The pilgrimage dynamics generated many profound experiences through a variety of encounters.
The encounter with pilgrims from many religions - Jews, Muslims and a range of Christian denominations. They prayed, chanted, danced, walked in procession, sailed the Galilee, touched the holy places (stones, tombs or icons), lit candles all of which helped to underscore the multi-religious dynamics of today's world. The overlapping or blending of different faiths and believers in the Land of Jesus thus opens the hearts of His disciples towards the faithful of other religions.
There was the encounter with many Saints, starting from the Holy Family of Nazareth and following the footsteps of our Venerable Salesian Brother Simaan (Simon) Srugi, who was born and baptized in Nazareth and died in Beitgemal (Salesian community near Jerusalem). Even a simple icon of St Domenico Savio with Jesus opens the eyes of faith in different ways.
The encounter with many members of the Salesian Family-Don Bosco Past Pupils can be also found amid the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. Aside from the SDB, there are Cancão Nova, FMA and Salesian Cooperators. The pilgrims had a chance to pray at the tomb of Fr Antonio Belloni, founder of the Salesian works in the Holy Land.
There was the meeting with Salesian Youth featuring both Muslims and Christians. 80% of our students in Nazareth are Muslim and the majority of our Oratory boys in Bethlehem are also Muslims, but at this time, schools in the Holy Land were closed and students home for their summer vacations.
They met with all five SDB communities in the Holy Land - Nazareth, Bethlehem, Cremisan (new provincial house), Beitgemal and Ratisbonne (Jerusalem). The Middle East Province comprises 80+ SDBs from 22 different countries. The pilgrims had a chance to appreciate the very challenging mission of our confreres in each of the five communities.
Among all these encounters there was ample time to pray, reflect, pause, breathe deeply and experience the places where Jesus grew up in His family, walked the streets and in the fields, ate, performed His miracles, taught about the Kingdom and His Father, suffered and was humiliated and, in the end, crucified. Many the sites and centuries crossed. Walking in the Holy Land makes the pages of the Gospel and Scripture come alive and real - from the harsh Judean desert to the very small Jordan river.
The Rector Major and his Councillors were especially grateful to Middle East Provincial Fr Alejandro Leon, his councillors and all the SDB communities in the Holy Land who welcomed the pilgrims. This very strong faith experience of the General Council will certainly have an effect on their ministry of animation and governance.
Aside from the variety of pilgrim groups, every August since 2018 the SDB Formation Department has been organizing the “Holy Land Experience”; this year it was in Italian-Spanish, and next year (2020) it shall be in English.