Caroline & Michael Butkiewicz
Members of St. Lawrence Parish, Utica, Michigan
Prior to beginning our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we were told that our lives would never be the same. Truer words have never been spoken. On May 13, twenty-four pilgrims, including twelve from St. Lawrence parish in Utica began a thirteen day journey sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. This would be the first time that one parish (St. Lawrence) would partner with a sister parish in Ramallah, Palestine (Holy Family).
Our pilgrimage emphasized spiritual renewal and, in our special partnering relationship, Christian solidarity. We were going to meet fellow Christians who live across the world who are suffering hardships because they are Christian. The spiritual aspects of the trip were particularly inviting since we would visit numerous areas that are depicted in the Bible. Our group would also be celebrating Mass daily, praying the rosary, and reflecting on the individual faith messages that each of us picked up along the way.
During the ride from Amman, Jordan to Madaba, our first night's stop, we passed a Palestinian refugee camp. People were not living in tents, but the area was definitely a slum. The people are living in Jordan, but they do not possess Jordanian citizenships. Their aim is to eventually return to the villages that were destroyed by the Israelis.
One of the attractions was the site of Jesus' Baptism in the River Jordan. It was special because Jesus was baptized in these very waters. The river waters fortified the vegetation in the locality as well as the people thirsting physically and spiritually.
We definitely felt in solidarity with the Palestinians when we crossed the border from Jordan to Israel. Questioning our group members of Arab descent or even possessing a name similar to an Arabic name by the Israeli guards lasted 3 ½ hours. Obviously, none of the group was willing to leave until everybody was free to go. We were basically free to come and go as we pleased since we possessed U. S. passports. The poor Palestinians encounter these delays on a daily basis as they must pass through numerous checkpoints throughout Israel.
Another faith enriching experience occurred in Jerusalem at the home of Caiaphas, the High Priest. Caiaphas was the first person to condemn Jesus to death. Then Jesus was lowered to the bottom of an empty well. There He spent the remainder of the night in the cold, damp and musty surroundings. Along the side wall, there is still visible today the outline of a figure kneeling in prayer.
Spending quiet time and receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation in the Garden of Gethsemane was another highlight of the pilgrimage. The atmosphere was so serene and peaceful that it made prayer time seem second nature. Huge olive trees still remain that were present during the Agony in the Garden. Imagine what those stately trees could tell us now?
We received a warm welcome from Ramallah Holy Family parish. Each pilgrim was matched with a host family for two days. We became family with them during that time. They did all they could to make our stay extra special. A sad part of the visit was the fact that most conversations drifted into a discussion of the Separation Wall being built around Palestine and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. The tearful departure we encountered when leaving the host family showed how close we had become.
We would have felt satisfied with our trip if we had just visited the famous sites in the Holy Land. How much more rewarding was the experience of sharing our faith and lives with our Arab brethren.