From our bishop

Following in Jesus’ footsteps through Jerusalem and Galilee

Photo of the Sea of Galilee
A view from the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee

I know only a few words of Arabic, the language spoken by our partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. One beautiful, frequently used phrase is In sha’Allah or Inshalla, which means “if God wills” or “God willing.” It is pronounced softly, often when saying farewell, expressing a hope of being reunited again one day.

My relationship with Jerusalem Diocese dates back nearly 20 years, and I have been there many times as a partner, a pilgrim, and a pilgrimage leader. Archbishop Hosam Naoum and I first met in 2004, when he was a parish priest in Nablus on the West Bank. We were cathedral deans together for over a decade, and this became a component of the partnership between our two dioceses—which had its roots in the 1990s and early 2000s before it was formalized about 15 years ago. Since then, there have been a number of partnership activities, including pilgrimages, visits, exchanges, advocacy and networking, a women’s conference, parish partnerships, as well as financial support for health care institutions operated by Jerusalem Diocese.

I will, inshalla, be reunited with Archbishop Hosam and many friends in Jerusalem between March 17 and April 3. For 10 days I will lead a group of 29 pilgrims, comprising diocesan clergy and licensed lay readers, along with several others. On either side of the pilgrimage, I will be spending time in solidarity with our partners. Archbishop Hosam has invited me to preach in St George’s Cathedral on Palm Sunday, and then to join him in the ecumenical Palm Sunday procession from the top of the Mount of Olives into the Old City of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Hosam will often say, “Every time a pilgrimage comes here, the population of Christians in the Holy Land increases.” This is only partially amusing, in the sense that Christians are a minority in Israel and Palestine, and Anglicans are a minority of that minority; so pilgrimages and solidarity visits are concrete ways of demonstrating that the community is not forgotten by Christians in other parts of the world.

My preferred pilgrimage route goes from the desert to Jerusalem to Galilee (and then, as a last stop, Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Coast). The desert portion is to allow jet-lagged pilgrims a chance to acclimatize—and to expand their horizons by looking out over the expanse of desert wilderness (and lunch in Jericho). From there, we delve into the complex layers of Jerusalem, where the footsteps of Jesus are often obscured by strata of ideology, archeology, culture, religion, conflict, and intense politics. It is impossible to escape the contemporary narratives of Israel and Palestine when you are there. Archbishop Hosam also says, “Please do not come and divide us further: listen carefully to both narratives and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

While there are usually exquisite pilgrim moments in Jerusalem, they do not compare to the experience of being in Galilee. The complex layers quickly fall away as you travel up the Jordan River valley to the Lake of Galilee, and the sensation of looking out over it and seeing the natural contours that Jesus would have seen is profound.

The picture accompanying this column was taken from the Mount of Beatitudes, where pilgrims remember Jesus giving his sermon on the mount. Relatively few Christians are able to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While it is a help to do so, taking some time away from the complexities of life to read and reflect on the words of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 will, inshalla, give you a rich and meaningful sense of what Jesus taught when he was there.


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