From 22 to 30 August 2019, St George’s Parish organised a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, led by Archpriest Joseph Curmi and Fr Marcello Ghirlando ofm. The group of pilgrims visited holy sites in Galilee, Samaria and Judea which are mentioned in the Old Testament and the Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus. As expected, they also prayed on the tomb of St George, our patron saint. Emanuel Zammit shares with us his reflections on this remarkable experience.
Our group of 45 people has just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we went to see, learn and experience the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ, where it all happened. We were accompanied by our Archpriest Fr Joseph Curmi while Fr Marcello Ghirlando ofm was leading the pilgrimage. Fr Marcello’s experience and thorough knowledge of the area could not be disputed, even so the way he talked about the history of each new place, let alone explaining the readings of the gospel appropriate to that particular place, which made it so easy for us pilgrims to visualise the connection between the Gospel and the place we were visiting.
We were based in Nazareth for the first two nights, a stone throw away from the Sanctuary of the Annunciation, where the Angel appeared to Mary. After mass, we walked outside the church where we could admire the mosaic of our own Madonna Ta’ Pinu which was inaugurated last year.
Another highlight was the visit to Mount Tabor where we prayed and contemplated on the Transfiguration of Jesus. Another mass was held at St Peter’s Church in Capernaum followed by visits to the Church of the Beatitudes as well as Mensa Christi which contains a slab of rock on which Jesus ate with his disciples after rising from the dead.
We boarded a boat and sailed across the Sea of Galilee where Jesus said to his Apostles: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. We renewed our baptismal promises at the Jordan River and also stopped to visit the Mount of Temptation in Jericho. A swim in the Dead Sea was not to be missed, followed by mass in the Sanctuary of Bethany, the home of Lazarus.
Our next stop was Bethlehem, having mass in the Basilica of the Nativity where Jesus laid in the manger. We sang Ninni la tibkix iżjed in the Shepherds’ Field Grotto at Beit Sahur before going to Ein Karem where the Blessed Virgin visited Elizabeth. Close to Bethlehem we also visited the small Palestinian village and Orthodox church of al-Khader, named after St George.
The climax of the pilgrimage was yet to come, in Jerusalem. Walking down the Mount of Olives and visiting churches along the way was quite an experience. Finally getting down to the Garden of Gethsemane and seeing those olive trees, we could not help wondering about the agony of Jesus where he was also arrested. At the Basilica of Gethsemane, Fr Marcello led us through the Ora Santa while our Archpriest accompanied him on the organ. A visit to the crypt of Mary was well worth the wait in the queue as well as the Dormitio Abbey where we all sang the Innu lil Santa Marija.
We were lucky enough to have mass in the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we also saw the place of the Crucifixion. Our last mass was at Emmaus El Kubeibeh, where we also stopped to see Jacob’s Well in Samaria.
Obviously a visit to Lod to see the tomb of our patron St George was also on the calendar. Our Archpriest led the Vespertine prayers while one of our parishioners, Raymond Caruana recited a poem that he himself wrote about St George. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the hymn Georgius natus est.
It was a pilgrimage that covered everything and we can only thank our Archpriest for asking Fr Marcello to lead the pilgrimage and made it so easy for us to live the Gospel in the week that we spent together.
Photos by Emanuel Zammit