Clogher Diocese – Third Annual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Clogher Diocese – Third Annual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The Clogher Diocese Easter and Ascension 2010 pilgrimage, led by Bishop Michael Jackson together with the Revd Glenn West and the Revd David Skuce, returned just three days before the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud crisis occurred, which closed all the UK airspace. The journey was intense, crowded, exhausting, and constantly moving; fraught with the anxiety of security, and baggage checks; computer break downs, sickness and heat; all the usual hurdles of group air travel today! Yet such was the skill of the organizing team in managing the group, keeping them together, ensuring all participants could keep up with the pace, that the group seemed to surmount all these hazards, with the greatest of good humour and success.
So too it was with the pilgrimage. It was a fascinating, interesting and absorbing journey as the group followed the themes of Christ’s life’s work in Galilee; his journey into the desert and his time of temptation; then along the hot and dusty road to Jerusalem; his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and his trial and crucifixion and wonderfully, his resurrection.
One highlight was the time the pilgrimage spent in Galilee. Galilee is beautiful and the weather was as warm as a Fermanagh summer’s day. The green of the countryside, the lush vegetation around and the birdsong accompanied the pilgrimage as they explored the lakeside towns and villages, learning of the industries of olive oil production and fishing in Christ’s time as well as about Christ’s teachings and miracles of healing.
The baptismal site on the eucalyptus flanked banks of the River Jordan, where the group visited in the cool of the early morning as they left Galilee heading for the desert, provided some quiet time along with an opportunity to renew their baptismal vows.
The Desert, hot and dusty yet golden and mountainous, provided an opportunity for the pilgrimage group to see the Bedouin shepherds with their mixed herds of goats and sheep; they saw the barbed wire fencing dividing the West Bank from the road down the Jordan Valley; and away to the east they saw the poly tunnels that the Jordanians use to grow peppers and vegetables for export. They also saw the green oasis of Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world. From there they travelled up to the top of the Mount of Temptation by seemingly flimsy cable cars, to arrive at the top where they were greeted by amazing views across the hills and sands towards the Dead Sea. It was very crowded but they managed to find a quiet spot to have their service and sing hymns, before they were besieged by numerous Christian Arab girls who were sixth formers, out on a day trip from their school in Nablus. They had been listening to the group’s singing and wanted to know who the group were and took photos of those on the pilgrimage. Such a coincidence, a school from Nablus where the hospital of St Luke’s is, which is being supported by the Clogher Diocesan Holy Land Medical Relief Fund.
The group arrived in Jerusalem in the evening after a long drive through the mountains, cresting the hill, out onto the look-out where they gained their first glimpse of Jerusalem spread out before them, bathed in the setting sun. The group’s guide, Isaac, had arranged a traditional Jewish welcome for them of a simple ceremony of the partaking together of Bread, Salt and Wine, along with a few words of welcome.
The last two days were spent in and around Jerusalem, following in Christ’s footsteps as he took his journey to the cross. The group walked the steep and slippery path, on the old polished cobbles, down the Mount of Olives, visiting memorial churches along the way, in company with many other people, of all nationalities; they marvelled at the ancient trees in the Garden of Gethsemane; they crossed the Kidron Valley up into mount Zion, the hill upon which the old City of Jerusalem was built; they followed the Via Dolorosa through the souks, stopping for lunch on the way, past the Arab traders, until they came to the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which they entered and gazed in awe at the size and complexity of the scene before them.
Their last and possibly most significant visit was to the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, lying seven miles from of Jerusalem. It is supposedly built over the site of the ancient Jewish village of Emmaus. The group travelled there in the early evening, stopping at the Crusader’s church in the village. They were the only people there; no other tourists, so it was very quiet and they just sat down for a few moments in the pews arranged in a square around a central lectern, and then the Bishop celebrated communion. The singing was glorious as the little church had an amazing echo and acoustics. It was all very moving and a fitting end to this spiritual Easter journey.

Clogher Holy Land Pilgrimage Group Photo 2010