A fundamental experience of the pilgrim must also be listening, because “the word of the Lord [shall go forth] from Jerusalem” (Is 2,3).
The Holy Land is an integral part of the process of understanding the historic word of God, who impressed his tent in Jacob and took the inheritance of Israel, which became established in Zion, putting down roots in the midst of a glorious nation.
This word was converted into the Jewish flesh of Jesus and became Gospel, destined to spread, “starting from Jerusalem”, to the ends of the earth (Acts 1,8). All the territories of the Holy Land form the “geography of salvation” where God, through his son Jesus, made its history. The Holy Land is, according to the expression coined by Renan, the Fifth Gospel.
In the Holy Land, the pilgrim is in a privileged position to listen to the word of God, as these are the places where the word took shape. Paul VI said that the Holy Places are “the school where understanding the life of Jesus begin, or the school of the Gospel”, because they let the Christian make direct contact with the environment where “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1,14). In the Holy Land the Gospel itself has a different echo.
The words of the “Russian pilgrim” fit both ancient and modern pilgrims: he said “by the Grace of God I am a man and a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, by condition the humblest of pilgrims, a homeless person who wanders from place to place. My only property is a bag slung over my shoulder with a little dry bread, and under my shirt I carry the Holy Bible. I have no other belongings” (Diary of a Russian pilgrim).
The Bible thus has to be every pilgrim’s principal guide.
On his return home, the pilgrim becomes an evangelizer, a spokesman of the “Gospel of the Holy Land”– as Jesus and his disciples did when they travelled down the roads of Palestine announcing the gospel of salvation – he will be an “itinerant messenger of Christ”, repeating like Peter and John “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4,20).
Fr. Artemio Vitores ofm,
Vicary of the Holy Land