Delegations of pilgrims from the Shadyside Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the First Presbyterian Church of Boulder arrived in the Holy to visit the sacred sites associated with Jesus’ life, and build solidarity with the Palestinians Christians. For Christians, making this journey of faith during Lent had a special and deep meaning.
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) coordinated the plans for these 2 groups to visit and assist in various charitable projects supported by the Foundation.
The forty pilgrims from Pittsburgh included 24 people from Shady Side Presbyterian Church and 14 members of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. During the 12 days of their trip, they toured the Old City of Jerusalem, retracing the last fateful days of Jesus’ life. They spent time in Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity, the Grotto of St. Jerome and the Shepherd’s Field. They also visited various HCEF outreach projects in Bethlehem, Birzeit and Ramallah. The Presbyterian’ seminarians visited with the Catholic seminarians to exchange views and understand how they prepare themselves to serve God while they are under occupation. In Birzeit, the pilgrims built solidarity and gained new friendships
by spending the night in the homes of Palestinian host families, after which the group traveled to Nazareth, Jericho, and Qumran, before returning home.
The 14 day pilgrimage of the First Presbyterian Church of Boulder, lead by Rev. Vandergrift, began in Amman, Jordan, the “Gate to the Holy Land.” Their pilgrimage took them to Madaba, the traditional baptismal site of Jesus, then to Mt. Nebo where Moses first glimpsed the Promised Land. Some highlights for building solidarity with the Palestinians included doing mission work in the Bethlehem Area which focused on Education, participating in seminars and various presentations with the faculty and students of Bethlehem University, working in hospitals, working with the orphans, and assisting HCEF with the rehabilitation of homes through HCEF’s Housing Rehabilitation Program (HRP).
The remainder of their pilgrimage encompassed a tour of Galilee with visits to Nazareth, Capernaum, and Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of fishes and loaves. After a trip on the Sea of Galilee and a worship service on the Mount of Beatitudes, the group ended its pilgrimage with three days in Jerusalem visiting the sacred sites there.
Both groups visited HCEF’s Senior Citizen Center in Birzeit to talk with and learn from the senior citizens of Birzeit who have contributed immensely to the Palestinian and Christian community, and they experienced the Palestinian daily life through tasting the traditional foods, and participating in the traditional celebrations. Even under occupation, citizens and pilgrims alike celebrated and built solidarity as they worked together for peace and justice in the Holy Land. In summing up their trip, the pilgrims “returned home with a renewed spirit, and the faces and stories of Jordanian and Palestinian Christians, the ‘Living Stones’, deeply embedded in our hearts.”