One year ago, when we first started to hear about the coronavirus spreading from China, we were immersed in preparations for the third Holy Land Dialogues (HLD). HLD is a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that combines spiritual and academic elements with participants from around the world.
Sadly, our participants from Singapore were forced to cancel their trip due to government imposed travel restrictions and our Italian participants had problems returning home afterwards. Meanwhile, almost no one realised the size and extent of the pandemic and how the entire world would be affected. We had no idea then what we would all have to endure for more than a year.
The holy places were packed with pilgrims in those last days of February 2020. In fact, the number of tourists to the Holy Land had been rising steadily since 2015 and 2020 was on track to be a record breaking year as well. Many of our HLD visitors noted seeing a few people with facemasks from time to time during our travels and we had many conversations about them. Little did we know how common the facemask would become! Without realizing it, those pilgrims were some of the last visitors to the holy sites before a full lockdown began in mid-March 2020.
Some of our HLD 2020 participants wanted to share their memories of the trip and how it changed their perspectives a year and a pandemic later.
Edgardo Carloni and Nora O’Shea, Argentina:
In perspective, we see the HLD trip as preparation; as a training for what was coming afterwards. It was such a fitting and relevant experience in the context of our family, that I would say without doubt that it was Providencial. The spiritual strength with which we were filled from such a special trip helped us deal with the pandemic with a Christian outlook. Those days were an oasis, a mental refuge, a reservoir of strength… Memories to relive in order to gain strength for the tough year that we had to go through.
Those days travelling in the land of our Lord penetrated deep inside our hearts. They awoke feelings and thoughts that triggered a new way of embracing our faith, that we still feel today. Prayer is never the same again once you have been in the Holy Land.
In our case, Nazareth impressed us profoundly. The Annunciation in particular, the FIAT of a teenage girl in that grotto that we visited, a very small place inside a natural cave. An insignificant village in the mountains was the setting for that breathtaking scene. The Sea of Galilee also amazed us. We know that the holy places have changed greatly since Jesus’ time, but there, on that boat ride, looking at the coast, we thought, “He did see this”.
Ana Blanco and Gustavo Vargas, Costa Rica:
Despite knowing about the infections in China and Italy during the days of February that we were in HLD, we never realised the impact it would have. We felt really blessed for having managed to get to know and participate in this amazing experience that renewed us and made us grow spiritually. Above all, we were privileged to have space, freedom, and calm in those places.
This episode of our lives has caused a great deal of inner growth. This year we celebrated the 37th anniversary of our marriage and it has already been a year since our son (the eldest of four boys) was married. Having been in the Holy Land, especially in the way we were (the people, the plan we covered, the feeling of being at home, the visit to Saxum, etc.) has been amazing. It has definitely been a turning point for us.
Now that we are getting closer to Lent and Holy Week, the experience helps us to live more intensely those moments of Jesus’ life. It also happened with the site of Nativity, during Christmas. In Capharnaum we understood why Jesus started his public life there. The distances that they walked, the place of the wedding at Cana, the ruins of the synagogue in Capharnaum, the Jordan River, the story of St. John the Baptist… There, the Gospel came alive and now, when we read it, the memories of those places come to us and we are transported there.