So many thoughts are swirling in our heads from our experience.

We witnessed amazing faith from the local Christians. For many of us, worshipping in Zababdeh will always be a memorable experience. Even though there are so few Christians left in the West Bank, as well as in Israel, the Christians know their identity extremely well, and they are so proud of their faith. Learning how they survive could be important for Christians in the West, especially as we encounter an increasingly secular culture that is highly suspicious of organized religion. How does the Christianity survive in our current context? These Palestinian Christians might be able to show us how.

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Over the course of the pilgrimage, we also met with representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities. For the session on Judaism, we discussed how secularism means something different depending on the culture. Secularism in the United States is something very different than secularism in Israel, and both are quite different than the secularism of the United Kingdom or Ireland. (We had one pilgrim from England and one from Ireland who participated in our pilgrimage.)

Secularism is the United States often replies a strong rejection of anything religious, whereas in Israel, secular can still signify faith practice. In Israel religion is strongly tied into the state, as it seeks to be a Jewish state. They do not have the sense of separation between faith and state like we have in the USA. You might be secular in Israel, but this means you probably still observe the Sabbath in some way. We spent much time discussing these differences concerning the concept of secularism.

Our session on Christianity in the Holy Land was facilitated by a Palestinian Christian professor from Bethlehem University. If there was one concept that we understood from this session, it was the concept of everything being "religionized." He mentionned again and again that the Middle East had become "religionized." The problem with the Holy Land is that everything gets seen through the lens of religion, or somehow it is explained through religion. Nothing can stand on its own. Everything is seen as being a byproduct of one of the Abrahamic religions. This does not happen in other places. If two people get into a car accident, in most places it is just two people getting into a car accident, but in the Holy Land, it will somehow get wrapped up into religion. This "religionizing" is not helpful for the society.

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For many of the pilgrims the Bible has now come alive. When we hear the stories from Scripture, we have a geographic landscape that helps make the stories more vibrant. Scripture has begun to make sense in a way that was not the case before our trip. Many of the pilgrims have a new appreciation for the Bible.

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Now that the photos from the pilgrimage have been put onto the St. Mark's Flickr page, we have begun to reflect upon just how much we did while in the Holy Land. The pilgrimage was a real tour de force. We saw so much and did so many things. At the time we did not realize it, because we were enjoying such an adrenaline rush. Looking at the pictures a couple of months later, it has dawned on us that we really did a lot. Our schedule was intense.

For the sake of pilgrimage this is actually ok. Because your sense are heightened, you can do more and you can process more. What is actually essential is to schedule time after the pilgrimage to let the many experiences and images settle. Many of the pilgrims continue to relfect upon our experiences in the Holy Land, and this process will continue for as long as they have faith. 

Some of the pilgrims have already mentioned they would like to go back to the Holy Land. This is often the case. It is a fact that for many people you cannot visit the Holy Land just once. It is a place you return to again and again, whether your return is physical or spiritual.

And their excitement to return has spread to other parishioners at St. Mark's. It has been good to see and witness the pilgrims sharing their insights with others in the parish. The pilgrimage has fostered a renewed sense of sharing the faith among the parishioners. More are able to tell the story of Christ now that they have made this journey to the Holy Land.