Finding Hope in the Holy Land

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

NEW YORK — Last month, a group of 18 friars and lay people led by Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, participated in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, sponsored by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. 

The participants spent Nov. 3 to 13 visiting sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and around the Sea of Galilee. They included The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the Shepherd’s Fields in Beit Sahour, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa, the Cenacle, the Pools of Bethesda, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, and the Sea of Galilee.

In addition to Jacek, who served as spiritual leader, the participants had the mentoring ofa Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem who was the professional guide. Most of the pilgrims were from St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., where Jacek is guardian of the friary. The group also included two lay leaders from St. Patrick – St. Anthony Church in Hartford, Conn., Hugh Macsherry, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, Russell Testa, director of HNP’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, and three lay people from non-Franciscan parishes. 

holy-r“We witnessed unbearable sorrow and indescribable beauty,” said Hilary Meek, a pilgrim from St. Camillus. “In that beauty, we found the risen Christ and the key to hope. That hope lay in the hands of countless people we met who, in the face of oppression and despair, work faithfully to tie the broken threads back together through peace and love.” 

Meek was so moved by the experience that she wrote a reflection, “Colors of the Holy Land,” about the trip.

One of the objectives of the pilgrimage, according to Jacek, was to illustrate the complexity of the Holy Land, especially the religious, social and political dimension of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

Other objectives were to empower participants to partner with others to build a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land, to strengthen bridges of solidarity with the Christian community in the Holy Land, and to help participants grow on their spiritual journey through common prayer and shared group reflections in the context of the Catholic social teachings and the Franciscan tradition.

Updates about the pilgrimage were posted on the blog of the Franciscan Action Network, which can be found using the FAN Web site.  Most were written by Testa.

The next Franciscan peacemaking pilgrimage to the Holy Land is scheduled for June 2010, said Jacek, who can be contacted for information at 301-434-8400.

— Jocelyn Thomas, director of communications, welcomes reflections about this pilgrimage from participants. For inclusion in future issued of this newsletter, submissions should be e-mailed to