Amazing Journey in the Land of the Bible
Despite the turmoil that hovered over the Middle East a few weeks ago, a group of 32 young people from Youth Fellowship made the journey to the Land of the Bible in what was an amazing experience from beginning to end.
Although I’ve led numerous pilgrimages to Israel, each time it is a new, unique and refreshing experience. As we traveled in the footsteps of Jesus through Galilee and Jerusalem, for a brief moment we became His contemporaries, experiencing the land as an extension of the Incarnation. And when lived in prayer, community, the Word of God and the Eucharist, the places of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection leave a profound impact in our life.
Below are some testimonies from the pilgrims who joined us this year. May they inspire you in your journey of faith.
My faith went up another level
“Undoubtedly, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Youth Fellowship is once in a lifetime experience for every Christian. Reading biblical scriptures of faith and redemption has now taken a new and exciting meaning. This pilgrimage not only brought context to my understanding of the Bible, but has also inspired my walk of faith to a another level! Seeing and experiencing the Holy Land makes the Bible come alive in ways that words cannot describe. Furthermore, the outstanding, fun and energetic organizing team has crafted and planned this trip to make it the best it can be. The land of the Bible has proved to be a lifetime investment in my walk with the Lord.”
I had been wanting to go to the Holy Land for the past 5 years so I was eager to finally quench this thirst. To be where Jesus was.. to be close to the Lord in this particular way.. to travel along the physical pathways, to experience the natural environment as He did. I was amazed at His humility in settling Himself in the bare simplicity of Bethlehem, Nazareth and the lake of Galilee. I was also eager to have a glimpse of the physical landscape of his suffering – the path leading to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Via Dolorosa.. an accompaniment which we can do spiritually in everyday life but it was a blessing to be there to finally be able to say these words: “I am 2000 years ‘late’ Lord, but I am here now.”
The Via Dolorosa’s Lessons
There were many episodes which left their mark during this pilgrimage. However the most prominent one was when we walked the Via Dolorosa. Even though there were many distractions, I tried to imagine Jesus walking through these streets full of hurt and agony. Whilst walking I realised that people were either indifferent, others just stared or made fun of us. I then tried to think of how Jesus must have felt, when receiving such reactions, being already wounded and carrying the heavy cross. I couldn’t find any words which could describe this. I realised how much we underestimate and don’t fully appreciate that he sacrificed his life for us to forgive all our sins. It gave me more food for thought with regards to how we deal with our everyday challenges. Instead of grumbling or being miserable we need to be aware of what Jesus went through to save us, as this might help us deal with our challenges without making mountain out of a mole hill.”
Scripture Came alive
“Scripture just came alive, need no more imagination after the Holy Land experience. This pilgrimage brought to life the foundation of my faith.”
Edward Spiteri Gonzi
A Healing Experience
“Israel… an indescribable experience of healing… where you touch and feel God’s love for us by sending his son Jesus into the world to take away our sins and Grant us peace within our heart”
The physical landscape opened up my senses to physically experience the land and be present in places where biblical events actually happened. It seemed like a child exploring its boundaries for the first time. By this I managed to understand more with my mind the history of Salvation and the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The physical landscape also served as another dimension to the biblical wordscape, since reading scripture, personally, is no longer placing and orienting myself around mere imagination but the invocation of and placement in pilgrimage memories. When I read scripture now I relate to the places and the spirit we experienced at the time we were there. This has increased my thirst for scripture as I feel I could relate deeper and more meaningfully with the word.
An unforgettable spiritual experience
Some of the highlights for me were sunrise at sea of Galilee, mass in the Church of Transfiguration and mass at the Church of the Visitation, our ministry session at the Mount of Beatitudes, group praise at the Sea of Galilee and also in Gethsemane, deep personal prayer at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where I understood more Jesus’ passion. Even remembering gives me goose bumps…I remember crying my heart out and praying ‘more of you Jesus and less of me’.
Even though I only came to know most of the people in the group during the visit to Israel, there was such a great atmosphere as a whole community within the group. This made such a difference and was mostly felt during everyday mass and during praise and worship time.
Israel turned out to be an unforgettable spiritual experience that I will always remember and for which I will ever be thankful to God. Therefore do not miss the opportunity to visit the Holy Land”
Going up the Temple Steps then, was so touching, as I realised that the road to God is not so easy but as days go by, I am getting closer and closer to totally let go. When visiting Calvary, Matthew 27:46 came to mind: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – although not so often, at times, I did ask this question, but today I realise that God’s plans are unmistakeable – He will always work for our own good – so keep trusting in Him! And this was then fulfilled when we entered the Empty Tomb, where I let go of the old person and accepted to put on the new clothing….where I felt totally renewed. After participating during this pilgrimage, I came back to Malta as a totally different person. Thanks to all the group, especially those closest to me, it was an amazing experience of growth – spiritually, emotionally, and socially. Simply indescribable!”
