This is a guest post by Mr. Limnyuy Gamsi, one of the church students of the diocese, studying at the seminary of the archdiocese of Birmingham located at S. Mary's College, Oscott. Mr. Gamsi is currently in the fourth year of his studies and belongs to the parish of Our Lady in Leicester.
"For two weeks at the beginning of February I had the privilege of being a pilgrim in the Holy Land along with the other fourth year seminarians from Oscott College. We were in Jerusalem for the first eight days, then in Galilee for the final five. Like most people reading this, I knew that the Holy Land is where Jesus lived during his time on earth, but not much else. I would like to share a few of the things I learnt while I was there.
"The most significant visit, quite early on, was a 5.30 a.m. mass at the Holy Sepulchre. As soon as we were in Jerusalem, I searched for where the different churches marking the crucifixion and the resurrection were located, because I knew we would have some time to wander around, and I wanted to visit these sites quite early on. What I didn’t realise was that the Holy Sepulchre marks all these sites, because all those events occurred in the same place. Our Lord’s tomb was a stone’s throw away from where he was crucified. John the Evangelist does say, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb.” (John 19:41).
"On the morning of our mass we were up at 4.30 a.m. and made the short climb to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The building has many altars belonging to different denominations commemorating different events, but the altar of the resurrection can best be described as a small chapel, called an aedicule. This aedicule is divided into two sections; one of them is only big enough to hold about 5 or 6 people, and this is where Our Lord’s tomb is. Because we were seven seminarians and two priests, some of us were in the room with the altar during the liturgy of the word, and we switched before the liturgy of the Eucharist. We celebrated the mass of the Resurrection, and during the Easter Triduum and this Easter season my mind has often been cast back to that special mass. The Holy Sepulchre remained a focal point of our time in Jerusalem, where we all returned frequently and where two braver ones of our number spent a whole night (surely in prayer!)."
"The Holy Sepulchre is the holiest site for Christians, but I was also deeply moved by Western Wall, one of the remaining structures of the holiest building in Judaism, its Temple. I had only ever seen images of the Western Wall online when figures such as popes or political leaders had visited it, so I got the impression it was a very exclusive location, possibly only reached after standing in a long line. But I was wrong. With a covered head, anyone can walk up to it to pray. In fact, I saw a group of schoolchildren walk up to it at the end of school with their teacher, and I was told it is likely a daily tradition for them. I went to the Western Wall a few times while in Jerusalem, most memorably for me on the feast of the Presentation, imagining Simeon holding Christ in his arms just beyond that wall 2000 years ago."
"In Galilee we had the opportunity to visit the sites where Jesus would have spent most of his ministry. But I would like to focus on the Sea of Galilee. We stayed at a location on the Mount of the Beatitudes so from my room I could see the Sea (which is actually a large lake.) Personally, my most enduring memory is walking down to the shore of the Sea and sitting on one of the rocks while reading the first eight chapters of Mark’s Gospel, talking about Jesus’ Galilean ministry. It was unbelievable imagining that I was sitting where the crowds would have sat while Jesus was in a boat not far from them, teaching them, and where 5000 of them were fed. I felt looking out at the Sea where Christ walked on water, where Peter nearly drowned, and where Christ calmed the storm.
"These are just a few of the things I learned while in the Holy Land. There is a lot more I could write about, such as the experiences which made us realise how seriously the Orthodox Jews take their Sabbath (very seriously!), or how we were woken up in Jerusalem for seven days at 4.30 every morning, because of the extremely loud call to prayer from the mosque next door. But I hope what I have written has captured what a grace-filled privilege the pilgrimage was."