Walking In the Footsteps of Christ in the Holy Land
Following Father Giussani's indications as they journey through the Holy Land, Adam and his friends discover that "the certainty is the foundation for the journey."
This past August, I travelled with eleven friends from Toronto to the Holy Land to walk “in the footsteps of Christ.” For me, the experience was all-encompassing: we stood on the rocks where Christ walked, witnessed the political landscape first-hand, and spoke with local Christians about their continual presence in the Holy Land today. Yet despite flying over 9000 km to a place on the other side of the world, the most surprising thing that emerged during the pilgrimage—and perhaps even more so in the months since coming home—has been a new friendship, where walking companions have become unexpected friends and old friends have become new once again. And in front of the gift of this friendship, I see the foundation for the journey I am being asked to walk back home.
"An Interest in Being in the Place Where Our History Began"
Perhaps the first indication of this blossoming friendship can be traced to the invitation to the pilgrimage itself. On Easter Sunday, two friends of mine announced their desire to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and invited the community here in Toronto to join them. In an email to the community explaining their reasons, these friends wrote, “We are proposing [this pilgrimage] because we began with an interest in being in the place where our history began and doing so with you who share that history with us.”
These words immediately grabbed my attention. Even before I had understood the reasons for which I felt compelled to go on the pilgrimage, I said “yes” to the invitation simply because it took seriously the need I have to understand my personal history. Where else can one find friends who take this need so seriously?
A few weeks before leaving for the Holy Land, the twelve of us met for dinner to discuss our hopes for the pilgrimage and the questions that we were bringing with us. Two essential points came out during this discussion: (1) the need to take care of each other during our days together; and (2) the desire to walk the pilgrimage faithful to what we have met in the Movement.
Starting from these two points, a few of us began translating excerpts from Luigi Amicone’s book about Fr. Giussani’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1986. In particular, we translated Giussani’s reflections on the places he visited, as well as the assemblies he led with those who accompanied him. I found myself completely captivated by these meditations and saw Giussani’s guiding witness as a constant reminder of the fact that this charism is an essential part of my own history. What sprang from a simple fascination with Fr. Giussani was a 112-page booklet—full of reflections, Gospel passages, songs, and prayers—with the hope simply that this text might be a help to each one of us on our journey.
"It Was Necessary for them to Relinquish their Images"
For me, one of the most important moments of the pilgrimage came on the second evening in Nazareth, after we had visited the Basilica of the Annunciation and the Church of St. Joseph. That evening, several of us expressed a desire to read together the assembly that Giussani had led after having visited the same places and to have an assembly of our own to judge the things that we had seen.
What came out during that first assembly was both painful and challenging. Many on the pilgrimage—myself included—reluctantly began sharing our doubts and disappointments with the things we had witnessed. We had come to the Holy Land with expectations of being emotionally overwhelmed, but instead found ourselves fatigued, unmoved, and unable to grasp the magnitude of the facts in front of us.
Despite our shared disappointment, this first assembly ended up becoming the turning point for the rest of the pilgrimage. By acknowledging our poverty in front of the places we visited, each one of us had begun to take the step of looking at our real needs.
Knowing our hearts well, Giussani invited us to remain open to the gifts we could not yet see: The event is never an event unless it happens with absolute gratuitousness, meaning that it is totally unforeseen. […] It does not depend on a program or project of our imagination. Perhaps we should keep this in mind for our visits tomorrow: that even for Jesus’ friends, it was necessary for them to relinquish their images; instead, they had to be verified. I would insist that all of this be a personal experience.
"The Certainty is the Foundation for the Journey"
In the days that followed, I began to notice a real change in myself, first and foremost as a result of following the suggestions of my friends. For example, we began to pray the Morning Hours together and to meet every evening for an assembly, both of which became fundamental occasions to judge the things we had seen and to be helped to see the things we could not see on our own. By staying close to these friends that were given to me, I found myself able to move past the initial doubts and fatigue and to continue to walk with certainty and gratitude.
I also began to perceive that this change was happening in my friends. During an assembly in Bethlehem, for example, one friend remarked that she had initially been scandalized by her lack of faith in front of the places we had visited. At a certain point, however, she began to look at the faces around her, and came to understand that the certainty of faith that she was seeking in the Holy Land could not be separate from the change that was clearly taking place among us. It was at that moment that she understood the meaning of the words we had read in the Morning Prayer: “The certainty is the foundation for the journey.”
None of us could have imagined that we would find ourselves in the Holy Land with these particular faces. And yet, in becoming aware of the gift of each other’s presence and the change that was happening among us, I found myself increasingly grateful even in front of my own limits.
"The Consequences of this Certainty Cannot be Avoided"
In the months since coming home, I have seen how this friendship that was born on the pilgrimage cannot remain sentimental, nor can it simply be a place of refuge. Instead, this friendship has begun to seep into every part of my life, including even those friends of ours who could not come to the Holy Land. For example, in response to seeing the division among the Eastern and Western Churches in the Holy Land and desiring to pray for unity, several of us in the community here have begun attending weekly Vespers at a local Eastern Catholic church.
What generates this renewed friendship? What allows us to continue to walk together now that we’ve returned home? Only a God who begs for our hearts, who elicits our freedom, and who finds us in the most mundane, imperceptible places, can explain this change. This is what I saw first-hand with my friends in the Holy Land. For this reason, I can say that faithfulness to a certainty is the very condition for walking—just as it was for the Apostles who could remain with Jesus once they understood that he had “the words of eternal life.”
Indeed, it was Fr. Giussani who signalled the way forward: For all of us, there is that moment, sign, or event in which all of it becomes clear. Life will not always have that certainty, but the consequences of this certainty cannot be avoided. In which way and through which face will the Lord accompany us, when we do not recognize Him and yet our heart is moved by His words?
Adam, Toronto, Ontario