More than all we ask or Imagine
“Immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”…this sums up the fantastic experience we had in Israel. Being in the place where it all happened gives a whole new perspective when reading the scripture…it gives life to the bible! In my opinion, visiting the holy land at least once is a “must” for every Christian as it helps us understand better Jesus’ character, his humanity, his sacrifice and his resurrection. From a more personal point of view, it has brought me so much closer to God for the simple reason that I felt him whisper louder than usual in certain places such as ‘mount of beatitudes’ and ‘Golgotha’. For some reason, it was easier to hear his voice in that environment as being human, we sometimes need the physical landscape to understand Him better.
The Church of the holy sepulcher seemed to strike every member of the group…maybe because it’s where we get to realise that Jesus did die For us and Because of us, and also because it’s the only place on earth where one goes to visit an Empty tomb, because Jesus overcame death so that we may be saved. His love is so tangeable in that church!
Well…I must say that Israel 2013 was one truly amazing experience at which I look forward tl live again soon.”
A Must for Every Christian
“Israel – The Land where God revealed Himself to us through His Son Jesus. Now I can truly relate to these words as I have walked on Jesus’s footsteps Himself. I have been to the place where He was born – Betlehem, where He grew up – Nazareth, the towns He ministered in Galilee, the waters He walked on, and ultimately to Jerusalem – where Jesus died and then rose again. When the reality that you are actually there sinks in, it becomes mind-blowing!
Personally, Jerusalem has won a special place in my heart… it’s a city bustling with activity, young people, cultural differences and religious beliefs. Most importantly, here I have come to understand Jesus’s Passion and Death for my salvation in a powerful and personal way, having had the opportunity to follow through the steps of His passion, starting from the Cenacolo, to the Gethsemane, the prison pit he was kept in overnight, through the Via Dolorosa and ultimately the Golgotha and His tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
One has to be there so as to believe and experience the power of every place and how Jesus is still touching His people in His Land. For anyone considering a pilgrimage to the Holy Land – I would say it is a must for every practicing Christian!”
Special Moments of Prayer
“When we went to the Holy Sepulchre I was longing so much to spend some time in awe over there, at the exact point where He died for me and saved me from my sin. The thing is that I got not only that, but I managed to go there nearly every day and sometimes I managed to spend over an hour, which I got to know that usually pilgrims struggle to only visit! Like something impossible happened just for me to spend time with God!
That strong presence left me speechless and I literally cried all my heart out every time. I could feel overwhelming joy, like showers of love, blessings and a strong sense telling me that all is going to be ok, I’m safe in His hands and that I can trust Him 100%. I always believed in all this but in some way or another I failed to trust 100%. That gave me a big sense of relief and great peace… it made me feel like I want to be there forever!”
Till today, I am still in awe of what I have experienced just a few days ago. Not only is Israel beautiful aesthetically, but once you go there and place yourself in the Lord’s presence, he does wonderful things. I felt such inner peace whilst praying in front of the Sea of Galilee, as if there is nobody else except for you and the Lord. The best quite time I had with the Lord in all ways! Also, touching the Calvary is and will surely be the best moment in my life. Jesus gave his life for us to spend eternity with Him and just having the opportunity to be there was mind blowing! In the end.. experiencing His love in a deeper way in Israel was not what struck me the most. Even though it seemed obvious I told myself… You do not have to be where Jesus preached and where he lived to experience His presence in this way. We are His everyday, anywhere and every second!
A Deeper Meaning to my Faith
“Israel was to me an opportunity to reconnect with God in a new way. It truly was a place where my inner self connected with the landscape and the history and happenings of this special place. The sites we visited allowed me to grasp a deeper meaning for all the things that up till now I had believed based on scripture and Church teachings alone. It gave me a more authentic perspective for all of it… from Jesus’s birth to his passion and resurrection; things came to life again. This pilgrimage was a chance for me to rest in the Lord and build a new community with the other pilgrims; a trip that must experienced by any Christian who takes the Lord seriously in their every day lives.”
God gave me Strength and Hope
“My greatest spiritual moments were during the various masses and confession. The setting and landscape helped but it is the same Word of God that I can hear in Malta too. This really comforted me knowing that I can still find God in my daily life back in Malta.
