Published on Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pilgrimage: Conference Explores Importance of Visiting Holy Land

The National Association of the Diocesan Directors of French Pilgrimages recently held its 64th congress – for the first time in Jerusalem – to discuss Christian pilgrimage, particularly to the Holy Land.

Over the course of four days last week, the 150 delegates convened at Notre Dame Center and discussed the geography and history of the country and how to better organize pilgrimages and prepare pilgrims so when they arrive at their destination, they may have a greater awareness of their experience.

The days each had themes which focused on an area of importance, including the “living stones” of the local church body, Christians who live in the Holy Land.

“This (congress being held in Jerusalem) is an expression of our solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters of the Holy Land,” Father Patrick Gandoul, president of the Association, said in his speech at the opening of the conference.

The purpose of the congress, he said, was to learn how, during pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to draw from “the pages of the Bible, from archaeology and from meeting men and women that today ... make up the living stones of the church. We will encourage the directors of pilgrimages to understand and perceive how the people live and how pilgrims also can walk on this land.”

“We need to present ourselves, not as professionals or performers, but as pastors and guides, in solidarity with the mother church, which supports the Christian presence in this land and in the holy places so that these places, where the history of peace was born, will never become merely an open air museum.”

Each afternoon was devoted to “field experiences” including a solemn entrance at the Holy Sepulcher with the Custos of the Holy Land and a trip to Bethlehem to meet with Christians there.

Founded in 1938, the association considers pilgrimage a pastoral and cultural experience and values its importance. France ranks fourth in the number of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Jerusalem was chosen as the host for this annual event to bring the land of pilgrimage to life.

“We come as pilgrims and we need to understand better this land and, as Christians, our link to the land,” said Father Jacques Nieuviarts. “We come (also) to learn from the church in Jerusalem.”

Gandoul said that pilgrims should also view themselves as carriers of peace when they step foot in other lands to visit the holy sites.

“The pilgrim is a being of peace who walks humbly in the steps of his Father. Like it was written by the prophet Micah eight centuries, the pilgrim seeks the face of God,” he said. “I think that we can really be peace makers. Each person can build up this land living in peace and looking forward to a serene and harmonious future.”

By Travelujah, a the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on

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