My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday 17 December 2013

A Bus called Hope: Our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Some people call the Gospel of Thomas the Fifth Gospel. For others the Fifth Gospel is the Holy Land. Father Bargil Pixner (1921-2002), who was a Benedictine monk in Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey, wrote in his book With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing 1992): “Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.”

The River Jordan
As we gathered together at Heathrow Airport in the early afternoon at the start of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we had very little idea of what to expect. We were to return home just over a week later with our spiritual lives changed for ever. Pixner was right. Our exploration of Jerusalem and Galilee was inspirational and transformative in so many ways. From now on the Holy Bible would come to life for us as never before. We could now read and listen to the scriptures with new insight. We had been there. We had walked the very shores that Jesus had known, dipped our toes in the river in which he was baptised and touched the very ground upon which he had walked all those many years ago. The experience was going to be thrilling and life changing.

The Damascus Gate Jerusalem

We had already met many of our fellow pilgrims at a briefing a few weeks earlier, when we had been told what to expect in terms of climate, food, accommodation and so on; the practical stuff. But the spiritual stuff would come later from our own personal experiences. The security at the airport was second to none – we were warned to allow plenty of time for this, as we would be quizzed as to why we were going, who we were going with and so on. As we were going to Israel we had to pass through two levels of security, one more than normal. The flight was a good one and we met our guide at Tel Aviv Airport from where a coach took us to Jerusalem where we were to stay for four nights.

The floodlit Damascus Gate was our first sighting of the Old Jerusalem and the sight was truly awesome. But we were all very tired, we had lost two hours on the flight across and we were glad that we would simply have supper and an early night before starting the pilgrimage in earnest in the morning. Tomorrow was going to be an extremely busy day with many sights on the agenda…

A Bus called Hope
I didn’t mention that there were nearly 128 of us on the pilgrimage. That sounds far too many! But it all worked very well because we were split between three coaches, each with our own local guide. In addition each group had its own priest who led that coach throughout the tour, and other ministers “floated” between the coaches, so to speak. And in keeping with the recent new mission introduced by Southwark Bishop Christopher the groups were called Faith, Hope and Love.
I was on the bus called Hope!

To be continued...

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