This article is dedicated to Irene and Chan See Lai for their almost 50 years of firm friendship and for their kind invitation for my wife and I to join their Christian Pilgrimage Group to visit the Holy Land twenty years ago. We toured many parts of of the Holy Land, including Bethlehem where Jesus was born, Nazareth where he grew up, his missionary work when he performed many miracles in different regions and finally retracing the footsteps of Jesus at the historic site where he was most cruelly crucified by his Roman captors.
I have always been fascinated by the biblical land of Israel, so when a close friend who was organising a 12-day Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land invited me and my wife to join his group of 24 pilgrims, we jumped at this unexpected opportunity.
We would be retracing the footsteps of Jesus Christ with a bishop as spiritual advisor. My wife and I are not Christians, but we are history buffs. We were also curious what a latter-day pilgrimage would be like.
Our trip took us to most of the holy sites connected with life of Jesus, including those in the Sea of Galilee region where he performed many miracles; to Bethlehem where he was born; and to Nazareth, where he grew up.
A typical day began with a member of the group saying a prayer in the coach, before the day’s activities commenced.The bishop then celebrated mass at a church which had historical links with the Bible.
At every holy place we visited, someone would read an appropriate passage from the Bible in order to reinforce its message.
The pilgrims were visibly touched at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus experienced moments of anguish the night of his arrest, and at the Coenaculum where he ate his Last Supper with his disciples before being betrayed by one of them.
Daily, on the return trip, the bishop would lead a rosary prayer lasting about 20 minutes. After dinner, the group met at a “sharing session”, with each member recalling the day’s events and how these had strengthened his or her faith.
The climax was the retracing the footsteps of Jesus down Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, also known as Stations of the Cross, on his way to his crucifixion by the Roman captors.
There are 14 Stations altogether. My only disappointment was that practically all the original landmarks are gone, and in their places now stand religious buildings, other structures and private properties of much later periods.
We arrived there at 7 am in order to avoid the throngs of humanity and the hustle and bustle of commercial activities later in the day, just as in the days of Christ.
Walking along the narrow path, paved with two-millennia-old cobblestones dug up from beneath the road surface, we soon reached the final destination to experience the fateful final journey of Christ that would change the course of human history (see graphics on the 14 Stations of the Cross inserted by this newspaper).
Walking in the footsteps of Jesus was a noticeably emotional and spiritual experience for our group.
I was moved by the pilgrims’ sincere display of religious fervour, which was less discernible in the other pilgrim groups there.
Our group prayed at every Station of the Cross, read a relevant passage from the Bible and many even broke down and wept in empathy with pains and sufferings that Jesus had to endure.
Mrs Irene Lai, a member of our group, probably articulated a shared sentiment of her fellow pilgrims when she said : “As I tread the final journey of Jesus, time stood still. At this poignant moment, I was so overwhelmed emotionally, that no words could possibly encapsulate what I felt inside me.”
Brief Background to Jerusalem
Although Jerusalem means City of Peace, ironically, peace has eluded it since its founding to the present time. It has known more human conflict than any other city in the world.
After Israel became independent in 1948, its western part belonged to Israel and the eastern zone, including the Old City, came under Jordanian jurisdiction. After the Six-Day War of 1967, the other half was annexed by Israel.
A city of 600,000 people, it is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Republishing this Article for the Interest of my Blog Readers
In April 2000 my wife and I excitedly journeyed to the Holy Land in Israel with a group of 24 Catholic pilgrims accompanied by a Sarawak bishop as our spiritual leader. The 12-day pilgrimage was very well planned and organised by a well-known Singapore tour company, and guided by an experienced Catholic tour leader who was most familiar with the historic sites where Jesus Christ had left his foot prints there.
After this most memorable spiritual journey, I had gained a deeper insight into the life and teaching of the founder of Christianity whose followers centuries later had transformed it into the world’s largest religious group with disciples scattered worldwide now numbering more than 2.4 billion people.
Inspired by this trip, I decided to write an article about my impressions of Holy Land for the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore, of which I had become a periodic contributor after my retirement from law practice, thanks to the courtesy and encouragement of the then editor of its popular Life Section, Mr Richard Lim.
One week after I forwarded my piece to Mr Lim, he emailed me that my article would be published as the Cover Story on Friday, April 21, 2000 in order to coincide it with the Good Friday public holiday, in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion on the cross by his cruel captors.
I am republishing this Straits Times article in my blog http://www.lampinfoo.com for my viewers’ interest on April 10 this year to commemorate it with the Good Friday public holiday in Singapore. It is fully reproduced above with this added introduction.
Lam Pin Foo