Parishioners from the Archdiocese of Washington participated in The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) Living Stones Pilgrimage, March 20 -30, 2012. With Father Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, St. Camillus Catholic Church, Silver Spring, MD as the Spiritual Leader, the 10 day visit pilgrimage included members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Derwood MD, and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Rockville, MD. The pilgrims were eager to live, explore and get to know the Arab Christians – the Living Stones of the Holy Land.

During this spiritual journey the pilgrims have the opportunity to visit many of the Holy Sites including Mt. Zion, the Cenacle (Upper Room), the Dormition Abbey, Church of the Nativity (the birthplace of Jesus), Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Tomb of Christ.

HCEF’s office in Bethlehem hosted and organized various meetings, workshops and social interactions for the pilgrims with several local institutions at the HCEF Ecumenical Center for Research and Development (ECRD), giving pilgrims the opportunity to learn more about the daily lifestyle, culture and hardships faced by the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land.

Bethlehem office staff members addressed the delegation of pilgrims to share about the role HCEF plays and its grass roots efforts in providing support for all aspects of daily life, sustaining and preserving the presence and culture of the Arab Christian community of the Holy Land. Additionally, the pilgrims learn about the critical need for the Western Christian community to get more involved.

This pilgrimage was a first for one of the pilgrims who expressed the importance of not just visiting the sites but going deeper in developing a relationship with the Living Stones and a better understanding of what the Holy Land Christians endure on a daily basis.

The pilgrims were also taken to Bethlehem University, a land mark of the local Palestinian educational system. There they were informed about the many obstacles facing the youth in their pursuit of a better education.

Daily Mass was held in various Arab Christian Churches. At Our Lady of Peace in the Christian town of Birzeit the pilgrims were greeted and embraced by the local Christian community. Later that day the group had lunch with the delightful Senior Citizens at the HCEF Birzeit Senior Citizen Center.

It is important for all of us to help preserve the Christian community of the Holy Land,” said Father Jacek, “and there is no better way to completely understand how critical this is until you come to the Holy Land and walk in the foots steps of Jesus Christ and meet the descendants of the first followers of Jesus Christ. I urge everyone to plan or participate in at least one pilgrimage in your lifetime. You will be changed forever!