A group of 35 parishioners from St Mark’s Parish at Inala in Queensland saw their faith come alive as they walked in the footsteps of Jesus during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last month.

The group, led by Fr Stephen Pilly SVD, came from a range of different cultural backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Samoan, Filipino, African and Australian.

The 10-day pilgrimage grew from a suggestion by members of the St Mark’s Parish Bible Group, which meets every Wednesday to study the Bible. The group had previously undertaken another pilgrimage to the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, the Philippines.

“The Bible Group suggested to me that we organise a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the parishioners for their spiritual renewal,” Fr Stephen says. “I reflected in prayer and felt that leading a group from the parish for spiritual renewal would be an enriching experience for the people of God at St Mark’s, so I took the initiative to offer this opportunity to the parishioners.”

The pilgrimage took in many of the great Biblical sites, including Mount Nebo where, after leading Israel out of Egypt for 40 years Moses stood on the summit and saw the Promised Land. “On this Mount Nebo we celebrated the Holy Eucharist,” says Fr Stephen.

At the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, Fr Stephen conducted the penitential rite for the group and they went for individual confession followed by a symbolic baptism in the river. And at Nazareth, where Jesus grew up with Joseph and Mary, the group visited Mary’s Well, the Basilica of the Annunciation, the house of Joseph and Mary and celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Other places visited around Nazareth included the Sea of Galilee, the Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication of the Bread and Fish, the Church of the Primacy of Peter, Capernaum and Mount Tabor where the transfiguration of Jesus occurred. In Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, where he changed the water to win, five couples among the group renewed their wedding vows, including one couple who were celebrating their 30th anniversary on that day.

At Bethlehem, the group visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born and celebrated Mass there, as well as the Milk Grotto, the Shepherds’ Field, the Church of the Ascension, Palm Sunday road, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of All Nations where Jesus taught the ‘Our Father’ to his disciples, and the tomb of Mother Mary.

At each point along the way, Fr Stephen led the group in focusing on a particular aspect of the spirituality of the life of Jesus.

On Mount Quarantal, the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus was tempted in the desert, the group was privileged to have lunch on the mountain and pray where Jesus prayed. “We focused on the spirituality of human temptation,” Fr Stephen says. They went to the Visitation Church and also the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the paralytic man. After Mass, the group prayed the Stations of the Cross, reflecting at each station with scripture, prayer and blessings. “Then we saw the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and buried and rose the dead,” Fr Stephen says. “During the Stations of the Cross, I could see people weeping emotionally and praying in deep contemplation.

Fr Stephen says the Holy Land pilgrimage enriched both him and the parishioners. “I focused on two things during the pilgrimage – spiritual renewal through the Eucharist and prayers, and spreading the Word of God,” he says.

“So, I would read the appropriate scripture passage in all the pilgrim places we visited and explain them so that the group could hear the word of God and see the place in that particular context and reflect on that in their own lives. It was a very powerful and memorable experience.”