Bishop Peter Pilgrims through Israel and Palestine

Newcastle Bishop, Dr Peter Stuart, has just returned home from a 10 day study pilgrimage in Israel and Palestine, with St George’s College in Jerusalem. Bishop Peter reflected on this pilgrimage in daily Facebook posts, “there are already so many insights that make the scriptures come to life”.

The group was a mix of Canadian, American, New Zealand, Nepalese and Australian pilgrims. On Day 1 the group pilgrimed to Bethsaida where Jesus healed a man (John 5). Day 2 they visited Bethlehem to the place where pilgrims have gathered for nearly 1900 years with the understanding that Jesus was born. Marked by a star over the entrance to a cave.

“We went close to the wall of separation and were invited to understand occupation. Banksy the artist offers art with many profound reflections… Jesus’ incarnation was welcomed by visitors from the east, shepherds and angels – barriers broken down by love incarnate. There’s more for us to do in the name of Love.”

On Day 3, the journey was to recall Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. Bishop Peter said it was a joy to join in renewing baptismal promises: “Our day ended with time in the Judean wilderness… We were reminded of the journey each person makes into desert places in life and in our hearts.”

They ventured to Capernaum, Peter’s adopted home and a centre for Jesus’ ministry. To Mt Tabor, the place most commonly affirmed as the Mountain on which the disciples saw Jesus as he truly was. Here, the Australian contingent was asked to lead a communion service. Bishop Peter opened the service with Awabakal words “Wiyalita Yirri Yirri”, “We gather to speak in a sacred way” and “Kaiyu Kan Kaiwal Killi Bin Bin Yanti Katai” “To God who is powerful and mighty be power and glory for ever. Amen.”

Group member, Rev’d Stuart, the Rector of St Clements in Mosman, preached about focusing on Peter’s need to listen to Jesus. Their Children’s Worker, Bec, led in Auslan ‘This Jesus is my beloved son listen to him’. The Nepalese sang to prepare for communion.

On Day 6 they spent time in Nazareth, the village of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. The place where Mary hears her vocation. At that time it was a village of around 250 people. Today many of the suburbs roll into each other: “Nazareth urges the pilgrim to stop for a while to ponder the ways that God works. Nazareth is a bustling town reliant on holy tourism and has been for many centuries. A small village that points to real people with an ordinary and extraordinary life.”

On Day 7 they journeyed the path that Jesus would have walked to enter the temple: “There’s a good chance that Peter delivered his sermon at Pentecost here. Amazing to walk on stones that Jesus and the disciples walked on. To see walls that they would’ve seen.”

“For nearly 500 years [the temple] fell into disrepair. The Christians did not need the temple as the special place of God’s presence. For Jews it remains the place where the Holiest of Holies was – the place where God was pleased to dwell. For Muslims it is the place of night vision – the furthest place. A diverse place where the ‘song lines’ of different faiths meet as people meet with God.”

To Bethphage near Bethany where the Palm Sunday story begins. These two villages are now separated by the wall. A stark reminder of the current political situation. Also, to the Garden of Gethsemane, a place Jesus spent an agonising night knowing that multiple betrayals were the prelude to agony and death: “We did part of the walk which snakes its way through cemeteries. The site of the temple clearly visible. A journey shaped by sacrifice and death.”

The group also visitied Yad Vashem, a Holocaust Museum: “It makes your heart ache. One of the memorials is the children’s memorial. It is a ‘tribute to the approximately 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust. Memorial candles, a customary Jewish tradition to remember the dead, are reflected infinitely in a dark and somber space, creating the impression of millions of stars shining in the firmament. The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be heard in the background’.”

In concluding, they walked the way of the cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“Earlier in the day I prayed for the whole Diocese and our ecumenical partners in the Cathedral Church of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch”.