Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of Canada - Franciscains du Canada
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
From March 17 to 30, 2019, a group of pilgrims journeyed through the Holy Land, departing from Montreal. Once again, I had the privilege of serving as their spiritual guide. It was the first time that an English-speaking group travelled under the leadership of the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Canada. From the Negev desert, by way of Galilee and Judea, we walked in the footsteps of the people of God and, in particular, of Jesus. I am still thrilled to have visited Nazareth, Jerusalem, Jericho, and so many other places that are the stuff of dreams…
After experiencing the Holy Land, it is true that we will never read the Word of God the same way again. Every village mentioned, every mountain, is now recorded in our memory. Just the name “Capernaum” inevitably takes us back to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There, Matthew left his tax collector’s office, and the paralyzed man, with the help of his friends, was carried down and placed near Jesus.
This was the first time I had seen this country after an excellent winter. For Galilee, that means plenty of water and rain. Nature was abundant everywhere: foliage, plants, flowers and birds! Never before had I seen so much freshness and colour in this country. I would even say that the nights were cool, and some days were actually humid. Overall, the weather was warm and pleasant.
Except for one or two days, we were able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus without too much trouble. The tables were welcoming and well stocked; so were the hearts of the people. I have wonderful memories of seeing the sunrise at dawn at Mitzpe Ramon, a breathtaking vantage point on a cliff overlooking a crater in the desert. A few days later, in the evening, when we returned to Kibbutz Degania (Jordan Valley), the scent of orange and other fruit trees greeted us. Every day, we stopped at a high place to admire the view and appreciate the land of Jesus.
This year, we had a number of favourites. The cities of Nazareth, Jericho and Bethlehem are high on the list of stops that went extremely well. Some of the finest visits, in fact – and I have been doing this for 10 years! And, of course, the incredible Arbel National Park, which we visited when it was lush with plants and flowers. From up high, we were able to gaze at the Galilee of Jesus and the large Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias). Later, we had a lovely cruise on the water, from which we could see at a single glance all those places that capture the imagination: the Jordan Valley, Magdala, the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and so on. Unforgettable.
Judea never ceases to take your breath away: its desert, its cultivated or barren mountains, its great city of Jerusalem. In 2015, I stayed in Jerusalem for three months. I roamed its streets almost non-stop and I still didn’t see everything! More than 3,000 years of history is quite something to behold! And I am not even speaking of the new city (which is also very beautiful and filled with lovely places to visit). Walking in the Old City of Jerusalem is always memorable. I remember a humorous saying from Francis of Assisi’s hometown: “If the Franciscans were to be silent, the stones would sing the praises of Francis!” We had that same impression in some of these ancient cities: all we needed to do was to stop talking for this whole country to sing the glory of Jesus the Teacher (and so many other great figures of the Bible).
I cannot speak of Jerusalem without mentioning Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre, the high point of our pilgrimage. What a joy to celebrate mass and be able to walk through the halls of a building whose foundations date back to the time of Jesus himself. I had already spent entire days there; I am always glad to return to this place with pilgrims. For me, it is one of the greatest joys of each pilgrimage.
We were a small group (17 people), from all across Canada. Some were from the Maritimes, others from Vancouver or central Canada. We represented the diversity of our cultures and regions well. It was one of the most rewarding trips. I had the pleasure of getting to know better a confrere from India, Regis Matthew, who just arrived in Montreal (the new pastor of St. Francis of Assisi, a small anglophone parish). I came to appreciate his sensitivity and his sense of service. Warm thanks to our guide, Rebecca Nokrian, who was for all of us a mother and a highly skilled professional. Another pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus that will remain forever etched in our memories.
Every year, Fr. Guylain Prince accompanies pilgrims to the Holy Land. French-speaking tours usually leave at the end of May/beginning of June. For more information, contact Boréal Tours in Montréal.