Some of Melbourne’s pilgrims to World Youth Day are travelling via the Holy Land, taking advantage of an incredible opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and visit sites associated with major events in his life and the life of the Holy Family.

Before making the journey to Jerusalem and walking the Via Dolorosa, the pilgrims have been exploring Nazareth, Bethlehem and Galilee. As they have made their way from the ruins of King Herod to Nazareth Village and on to the Sea of Galilee, they have shared an experience of awe and wonder, and a growing appreciation of how special it is to tread where Jesus did.

Speaking outside of the Church of the Annunciation, one pilgrim, Marnie, commented on the sweltering weather in the Holy Land. ‘It’s nearly 42 degrees out in the sun,’ she said. ‘But everyone has been really brave and pushed through the heat.’

’More importantly, we’ve learned a lot, had opportunities to pray inside the church … We just had Mass there, which was really beautiful, and we got to see the little grotto where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary her pregnancy.’

She said they had also visited Nazareth Village, a life-sized recreation of what a first-century village in Nazareth would have looked like. ‘It’s been a packed day,’ she said, ’but we’re still going strong.’

Marnie said a particularly beautiful moment for her took place at the Church of the Primacy of St Peter in Tabgha, which commemorates the place where Jesus forgave Peter for his denial (John 21:15–16).

I had a confession there with a priest, and it was in the same spot that Peter was reconciled to Jesus when Jesus asked him three times, ’Do you love me?’ … I just found that moment really special, and being able to feel the water and see the rock where tradition says they had their fish breakfast [after the resurrection].

For another pilgrim, Gemma, the experience of visiting the Holy Land is all the more powerful because she only recently entered the Catholic Church.

‘I got all my sacraments last year,’ she says. ‘Ever since I heard about this trip from the Archdiocese, I just felt pulled to this one in particular … The past few years have been a very intense trial of faith, and coming here, I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s breathtaking, being in the land where Jesus walked.

I feel very happy, very peaceful.

This pilgrimage through the Holy Land is also a special time for newlyweds Brigid and Lucas, who were married only a month ago.

At the Church of the Nativity, Brigid says, ‘It’s been such a surreal experience to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and Mary, something on a whole new level.

‘We wanted at the start of our marriage to increase our faith, not just individually but also together in our relationship, so this was the perfect journey so far, and we can’t wait to see what’s ahead on the rest of the road.’

Lucas says that the Holy Land is something ‘everyone should see’. Sharing in the places that were significant to the Holy Family has been important to him as they start their marriage. ‘We’ve learned so much from Mary and St Joseph and how they raised such a beautiful child in Christ, and the way they presented themselves is what we look up to together.’

In Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine at his friend’s wedding feast, Brigid and Lucas also had the special opportunity to renew their wedding vows with Bishop Tony Ireland.

Join the journey online! Make sure you follow us on our socials to stay up to date with our pilgrims and stay connected in prayer as they travel to World Youth Day Lisbon.