I would really like to thank God for this wonderful experience, for giving me physical and spiritual rest and for filling me up with His presence to strengthen me and give me hope. Most of all I thank God for having chosen me and for His continuous faithfulness which always draws me closer and closer to Him.”
The Bible in 5D
“Our pilgrimage in Israel was Spiritually, Physically and Mentally Enriching!! Yes it was a pilgrimage so the major reason why I joined was to literally walk on Jesus’ footsteps. And you know what? I really had the honour of physically walking on the same steps and pavements he walked on. That was totally mind blowing and such a deep spiritual experience. One could almost envision Jesus walking up towards the temple giving praise to his Father in Heaven! We also had ample time to relax, swim, ride kayaks, walk, shop around and socialise! What more could one ask for?
The moment I started reading the Bible in Israel, the whole scripture was coming alive with illustrations. I could actually start to envision the happenings written in the Bible. The Bible in Israel is more of a 5 Dimensional Experience and touched all of my senses! I could read it out, listen to it, feel it, taste it (yes we had a typical Israel lunch in Nazareth), and smell the same natural surroundings. I will treasure these feelings forever.”
The Experience of the Church of the holy Sepulcher
“The areas around the sea of Galilee will surely ease the link between me and the bible, because it provides an image of what we read within the bible. It simply adds another dimension to bible reading. And knowing and acknowledging that Jesus himself walked and performed so many miracles there simply feels amazing. The areas around the sea of Galilee were so peaceful and tranquil. And I find that these things help very much when praying.
The old city of Jerusalem, on the other hand, is a bit chaotic when compared to Galilee. Some of us were even shocked when we first arrived at the city, having had experienced the quite and tranquil time at Galilee. Having said that, the truth still remains, that it was Jerusalem where I realized where I truly was. Even though I had experienced Galilee, the fact that I was in the holy land, the place where Jesus lived and have performed so many miracles, hadn’t really inked in until we visited the church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is at this holy place where I’ve felt where I truly was. The peace felt during prayer time at this place was simply amazing.”
Jean Paul Attard
“Meta konna hemm lili bhala persuna, il Mulej tani iktar min dak li oringinaljament tlajt ghalih, ghax mhux talli rajt il postijiet kollha min fejn ghadda hu, imma graw affarijiet li geluni nemmen li hemm affarijiet ohra apparti il gebel tal madwar, hemm ukoll l-Ispirtu li ma tarahx imma li thossu fik, xi haga li ma tistax tiddeskriviha sakemm tigri lilek. Il mod ta` kif kellem lili il Mulej kien meta mort inqer, pass li forsi hafna minnha ma tantx naghmlu ghax niddejqu nghidu lil xi haddiehor bhalna l-affarijiet forsi “hziena” li ghamilna. Gieli ghalkem inqerru xorta nibqghu nahsbu fuq il haga, u nibqghu naghtu tort lilna infusna u li qisa qatt ma giet mahfura, forsi ghaliex in nuqqas ta` fidi taghna igalna nahsbu kif dik il persuna li hi bhalna tista qatt tahfrilna?, issa naf, lispirtu tal Mulej huwa dak li jkun qed jahfrilna. L ghada waqt li kelna ftit hin ta` talb wahda mill- leaders giet hdejja u talbet mijaj u qaltli li il prezenza tal mulej qeda hawn, sa dak il hin ghalkem hassejt paci xorta ma kontx qed nemmen sakem ma qaltli il Mulej hafirlek u mill lum il quddiem trid thares il quddiem u tafda fik, fdak il hin hassejt hafna emozzjonijiet li jien stess ma stajtx nikontrolha u niddeskrivi, aparti li qbajt inhares lejha ax hi ma kienitx taf xqerrejt il gurnata ta qabel, ghalija dak il punt kien ta` konferma li il- Mulej ried jurini li hu jezisti u li mhux dejjem hemm bzonn li tara biex temmen. Il-Mulej juza modi differenti ma persuni differenti. Kont dejjem nimmagina li qed nisimghu il Mulej imma fil verita kelli hajt li ma jhallik tisma xejn, issa qed nitghallem iktar kif ghandi naghmel biex nisma lil Mulej u kif bil kelma tieghu nista nghin lil haddiehor li bhal ma kont jien ghadhom ma stajtux jisimghuh.”
God’s Perfect Timing
“All I can say through how we ended up in Israel and what happened there is that God spoke to me very assertively and directly and what he told me came at perfect timing because his timing is perfect. The overall message is that he wants us to put him first in all situations and all our trust in him because his love is unfailing and faithful: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matt 6:33)”