The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) hosted and organized another spiritually enriching “Living Stones” Pilgrimage for HCEF Advisory Board Member Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes, Senior Pastor, Shadyside Presbyterian Church; Meneilly Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, members of Shadyside Presbyterian Church and students from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Untitled-2The HCEF Living Stones Pilgrimage allows Westerners to travel to the Holy Land to break bread and connect, face to face, with Arab Christians and local residents to strengthen faith and form lifelong relationships.

The group departed Pittsburgh on February 28 for a 10-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, returning March 9, 2012. During their visit, HCEF’s Bethlehem office organized various meetings and workshops with several institutions for the educational benefit of the pilgrims.

Eng. Anthony Habash, HCEF’s Deputy Country Representative met with the pilgrim delegation. He shared with them the vital role, mission and projects of the HCEF in supporting the holy Land Christians and expressed to them the critical need for their grass-roots support.

Untitled-3The pilgrims also attended a lecture “The Palestinian Christian Church” given by Dr. Bishara Awad, President, Bethlehem Bible College. The pilgrimage also included a visit to Bethlehem University.

Along with visiting all of the Holy Sites and time given for personal spiritual reflection, the delegation took the time to visit and see some of the homes being restored through the HCEF Housing Rehabilitation Program, and meet   some of the Senior Citizens at the HCEF Birzeit Senior Citizen Center and the Jiffna Club.

Untitled-4One of the most effective and heart-warming aspects of the Living Stones Pilgrimage is the opportunity to spend the night in the home of a Christian Palestinian family.

This aspect increased the opportunity to get to know one another more intimately and is the crux for building relationships and building bridges linking the Christian families in Birzeit and Jiffna Village with the members of Shadyside Presbyterian Church delegation.  Rev. Dr. Barnes better expresses it in these words, “The importance of this rich experience is not only the pilgrimage to the holy places but also building relationships with the Mother Church in Holy Land, and building human relationships with the inhabitants of this Holy Land, and thus cementing the relationships and planting seeds of cooperation and communication between them and all of us at Shadyside Presbyterian.”

Eng. Habash, concluded with this statement, “This visit of the Pittsburgh delegation, in essence, reflects the broader scope of the importance of encouraging others to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the importance of building relationships between the Westerners and those of us in the Holy Land to enhance the cooperation and communication for the purpose of maintaining a vibrant Christian presence in the Holy Land. As well, the nature of these visits gives a clear and accurate view of the day-to-day Palestinian reality and the many daunting challenges with which we are faced in our pursuit of the achievement of peace.”