St Aidan's Pilgrims visit the Holy Land
There are more than a few tales of foreign lands being told across Enniscorthy of late, after a group of 41 returned from the St Aidan's Parish Pilgrimage to The Holy Land. While the parish pilgrimage has previously taken in the likes of Rome, Fatima and the birthplace of Padre Pio, this was by far the biggest trip yet and it was nearly a year and a half in the making.
'I suppose we started planning it in May or June of 2017,' said Fr Billy Swan. 'It all came together nicely in the end though. O'Leary's travel agents were who we went with and they did a great job as did Patricia McNally our group leader. There was a fair bit of travel involved and we were over there for eight days, four of which we stayed in Nazareth and four in Bethlehem. The idea was to return to the place where faith in Christ was first born, so that our faith might be reborn. We were going back to explore and connect with these historic places.'
It was a jam packed few days for the group, most of whom are parishioners of St Aidan's Cathedral, as they travelled around seeing all the sights. Given the fraught tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the region many would be apprehensive about such a trip but Fr Billy said there was nothing to be concerned about.
'It was all okay from that point of view,' he said. 'We didn't really sense any conflict while we were out there. You do notice a change in conditions when you enter through the wall in the West Bank into Bethlehem where we were staying though. It is divided land. Strangely enough, a bus was swept away in a flash flood at the Dead Sea on the Jordan side the day after we left. That was our only close call.'
For many of the group, Fr Billy among them, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience and they got the chance to see things that many of us will only hear about.
'It was demanding,' Fr Billy said. 'We had lots of early starts. Everyone on the trip had their own personal highlights, but for me I suppose three things stick out. There was the boat ride in the sea of Galilee, which was an amazing experience having read all the stories of the Gospels from there. Then we went to the Church of the Agony in the Garden at the Garden of Gethsemane which was amazing and we also attended mass at the rock of Calvary where Jesus died.'
'It really was a once in a lifetime experience,' Fr Billy continued. 'There was a great spirit among the group and the memories will be with us for a long time to come.'