BY CHRISTINE HOGAN
Doing something new always involves risk. Will it work out the way you intended, the way you hoped, the way you prayed, it would?
In the end, though, you do it – and trust in God about the outcome.
That was the process here at CathNews when we launched our first pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the beginning of February. I had worked on the itinerary with the leader of the pilgrimage, Dr Brian Brennan… an academic I had met, if not on pilgrimage, then at least on a journey of faith.
We had both been invited by Sydney University’s Continuing Education Centre to Libya in 2003 – Brian was going to lead the tour the Centre was planning for the following year, and I was to write a travel story to help publicise the trip.
Libya then was still closed – a pariah state – so accepting the invitation had been a big ask for me. “Don’t they hate Christians there?” I choked out when I was first asked. “Isn’t it really dangerous?”
In fact, it was a big ask, so huge that while my qualms were (somewhat) quelled, I couldn’t tell my mother about where I was planning to go. I had just spent three months at home with her, nursing her after open heart surgery. If I had told her where I was going, that would have undone all the recovery we had achieved – she would simply have had a stroke.
The Sydney team was going ahead of me by two days, overnighting through Frankfurt. “Call me when you get to Tripoli,” I asked. “I won’t get on the plane until I hear from you.” I never heard from them, but got on the plane any way. It seemed silly not to, I suppose. I made a leap of faith which paid off for years – I was so entranced by Libya, Libyans, and the Sahara, that I kept going back year on year.
This fascination with the Middle East and North Africa turned into a book, which I researched the following year and managed to work another Saharan trip into. By that stage, I was almost inured to risk. But…. It was election year in the US, and President George W. Bush was rattling his sabre at Syria. I couldn’t rely on him not to bomb Damascus, so I took Syria off my itinerary and retreated to the quieter reaches of Beirut.
There I was so spooked by the city I cancelled an outing into it one day, lurking instead around the water park of my Junieh Beach ziggurat, and warily eyeing the smoggy outline of Beirut 10 kilometres to the south. There seemed a little more haze than usual that day. Turned out, there was, thanks to a car bomb which exploded next to a motorcade carrying Druze MP Marwan Hamadeh. Hamadeh was injured, but survived; his driver was killed.
My point is not to alarm those of you considering coming on our pilgrimage with us, but rather to say there are challenges and worries when you decide to travel in regions where there are on-going tensions. You need to be on the qui vive, alert but not alarmed. After all, disaster and horror can come out of a clear blue sky, as New York discovered on September 11, 2001.
There has been some anxiety about security among those who would like to come, but are worried about the stability of the region. That is a decision individuals must make… but despite those challenges, an excitement is building around our first pilgrimage, which runs from November 24 for December 10 this year (details here).
‘I was so excited to read about this tour,’ wrote Angela. “I have never had a bucket list of places to visit, but if I did, this trip to the Holy Land would be No 1.”
She is very involved in her parish, has studied bible history, theology, ministry and liturgy over many years and has always wondered how I would ever go about making such a pilgrimage, she wrote. “The organisation and structure of this tour has captured my interest.
What a privilege to be led on this tour by Dr Brennan and to travel with such a group of people to the most special places on earth! I have already been web surfing the places we are visiting and November cannot roll around quickly enough for me.”
Another fellow traveller, who is a stalwart in his parish, signed up with alacrity: “I find the day to day needs of the church can quickly overtake one’s personal journey.
“This pilgrimage is my opportunity to put some structure around my faith journey, to enjoy the company of some close friends to make new friends and to clear my mind and open my soul to new beginnings. I thank God for the blessing of CathNews and commend them for making available this valuable retreat/pilgrimage/escape.”
There has also been a concern among a couple of prospective travellers about the absence en route of a priest. That was also a concern to us, which is why we chose Notre Dame of Jerusalem – with its chapel as our major staging post during the trip. In that way, our pilgrims can go to a Mass which suits them during their day. Along the way, we will also have access to clerics steeped in the knowledge of their own churches and localities.
And if this if the first time you have read about our Pilgrimage, please seriously consider joining in this wonderful, once in a lifetime, opportunity to really explore the Holy Land with CathNews and some fellow travellers.
Christine Hogan is the Publisher of faith-based communication for Church Resources.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.