The pilgrimage began during the first week of Lent while Israel is in the winter season. The weather was clear with only two days of light rain at the end, otherwise, it was quite pleasant daytime temperature between 60 and 70°F (A good time to be there, given that some summer days reach as much is 150° at certain sites).
This was a guided pilgrimage tour with 48 people visiting about 32 holy sites in Israel. Once at a site, our guide gave a comprehensive explanation of what we were about to see followed by a walking tour complete with time for photographs. I must admit I would have liked him to have contacted car rental Jerusalem and organised some vehicles for us to use instead, as all the walking was quite tiring, but at least it was an authentic experience. While I had done some preparation and reading about the sites we were about to visit, my focus was on the spiritual significance of visiting the places where Jesus lived and died.
Lent is a natural time for Christians of all denominations to come to the Holy Land as both pilgrims and tourists. For the locals, it is a brisk business.
My fellow pilgrims found ourselves, at times, among large crowds of people squeezing by each other, bumping into each other and navigating with varying degrees of Christian courtesy. It seems that groups of people/pilgrims have a need to talk and communicate their experience even in holy places of silence and prayer. Initially, I was not distracted by this, but it did wear my patience toward the end making it harder to “Love thy neighbor” as thyself. I also found that as the tour progressed the amount of information to be absorbed quickly became a significant overload. After a while, keeping it all straight and organized in my mind and remembering the details became a real challenge while jockeying for position for a good photo.
It soon dawned upon me that my pilgrimage, after traveling almost 6000 miles was not so much about this place I had come to, or the various aids provided by archeological understanding, but was about how well I relate to my neighbor–wherever I am. It is less about time and place and more about relationships.
The typical day consisted of visits to about five holy sites. The day began with breakfast at 6:00 AM and usually ended around 5:00 PM in the afternoon followed by a welcome dinner. We typically walked 3 to 5 miles each day most of which consisted of many steps up and down throughout the sites.