Parishioners from Saint Mary Parish in Chelsea created their unforgettable spiritual journey when they participated in a 10 – Day Living Stones Pilgrimage organized by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF).
Under the spiritual leadership of Rev. Dr. William J. Turner, KCHS, pastor of St. Mary Parish pilgrims from St. Mary Parish were eager to explore, break bread with and get to know the Arab Christians – the Living Stones of the Holy Land.
During this spiritual journey the pilgrims visited 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.
The pilgrims also enjoyed a demo of the local Palestinian folkloric dance known as "Dabke", where Christian youths group from the city of Beit-Sahour dressed in their traditional heritage customs. This came during the group's supper with staff members, supporters of HCEF and local families of Bethlehem.
St. Mary pilgrimage delegation joined the ranks of many others who, through this 'living stones' spiritual journey, came to better understand and value the importance of not only visiting the "holy sites" but going deeper in initiating and developing relationships with their brothers and sisters, the Living Stones. Experiencing and learning first-hand what the Holy Land Christians endure on a daily basis.
The pilgrims visited Bethlehem University, a land mark of the local Palestinian educational system, there they learned of the many obstacles facing the youth in pursuit of a better education. Pilgrims also enjoyed a full day touring the various Christian schools within the city of Bethlehem and were also hosted for dinner by Christian students and their families.
Daily Mass was held in various Arab Christian Churches throughout the Holy Land. 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 delegation had lunch with the delightful Senior Citizens at the HCEF Birzeit Senior Citizen Center, and met with various Christian religious leaders who continue to carry the cross in maintaining the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
HCEF's office in Bethlehem hosted and organized various other meetings, workshops and social interactions for the pilgrims with representatives several local Christian institutions and communities, giving pilgrims the opportunity to learn more about the daily lifestyle, culture and hardships faced by the indigenous Christians of the Holy Land.
Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President and CEO expressed his encouragement to see Americans learn more about the Holy Land Christians as most pilgrims are forever changed and return home ready to actively participate and join HCEF in its mission to 'replace despair with hope, fear with security and humiliation with human dignity.'
The HCEF staff in Bethlehem further expressed Sir Rabie's sentiment as they shared with the delegation the importance of HCEF's role in providing support for all aspects of life in sustaining and preserving the presence and culture of the Arab Christian community of the Holy Land, and how much the Living Stones need the help of the Christian Community in the United States.
As the group was departed from the little town of Bethlehem, Father William noted the importance of participating in such a non-traditional, non-commercial pilgrimage, stating "We need to make opportunity to educate people, particularly Americans, about the situation for Christians in the Holy Land and to encourage them to make a personal visit. It's wonderful to visit the sites and see the Holy places, but it is life changing to meet and spend time with the people – the living stones- the descendants of the people of Jesus. I believe your life will never be the same!"
Let HCEF plan a Living Stones Pilgrimage for your church or organization! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us at 1 866 871 4233 or 301 951 9400