By Ruby Alleyne
Our Egyptian tour guide, Adel, was an archaeologist and so, in the days that followed, we would learn about ancient Egyptian civilisation as we visited the national museum and archaeological sites.
We made a historic trek down narrow alleys to visit the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Sergius and Bacchus (also called the Cavern Church) which is built over a cave where Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus stayed after fleeing to Egypt to escape persecution from King Herod.
The Cairo experience was an interesting one as, for a few short days, we lived the experience of being a religious minority and of wandering through the arid desert seeking a space in which to pitch our tent.
Commenting on our Mass in a hotel room, (churches were not open on weekdays, for security reasons) one pilgrim reflected that “what seemed impossible was possible with openness and sacrifice and that we experienced a deeper sense of togetherness as members of Christ’s Body”.
A dinner cruise on the Nile River, during which we celebrated the 80th birthday of one of the pilgrims, would bring the first leg of our journey to an end.
As the boat glided along the Cairo shoreline, pilgrims enjoyed a spectacular light show on the water in a relaxing atmosphere and in a spirit of camaraderie and fellowship.
Early next morning, we boarded a flight to our next stop – Amman, Jordan.
As we landed, there was a sense of anticipation for we knew that we were now beginning a journey on land, which historically many of the prophets and saints made on foot, and which would take us along a path that Jesus followed to Jerusalem.
We travelled to Jordan on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima and so we sang traditional Marian hymns and prayed the rosary on the coach ride to St George’s Church with its Byzantine mosaics, including the oldest map of the Holy Land that exists today.
“Then, leaving the Plains of Moab, Moses went up Mount Nebo” (Deut 34:1). This would be our next stop and we stood in awe at the view of the surrounding hillsides and across the Jordan Valley, transported back in biblical history to the time when the Lord showed Moses the Promised Land.
We would celebrate Mass there, as we did every day throughout the pilgrimage. Every morning on the coach, we would also pray the Divine Office, meditating on the mercy and the love of God as we set out on yet another biblical adventure or to visit a historic site, seeking through these experiences a personal and communal encounter with God.
Our land voyage took us next to Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction. An ancient city, artistically carved into the mountains, Petra with its steep gorges and granite and sandstone architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Early the following morning, we would leave for what promised to be an unforgettable desert adventure in Wadi Rum, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our day in Wadi Rum, which is in southern Jordan near the border with Saudi Arabia, was a breathtakingly beautiful desert experience.
Ironically, this thrilling adventure took place in the wilderness through which Moses led the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. The dramatic landscape was stunning, and we marvelled at God’s creation.
Our two-hour Jeep Safari was exhilarating as it included what can only be described as a high-speed chase over undulating terrain in the Khaz’ali Canyon, where scenes of the Academy Award winning movie, Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.
We would stop for tea at a Bedouin tent surrounded by spectacular rock formations, before leaving for our final stop in Jordan.