saw with the places that I read in the Gospels.

Father Terence’s strict rule of “no shopping” helped the whole group to detach ourselves from worldly life and maintain focus on our pilgrimage.

We had our baptism of repentance and renewal of our baptismal vows in the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised by St. John the Baptist; Mass at the river bank followed.

It was such a joy – a joy of letting go of our sin. We were crying, singing, praying and praising for hours, and perhaps would have continued doing so if we had not been not ushered out by our tour guides to catch up with our day’s schedule.

At Mount Olive, outside of Jerusalem, one of the holy places we visited was the Church of Pater Noster, a place where Jesus revealed some of His teaching. The “Our Father” prayer was displayed in different languages on every wall.

I came in front of the “Our Father” prayer written in Javanese – the languge I was brought up in. Tears poured down from my eyes. Java island, in my point of view, is located at the “back seat” of Christianity. Yet, here it is, the prayer in our language displayed proudly along with other languages. Christ really loves everyone.

Bethlehem is a simple place. It is located in Palestine,where the Church of Nativity is – the place where Christ was born. It humbled me that though millions of people worship Him, Christ keeps His birth place as a humble place. It is a reminder to me that I too must have humility in my life journey.

It was an experience walking the Stations of the Cross on Via de la Rosa. The road was lined with shops and people looking at us with all kinds of expression; perhaps it was the same 2,000 years ago. We took turns to carry the cross and tried not to get distracted by the souvenir shops and the aroma of food and coffee.

At one point I saw a beggar sitting beside the street craddling her toddler. Automatically I took a coin from my pocket and gave it to her. Seconds later we arrived at station eight, where Jesus consoled the weeping women of Jerusalem. I felt a strong message from God that I must continue to serve others.

I could spend hours sharing the stories of my pilgrimage. It is definitely a must-do trip that I recommend to every Christian. With proper spiritual direction and preparation, it will be an important event for our faith growth.

Simon Tan felt the Bible come to life in the Holy Land

THE URGE TO go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land was obsessive, but I was discouraged by people telling me there will be lots of singing, sharing and prayers – something I was not accustomed to. It was dangerous to go there; I should wait for the right time, others said. The right time never came. Israel seemed to be constantly in a state of siege.

Then, one day, I felt a soft prompting and went on a pilgrimage led by Father Ambrose Vaz. There was no daily rosary session. It felt more like a tour than a religious trip to see the land of Our Saviour.

There were daily Masses celebrated by Father Vaz. Mass was obligatory for Catholics; but for other Christians (who joined the tour) it was voluntary. For me, the lack of religiosity was a relief. I would not have been able to survive a surfeit of religious outpouring.

Ironically, our spiritual director inspired me to a serious re-think about what it means to be a Christian. It is not about blind adherence to creed or doctrines, but about finding Jesus.

We journeyed in the footsteps of Our Lord, and the Bible came to life. Our guide, a Christian, was informative while Father Vaz was an instrument of God, explaining to us the significance of the biblical sites, Jesus’ teachings and how they relate to our lives. We were touched and humbled by the wisdom that God was imparting to us. We were told to have a conversion of heart and mind, to put aside our superficial and petty squabbles and focus on God’s redemptive promises.

Father Vaz’s message at the Mount of Olives made us realise the Lord’s enduring promise of salvation. Our Christian friends became receptive to Father Vaz and his message despite our differences. The message was clear: Jesus died for all and we are blessed to be able to share the joy of His message and the epiphany of His presence in our lives.

For once, I felt reborn.

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