CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES

Catholic Relief Services Offers Enhancement to Holy Land Pilgrimages

What comes to mind when you contemplate going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land?

For most Christians, its the possibility of walking the stations of the cross, celebrating Jesus' birth in Bethlehem or His death and resurrection in Jerusalem, standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. . .

Many who have visited the Holy Land on a traditional pilgrimage come home with a reinvigorated prayer life and a renewed excitement in reading the Bible, now able to put a real landscape behind the travels of Jesus, the disciples and the many Old Testament figures.

For some others who have been on pilgrimage, however, these images are even further brought to life by memories of time spent with people living in the Holy Land today. They have found that encountering local Christians, Muslims and Jews enhances their understanding of the holy sites and of the Gospel.

Catholic Relief Services' (CRS) program in Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza now offers just such encounters for pilgrims and other visitors coming to the Holy Land as the Millennium approaches. CRS has worked since 1963 in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Over those years it has developed wonderful relationships within the various communities living today in the Holy Land.

Through CRS, those journeying to the Holy Land have the chance to meet personally the people of these communities and experience first hand international relief and development projects. CRS' People Meeting People Program is not meant to replace traditional pilgrimages to the holy sites. Rather, it can deepen the spiritual experience of pilgrims by introducing them to people who today live in the land where Jesus walked 2000 years ago.

CRS can make available various opportunities to visitors depending upon their interests:

1) Witness the living, local Church by going to parishes and meeting local parishioners and priests. Whether it is attending Sunday mass and coffee hour in a local parish or meeting with a parish council over tea one afternoon, substantive encounters with local Christians are available to pilgrims.

2) See international development in action by visiting aid projects supported by the U.S. Catholic Church and others. Visitors can meet local people from schools, women's groups, and social services institutions participating in CRS and others' international development projects.

3) Meet with Christians, Muslims and Jews in settlements, refugee camps and other locations in the West Bank and hear their stories. Stories about Israel-Palestine are pervasive in U.S. newspapers; yet many stereotypes and misconceptions about Israeli Jews and Palestinians persist. CRS does not take any positions on the politics of the region, but it believes that meeting people of the Holy Land will help break down stereotypes and misconceptions about Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

4) Meet with inspirational leaders working for peace and justice. In a land know for conflict, there are many people from all backgrounds and viewpoints working for peace and justice. Many of these leaders are available as evening speakers in hotels or other locations. CRS will provide staff to make arrangements, appointments and travel with the group and their bus to the selected places. CRS is happy to take into account particular interests of groups. The program ranges from one half to two days depending on the amount of time groups can make available in their itineraries with their travel agents. There is no fee for CRS' services, but visitors will be required to cover speaker fees and other small expenses incurred.

Additionally, CRS invites visitors to the CRS Welcome Center in Cardinal House in Bethlehem. This four hundred-year-old building whose lower level dates to biblical times is located directly across from Bethlehem's new parking area for tour buses. CRS welcomes groups to stop by and enjoy a dramatic performance and talk with the actors after the play.

Again and again, pilgrims given the opportunity for substantive encounters with local people have reported them to be the most memorable and spiritually enriching part of their visit. . As a priest from Michigan said, "I had many wonderful experience on my recent pilgrimage, but the highlight undoubtedly was the lunch we had with families in Bethlehem!"

For more INFORMATION on how CRS can enhance your pilgrimage,

Please contact: Janice Phipps in Jerusalem at CRS,

P.O. Box 19447, Jerusalem, 91193,

(972) (2) 582-8149,

e-mail mill@crsjwbg.org

Al-Bushra also can help you, and make put you incontact with CRS and Catholic Community in Jordan, Palestine and Israel,

Write to Al-Bushra at Labibkobti@aol.com. Please put on subject: PILGRIM TO HOLY LAND