A GROUP of 14 pilgrims, largely from Torbay Circle 81 of The Catenian Association, have recently returned from a spiritual fortnight in the Holy Land of Jordan, Israel and Palestine.
The trip included Fr Brian Kenwrick — Plymouth Diocese — and Sisters Damian and Benignus from the Order of Les Filles de la Croix.
Barney Bettesworth, who travelled with the group, said: "It was an opportunity to visit some of the most holy places mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, to meet some of the indigenous Christians and understand some of the politics in a land so full of conflict, and yet, the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions.
"Many people return home from the Holy Land with their cameras full, but their hearts empty.
"Their visit is little more than a sight-seeing holiday, often in large and impersonal groups.
"Although we returned with many lovely photographs, our pilgrimage to the land of the Bible was quite different.
"It was organised and led by Della Shenton of Fifth Gospel Retreats, a non-profit making operation working in solidarity with the Christian Community in Jordan, Palestine and Israel.
"Its name is inspired by these words from Fr Bargil Pixner, the well-known Benedictine monk and archaeologist: 'Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books, and one, you will find in the land they call holy. Explore the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open up to you'."
The Pilgrimage started on the November 10 from Torquay.
"Each day included morning and evening prayer, the celebration of Mass, often at one of the holy sites, and reflective reading of scripture relevant to the day's proceedings.
"There were also wonderful opportunities to meet the Holy Land's living stones — the Christian men and women, who courageously live out their faith in extremely difficult circumstances in this land today.
"Della has extensive contacts in the local community and wherever we went, we received a warm welcome. Again and again, the local Christians told us how essential it is, that pilgrims continue to come to pray in the Holy Land.
"The theme of our pilgrimage was 'From Moses to Jesus'.
"We flew to Amman in Jordan and commenced our spiritual journey in the ancient city of Petra where Moses struck the rock and drew water.
"The Nabateans made it their capital in the 6th century BC and carved the magnificent structures in the rose-red rock that has made Petra one of the wonders of the world and a world heritage site.
"Before the Nabataean Kingdom was established, it is thought that this was likely to be the Biblical Kadesh-Barnea (Num 13) where Moses camped with the People of Israel on their journey north to the Promised Land from Mount Sinai."
The journey followed the Exodus route to Mount Nebo to view the Promised Land looking across the river Jordan and the Dead Sea to the Judaean hills.
"We then jumped forward 1,250 years to John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan where Jesus came to be baptised.
"We crossed over the border into Palestine/Israel and then took in the birth, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus focusing on Bethlehem and Jerusalem and finally travelling north to Galilee to follow Jesus' ministry both before and after the Resurrection.
"Throughout our pilgrimage following the history of salvation, we were picking up the echoes of Elijah and the prophets of the Old Testament and gazing forward to the new covenant and the beginning of the Christian Church."
Mr Bettesworth said highlights included a visit to Petra, renewing Baptismal vows in the Jordan, Mass said by Fr Brian at 5am in the grotto where Jesus was born, walking through the old city of Jerusalem and spending time at the sites of miracles, at the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
"The exhibition on the the Shroud of Turin offered a well-documented explanation about the Holy Shroud.
"The most outstanding elements of the exposition were the digitalised and life-sized copy of the Holy Shroud, two holograms showing the three-dimensional image of the Man of the Shroud, and a moving bronze life-sized statue of the Man of the Shroud.
"Another high point of our pilgrimage was Eucharistic Adoration and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the Grotto of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth accompanied by very loud thunder and lightening as a storm raged overhead."
5th Gospel Retreats is a non-profit organisation owned by Della Shenton, who is an active member of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Plymouth.
Its mission, with all people of Faith, is to pray and work for peace in the Holy Land.
For more information, log on to www.5gr.org