A large number of pilgrims planning to travel to the Holy Land with the Bishop of Connor next spring attended an information meeting at St Patrick’s Parish Hall, Ballymena, on April 13.
The 11-day pilgrimage will take place from March 22 until April 1 2011, and will be led by Canon John Mann, rector of St John’s Parish, Malone, and the Rev David Humphries, rector of St Molua’s, Stormont. Both men have travelled to the Holy Land many times, and both spoke of the joy of visiting the places where Jesus walked, and of meeting the people who live in the Holy Land today.
Canon Mann opened the meeting with a special prayer for pilgrimage, and a reading from John 21, painting a picture of Jesus when he appeared to his Disciples as they fished on the Lake of Galilee and breakfasted together afterwards. “We are going to the places where these things have happened,” Canon Mann told the pilgrims.
He added that it was wonderful so many people from across Connor Diocese would be travelling together. A total of 100 places are available on the pilgrimage and already more than 80 are booked. He read a beautiful passage from a book written in 1902 by a Holy Land pilgrim. “I hope that the sense of being in a place where Jesus walked will be a wonderful one for you,” he told the meeting.
Rev Humphries said that while visiting the sites in the Holy Land was important, in this century meeting the people was equally important. The pilgrims will meet people from both Christian and other backgrounds. “There are not very many Christian people living in the Holy Land,” he said. “The Christian population is under two per cent and getting smaller, which is sad and worrying. One of the reasons we go to meet them is to encourage them because for them life is often not easy.”
During the trip, the pilgrims will have the opportunity to worship in St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, and to visit Christian based projects including a home for orphan boys (translated, the home’s name is ‘Generation of Hope’) and the Lazarus Home for girls, both in Bethany village. These children’s homes are supported by the McCabe Educational Trust which was set up by the tour operator McCabe Pilgrimages, which is organising the Connor visit.
The pilgrims were shown a DVD which guided them through the 10 days in the Holy Land, from the bustling streets of Jerusalem to the calm of the Garden to Gethsemane and the unique waters of the Dead Sea (an optional trip).
Afterwards the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, told the gathering that he was going to the Holy Land for ‘selfish’ reasons, having been thwarted from joining such a pilgrimage on two previous occasions. “I want to see where Jesus lived. I want to walk where Jesus walked, I want to feel, touch and smell the Holy Land,” he said.
The Bishop went on: “I am very excited for us as a diocese. This helps people get to know each other and creates fellowship. We will share laughter and fun together and we will enjoy each other’s company.”
Another dimension of the trip, the Bishop said, was that it would engage the diocese with the world church and with Christians in a very difficult part of the world. “It will leave us feeling incredibly blessed when we see how other people live,” the Bishop added.
Andy McCabe from McCabe Pilgrimages – a company which has been organising tours to the Middle East for 30 years – addressed some practical issues of the pilgrimage, and answered questions on a variety of subjects ranging from passport stamps to the weather.
At the end of the meeting, everyone enjoyed tea and coffee and a chance to get to know each other as fellow pilgrims.
Limited places are available on the pilgrimage. For information please contact Canon John Mann, St John’s Rectory, 86 Maryville Park, Belfast, BT9 6LQ, telephone 028 9066 6644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.