When we go on pilgrimage today, then, we do not go in order to comment on or criticize other people for their inability to solve political problems. God knows we can’t solve our own, which are much smaller and less rooted in history. Of course, we will grieve over injustice, oppression and violence wherever it occurs and whoever instigates it; but in highly complex situations it behooves us to go with our eyes and ears open, ready to learn rather than to condemn. But as pilgrims we go, above all, to pray. In the same passage where Paul speaks of God’s intention to make the whole world his Holy Land, to renew and liberate the whole of creation, he also speaks of the whole creation at present groaning in travail; and then he declares that we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we, too, wait for our final redemption (Romans 8.18-27). It is in that context that he says that all things work together for good to those who love God (8.28).
Pilgrimage is a teaching aid: at this level, it teaches us not only about the roots of our faith, but about the ways in which injustice still rampages through communities, some of them within our own family. It opens our eyes to see God’s world the way it is, rather than the way we would like to imagine it. Second, pilgrimage is a way of prayer: both a way of drinking in the presence and love of God in Christ, as we visit places particularly associated with him, and also now a way of standing at the place of pain, at the foot of the cross literally and metaphorically, holding on to that pain in the presence of God in Christ, not knowing what the solution will be but only that God is there, grieving with and in us, in a perpetual Holy Week at the heart of the Holy Land. Third, pilgrimage is a way of discipleship: both to be reinforced in our own daily life and work as Christians, and now also to be reinforced in thinking, working, speaking, writing and praying for justice and peace to be restored to the Middle East, to Northern Ireland, to the Sudan, to God’s entire creation.
We do not go on pilgrimage, then, because we have the answers and want to impose them. That would make us crusaders, not pilgrims; the world has had enough of that, and I dare say God has had enough of that. We go on the pilgrim way, we follow the way of the Lord, because he himself is the way – and, as he said himself, the truth and the life as well. We go to meet him afresh, to share his agony, and to pray and work for the victory he won on the cross to be implemented, and for his way to be followed, in Israel and Palestine, in our own countries, and in the whole world.Pace, B