Long gap, because I have spent a wonderful week or so in the Holy Land, where Pope Francis has now decided to follow me! I thought I might try and give a hint of what we get up to o these pilgrimages, and what kind of thing I share with the pilgrims during our daily Mass, the heart of our pilgrimage.
We flew out on Monday 12th May and spent the first five nights at the Golden Walls Hotel, facing the ancient city walls. We stayed there on our last visit in 2009, and its location is perfect. We set out on our first day for Bethlehem, but to reach it you have to pass through the oppressive security wall that separates much of the Palestinian Territory from Israel.
A brief walk in the city brought us to the little church of the Milk Grotto (left), where the Holy Family traditionally stopped on their journey to Egypt, either to hide from Herod or to feed the baby - or both! We celebrated Mass in one of the newer chapels added in more recent years, dedicated to Mary, Mother of God.
Here I introduced a theme of the pilgrimage - listening to the voice of Jesus. Here, of course, it was the voice of a baby - God calling out to us through the gurgles and cries of a helpless little one. Bring a baby into a room full of adult strife and everything changes. An innocent bay radiates love and hope for the future, and draws love from those around. So the voice of Jesus, God-made-man, first calls out to us through the most dependent and trusting of human beings - a baby.
We then visited the Church of the Nativity (right), the 6th century building that protects the Grotto marking the traditional spot of Our Lord's birth. The queue to go down was very long... so after a brief visit to St Catherine's, the Catholic church on the site, we returned to the coach and headed off to lunch. This was near the Shepherds' Field, which we visited in the afternoon before returning to the Golden Walls to reflect on our first day.