In the cold and dark of a Canadian winter, the thought of a four-day hike from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee, stopping along the way at sun-drenched religious and historical sites, sounds like an idyllic daydream. But to a group of pilgrims in the diocese, that will soon become a reality.
As part of their 13-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May, some members of the group will hike the Jesus Trail, a 65 km route that winds through towns, villages and the countryside where Jesus walked and had his ministry.
Starting at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the group will hike about 15 km a day. They’ll stop at the ruins of Sepphoris, the ancient town where Jesus and Joseph were thought to have worked in construction, Mt. Arbel with its commanding view of the surrounding countryside and the Sea of Galilee, and Capernaum, the centre of Jesus’s ministry in Galilee.
The Rev. Canon Kim Beard, who is leading the trip, says many people seek out a “physical pilgrimage” as a way to simplify their lives and draw closer to God. “It’s a very meaningful way to leave behind all of the technology and distractions – no cell phones, no computers,” he says. “It allows you time to pray and think and reflect.”
Canon Beard, the incumbent of St. Paul on-the-Hill in Pickering, is no stranger to pilgrimages. Over the past two decades, he has led seven pilgrimages and 20 mission trips in more than 20 countries. For the past two years he has led pilgrims on stages of the Camino de Santiago, the famous route across Europe that ends in Spain.
He says people who go on walking pilgrimages are often in a place of transition in their lives. They’re heading into retirement or dealing with major changes like job loss, divorce or a medical issue. In some cases, they’re in a “spiritual desert” and trying to reconnect with God.
Canon Beard says a walking pilgrimage can focus one’s attention on what’s really important. “I use it as an opportunity to pray,” he says. “You can be silent and listen for God’s voice without a whole lot of distractions. When you’re walking in the rain or on an uphill stretch, you’re very focussed in the moment – not on the future, as we often are, or caught in the past. It really does focus you in the present.”
He has applied learnings from his previous trips to the upcoming pilgrimage. At 13 days, it will be a bit longer than the usual trips to the Holy Land. It will include stops at all the important sites but there will be lots of time for prayer, worship and silence. “It’s designed to really give people time and space,” he says.
To prepare for the trip, he is running a five-week course on the history and geography of the Holy Land and what it means to be a pilgrim. “You have to prepare yourself spiritually,” he says. “You want to think about things like learning how to journal, being silent and deliberately eliminating things that might distract you. It’s about learning to leave those things behind and simplifying your existence, opening yourself to God and creating a space for God’s voice to speak to you. That’s at the heart of the pilgrimage.”
He says hiking the Jesus Trail will be ideal for that. “It will be a very different, slow experience – taking time to think about the places you’re in and what they mean. We’ll have devotions, worship and a scriptural theme for each day, so people can pray and think about where they are and what it means and where God is in their lives.”
Those on the trip who do not want to hike the Jesus Trail will be able to visit nearby sites by bus. Before and after the Jesus Trail excursion, all the pilgrims will tour the Holy Land by bus, visiting important locations such as the Jordan River, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Bethlehem and the Garden of Gethsemane. There will even be a night cruise on the Sea of Galilee.
Canon Beard says a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is not only an important way to draw closer to God but to learn about the Bible. “You will have the opportunity to be in places where Jesus ministered and walked. You’ll have a new appreciation for the Bible. Many of the Bible passages will make eminent sense when you see the geography and the place.”
He hopes to take about 20 pilgrims. Many have already signed up but spots are still available. The trip will take place May 18-30. The cost is $4,419 for those who want to hike the Jesus Trail as part of the itinerary and $4499 for those who do not. Prices are all-inclusive. To learn more, contact Canon Beard at 905-839-7909 by Feb. 28.