On June 15-24 and June 22-July 2, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation facilitated the pilgrimages of two American groups: Father William Turner’s group from St. Mary’s Parish and Pastor David Renwick’s group from the National Presbyterian Church (NPC), respectively. Both groups spent over a week participating in HCEF’s Living Stones Pilgrimage program, walking in the land of Jesus, visiting places prominent in the Bible, giving God plenty of time to work within their lives, and meeting the “Living Stones”- faithful Christians who live and worship even today in the Holy Land.
The pilgrims’ visit to the Holy Land included all of the places that correspond to the most significant events in the life of Christ: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, site of Christ’s birth; the field where the shepherds heard the Good News; the Church of Annunciation in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, the site where Mary first learned she would bear the Son of God; the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of the Cross,” the fourteen station path that marks Christ’s journey in Jerusalem to his crucifixion as well as his triumphant resurrection – these latter two sites are found in the Holy Sepulcher Church.
Pastor Renwick’s group of Pilgrims with Sir Rabie (left) at the HCEF Inn
Fr. Turner’s group of Pilgrims with Sir Rabie and HCEF staff at the HCEF Inn
The pilgrims not only saw these profound holy sites, they encountered the Living Stones of the Holy Land firsthand. The living stones are those who have carried the traditions of their ancestors – the first followers of Christ – to the present day. The pilgrims made a special visit to HCEF’s Birzeit Senior Citizen Center (BSCC). The NPC in particular has been in partnership with HCEF for over seventeen years, supporting the BSCC project. HCEF is proud and grateful to be partnered with the NPC and the Church of Queen of Peace in opening the BSCC as well as in the numerous different projects and activities we have undertaken together.
The Pilgrims arrive to BSCC! Pastor Renwick and member of his group at BSCC
At the Center, the pilgrims sat with elders, learning about their stories and how they continue preserving the Christian faith in spite of many hardships and trials. They also celebrated together, dancing and singing to Palestinian folksongs. Before their time concluded, BSCC representative, Mrs. Jamila Aranki, honored the respective groups by presenting their leaders with a handmade “God Bless Our Home,” embroidered cloths. Afterwards, the pilgrims had the incredible opportunity to stay with host families throughout Birzeit, breaking bread with them and learning more of their lives and daily pursuit of God in the Holy Land.
Fr. Turner receiving the embroidered cloth from Mrs. Jamila Aranki Pastor Renwick receiving the embroidered cloth
Although the groups finally departed from the Holy Land, their pilgrimages do not end there. They will never forget the places they have visited and the faces they have seen. They will never read or hear the gospels in the same way. Their ears, eyes, minds and hearts have been opened in this unforgettable pilgrimage to the lands where Jesus Christ lived, died, and was resurrected.
HCEF is proud to have worked with St. Mary’s Parish and with the National Presbyterian Church, and to have facilitated their time in the Holy Land, introducing them to the Living Stones.