by Mary Best, Franciscan Friars, Holy Name Province
Making a pilgrimage to a religious site like the Holy Land can have a profound effect on people looking to connect with their faith. Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, who will lead a trip there in May, thinks that it’s not just the place, but the people who live there that can make such a journey an unforgettable experience.
Jacek, guardian of St. Camillus Friary in Silver Spring, Md., has a history of leading pilgrimages to the Holy Land. This trip, supported by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, will be his eighth. Its itinerary includes stops in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and the Garden of Gethsemane as well as other sites, from May 17 to 27, 2016.
He emphasizes the unique character of the HCEF pilgrimages to the Holy Land. “On our trips to Israel and Palestine, we meet some remarkable people who, in powerful ways, put into practice the Beatitudes by following in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace,” Jacek said. “One of the groups of people we meet are the students from Bethlehem University. They are Muslim and Christian Palestinians studying together at a Catholic school. It is inspiring to listen to their stories of the common struggles under the Israeli occupation and witness their strong commitment to an inclusive, just and non-violent future,” Jacek added.
“The pilgrimages I lead allow people to integrate the spiritual and devotional aspects of their trip to the Holy Land with what is happening there now, socially and politically. The pilgrimage is not just about the sacred past, but also about an encounter with the risen Christ present in today’s inhabitants of the Holy Land. These are the courageous men and women — Christians, Muslims and Jews — who witness to the power of non-violence, justice and reconciliation,” emphasizes Jacek.
“Our Church encourages people to embark, in this Year of Mercy, on a spiritual pilgrimage,” Jacek said. “Can you think of a better place to do that than the Holy Land, where our Christian faith has its roots?”