And finally in Jerusalem we walked the 14 stations of Via Dolorosa (“Way of the Cross” or “Way of Suﬀering”) through the narrow streets of old Jerusalem, the path taken by Jesus carrying the cross to His crucifixion. As we paused and prayed at each station, we remember the love and sacrifice of our Lord who died on the cross for our sins.
At the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, we visited an empty tomb. The Lord has risen indeed!
The first Holy Land pilgrimage in 2005 made a life-changing impact on one of our group members, Mr Eng Bak Hern. He had been going to church for a long time since young and had been thinking of getting baptised for “some time”, but had never got around to it.
Then two good friends, Mr K. K. Han and his wife Sharon, asked him to join them in signing up for the Holy Land trip, which he did. During a pre-pilgrimage briefing-cum-prayer session conducted by Bishop Dr Solomon, Mr Eng stepped forward with the rest of us to receive his first Holy Communion. “It just happened like that,” he said, “I was touched and I moved to the front to receive the Holy Communion. It was the first time that I have ever received the Holy Communion.
“One day, Sharon asked me, ‘Why don’t you get baptised?’ Sharon, my sister and I then met the Bishop at his oﬃce and I told him I wanted to get baptised.
“And what better place to get baptised than in the Jordan River when we visited Israel! I was very happy indeed, and I kept telling myself, I did it, I did it!”
The journeys of Paul form the theme of our pilgrimage in 2006, “In the Steps of St Paul”. We visited sites in modern-day Turkey and Greece, including Mars Hill, near the Acropolis, Athens, where St Paul made his famous speech revealing the ‘unknown God’.
Altogether, Paul made three missionary journeys. His first journey began in Antioch (Turkey) and his third missionary journey ended in Jerusalem.
Our own pilgrimage began in Corinth (where Paul stayed for 18 months), and ended in Antioch, the “headquarters” of his missionary journeys. As we arrived in places like Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus (Turkey) and essalonica, we felt like the new Christians being addressed by Paul in his letters.
Kavala (ancient Neapolis) was where Paul first set foot in Europe. Philippi is noteworthy because it was where Paul baptised the first Christian convert (in Europe), a woman named Lydia.
The Ancient Church
From Nov 28 to Dec 7, 2010, our pilgrimage took us to Egypt. By the providence of God, we were spared being caught in the political upheavals of the “Arab Spring” that took place in Cairo in early 2011, a few months after our visit.
We had a “travelling choir” of some 10 to 15 members. e harmony of their voices was beautiful, especially in places with natural acoustics like the natural cavern sanctuary of the “Rock Church” of St Marcus in Cairo and the two Coptic Orthodox monasteries of St Bishoy and St Anthony in the Egyptian desert.
Within minutes of our arrival in Cairo, we were in the sanctuary of the All Saints Episcopal Cathedral (Anglican Church) next to the hotel, for our first evening devotion in Egypt. is is the land of Moses and the Ten Commandments, the land where the Holy Family took refuge from Herod.
At every morning and evening devotion, we learned a little more from the Bishop’s teaching. Up to a thousand years ago, the Christian Church was ONE.
There were five Patriarchal Centres: Jerusalem, Antioh, Rome, Alexandria (in Egypt) and Constantinople. ough there was only one Church, there were many conflicts within. In 1054 AD, the Roman Pope separated from the others and claimed universal leadership of the whole Christian Church.
Egypt is just as remarkable in another sense. Although Alexandria was one of the five Patriarchal Centres of the early Church, Christians today comprise only 10 per cent of the country’s population. In an enclave known as “Garbage City”, it was an unexpected sight to see so many Christian crosses decorating the doorways of houses in this predominantly Muslim country. e area is known as “Garbage City” where 95 per cent of the residents are Christians! Most of them here make a living by collecting, sorting and processing garbage. Muslims and Christians in Egypt had co-existed peacefully for centuries.
In the midst of the current political tensions and sporadic acts of violence against Christians in the country, we pray that peace will return.
It has been said that a great deal of the Protestant Reformation was based on Paul’s teachings. e oft-quoted example is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The Reformation is the theme of our 2007 pilgrimage, titled “Pathway to Reformation”. e countries visited are Switzerland, Germany and France. The pathway to Reformation was by no means a smooth straight road.
Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation, is generally acknowledged as the person who ignited the Protestant Reformation by a single act on Oct 31, 1517. On that day, he nailed the “Ninety-Five eses on the Power and Eﬃcacy of Indulgences” on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg which we visited. is single act by Luther does not in itself constitute the Reformation.
In numerous other places on our pilgrimage we visited sites associated with other “giants” of the Reformation such as Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin and John Knox, who had contributed to the movement.
Our Wesleyan heritage
The theme of the seventh pilgrimage focuses on “Our Wesleyan Heritage”. It was an unusual journey that took us back into 18th and 19th century England, the birth place of Methodism.
We arrived in London in the late afternoon of March 10, 2012, in good time for our first evening devotion in the sanctuary of Hinde Street Methodist Church. It was to be our venue for devotions during our entire stay in London.
We visited the Methodist heritage sites in London, including the two most important – Aldersgate Street (where John Wesley’s “heart was strangely warmed”) and Wesley’s Chapel (built by him).
The seven days spent outside London took us on a 2,200-km Wesleyan heritage trail to Gwennap, Trewint, Bristol, Newbiggin, Bishop Auckland, Durham, Epworth, Sheﬃeld and Oxford, before we returned to London. It is an inspiring story of John Wesley in 18th century England: his “field” preaching in Bristol, his itinerant preachers’ travels in the countryside, and the establishment of “societies” throughout the country.
We also had a glimpse of the 19th century, of what happened after John Wesley’s death in 1791: the coming into being of “Methodist New Connexion” and “Primitive Methodism”. All these will be featured in the final Part 3 of this series in the November issue of Methodist Message along with snippets and sights of our Wesleyan heritage. Part 2 next month will bring you highlights of St Paul’s journeys, the road to Reformation, Egypt’s role in the early Church, and our pilgrims’ personal reflections. – with additional reporting by Peter Teo.
NEXT ISSUE: Mementos of our journeys
Peter Chen is a member of Aldersgate Methodist Church.