Bishop Bill Wright and his executive assistant Elizabeth Doyle led the pilgrimage for 32 school principals, religious education co-ordinators, ministry co-ordinators and teachers in our Diocese.
The group visited the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee, Nazareth and Cana, Mount Tabor where the Transfiguration took place, and Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the stable where Jesus was born. They also visited Jerusalem and explored the Garden of Gethsemane, the Cenacle room of the Last Supper at the Church of Dormition, Jericho and Masada.
Religious Education Coordinator at St Patrick’s Lochinvar, Maryanne Hacker, said the pilgrimage for her was a time of renewal, “to prioritise my connection with my faith and in turn, how that connection impacts on my vocation as a Catholic educator”. Mrs Hacker said that from the moment the group landed in Amman, Jordan, everything felt “different”.
“The sights and sounds of the desert landscape were overwhelmingly different, but the difference was bigger than the just the landscape,” she said. “It was almost as though the moment we landed there was a sense of God’s presence in a very tangible way as we began to walk the land that Jesus once trod.”
Mass was celebrated on most days in a variety of locations such as on the bank of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptised. Mrs Hacker said the pilgrimage was filled with special moments such as on that bank.
“As Fr Greg Barker led our group through renewing our baptismal promises, a gentle breeze came across the river, rustling through the reeds. It was almost as though the breath of God was touching us confirming his commitment to us as we confirmed our commitment to him,” she said.
One of the last experiences for the pilgrims was walking the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. Commencing from where Jesus was condemned to death they prayed as they followed Jesus’s footsteps along the narrow streets of Jerusalem to the site of his crucifixion.
Mrs Hacker reflected on the effect that day had on her. “Sometimes it can be hard for us to connect our daily struggles to the profound sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Sharing the burden of the cross and reflecting on Jesus’s passion as we walked in his footsteps, as the day was dawning, brought this connection to life in a very real way. Jesus bore the pain of our suffering, and how privileged we are to be able to, in faith, ‘cast all our anxiety onto him because he cares for us’ (1 Peter 5:7).”
Another pilgrim, principal of St Joseph’s Primary School, Bulahdelah, Glen Rooke, enjoyed “watching the gospels come alive” and found retracing the Stations of the Cross as his most moving moment of the pilgrimage.
“It is through reading and listening to the Gospels that we hear Jesus speak, we hear his vision, his dream, his message to us all,” Mr Rooke said. “Our participation in this pilgrimage has allowed us to follow in his footsteps. It has allowed us to not only visualise his life and ministry but to touch, smell and see the locations of his birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. We were deeply moved during our journey of faith formation. A truly life-changing experience.”
Our diocesans schools will benefit from the incredible experiences shared by this group of pilgrims, as their renewed faith and life-changing moments are shared with their students.