I have just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where I had been on two previous occasions. Returning is always a new and deeply comforting experience.
From a tourist’s point of view, Israel is a country that has it all: the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, the Jordan River with its stories, the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Tiberias), fertile fields with a wide variety of crops, and modern cities and highways that have little or nothing to envy to large European or North American cities. Israel has become a major focus of technological development, and its entrepreneurs and scientists stand out in the world for their ingenuity and creativity. Despite the seemingly never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is fair to say that a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is generally safe for the traveler.
Yet, for me, the most important thing, and what prompted me to travel to Israel, is its deep aura of spirituality. Catholics (traditional or Orthodox), Muslims, Jews, and believers of a multitude of religions coexist in Jerusalem, and it is palpable that closeness to God is the “daily bread” in the thinking and acting of these communities. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are sections of the building for each different denomination. This church is built on the remains of Golgotha, the hill of Calvary where Jesus, our King and Savior, was crucified. It is there that you can visit, with a penitent heart, the tomb of Jesus. Walking through the cobbled streets that immortalize the Via Dolorosa, is a balm for the soul. Visiting the Field of Olives and Gethsemane, and the Mount of Beatitudes, also transports us to the earthly days of Jesus, before offering his life as a sacrifice for us.
The tour of the different towns and villages (Bethany, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Jericho, where Zacchaeus climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus, Bethlehem and Nazareth, where Jesus was born and grew up, respectively) transports us to the biblical moments that teach us how to live a life filled with peace, happiness and faith. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his way of thinking, and acting with humility and hope, is actually where we find the joy of living. If we do not recognize that there is a conflict between the spiritual God and the “material god” of this world, we can never chart a route of travel for our life as pilgrims. Choosing Barabbas, the revolutionary willing to resolve everything with violence, and not Jesus who teaches us the power of love, always demolishes us spiritually. The God of love fills us with both spiritual and material prosperity, as long as we do not lose the North in the generous intentions of our hearts.
In each of the towns in which we live, there is a Lazarus, that is, that friend who is “dead” in spirit and waiting for us to come and encourage him with our faith. There is also a Zacchaeus, a Mary Magdalene, a disabled person, or a beggar, who seeks our mercy. Let us remember that we can aspire to the riches and graces of the Kingdom of God, as long as we think, feel and behave like the Good Samaritan.
Therein lies the true beauty of the Holy Land: a sense of immediacy seals our hearts to be generous and merciful every day of our lives. It reminds us that we are not alone. That Jesus rose and lives among us and within us, and always expects us to speak to Him with confidence in our prayers. It also reminds us that we are sinners, incomplete beings by nature, and that we only manage to feel “complete” when we open our hearts to God and accept his son Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.
Fernando Dangond, MD, was born in Colombia, South America. He and his wife, Monica, live in Weston, MA, and have been blessed with two sons Daniel and David and a beautiful daughter, Christina (the inspiration behind Build the Faith) who left to be with the Lord 5 years ago.
Dr. Dangond, is a neurologist and scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company developing medicines to treat devastating neurological diseases.