By Ruby Alleyne
A pilgrimage is first and foremost a spiritual journey. Although it is a synodal experience as we journey together with our pilgrim brothers and sisters, it is also in many respects a personal experience.
In May 2023, we departed from our homes in Trinidad and Tobago and the USA and journeyed together as one pilgrim community exploring the history, geography and immersing ourselves in the culture of the places we visited. We travelled to Cairo, Egypt, then to Jordan and made our way to Jerusalem before returning to our homes.
It was a stirring experience, an amazing expedition, breathtaking at times as we gazed in awe at the most magnificent desert landscapes and the stunning works of human hands.
We met old friends, made new ones, and trekked through historical paths following the footsteps of Jesus. It was challenging at times, but during the plane rides, coach trips, early morning wake-up calls and endless walking, many would experience a personal and communal encounter with God.
We left Trinidad May 9 and landed in London. The weather was not what we had expected and the guide there said we must have brought the sunshine with us as it had been raining in London for weeks.
Caribbean pilgrims, as we know, have that special gift of taking the sunshine with us wherever we go, proving that the “sunny” is in our disposition and not in the atmospheric conditions.
We boarded our flight to Cairo and landed in Egypt before sunset. Although some were tired from the long flights, there was a buzz of excitement and the touchdown on African soil was an emotional experience for many with ancestral roots somewhere on that continent.
For those with an aerial view as we approached Cairo, the stark contrast of moving from the lush green hillsides of our Caribbean islands to this vast desert landscape, was an amazing experience.
It was almost twilight and, as soon as we cleared immigration, the coach took us to our hotel. Along the way, we would be enthralled by the view of Cairo at sunset as we crossed the Nile River just as the evening lights came on.
On arrival at our hotel, we were warmly greeted by our beloved Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon who would be our Spiritual Director. He arrived ahead of us as he had just completed his visit to Ghana.
The hotel was like a small oasis in the desert as the grounds featured beautiful gardens with well-manicured lawns, a profusion of brightly coloured flowers and birds which sang sweetly in the mornings.
This was just the first of many beautiful hotels we would stay at throughout our sojourn. We were treated to a sumptuous buffet, and this was the case at many of the hotels we stayed at during our pilgrimage.
As we celebrated Mass that night, His Grace would encourage us to adopt a routine throughout the pilgrimage of reflecting at the end of each day on the graces received.
He asked us to dwell in that moment as we relived the experiences and to express our gratitude to God for His blessings. He also encouraged us to reflect on the moments when we fell short of our Christian duty to love others, when we were less charitable and certainly not the best versions of ourselves.
Ending the day with this recollection and contrition, we would be spiritually recharged to begin the next day with a firm resolve to be better than the day before.
On our first day in Egypt, we visited the Great Pyramid at Giza which is the only Wonder of the Ancient World still standing today.
The Pyramids truly lived up to expectations. “Stunning”, “amazing”, “overwhelming” were some of the words used by pilgrims to capture the sense of awe felt.
Many also expressed deep gratitude to God for the gift of the sheer engineering genius which brought these majestic structures into being and has kept them standing for over 4000 years.
Here pilgrims would explore the pyramids, ride the camels, and visit the Sphinx. A word of caution – camel rides are not for the acrophobic or the faint-hearted! The air became saturated with screams and laughter as a few pilgrims abandoned the ride as soon as the camel moved from a kneeling to standing position and before it even took a step forward!