Day 8: Mount Carmel and Homeward Bound
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The group set off for the airport but went first to Mount Carmel, located above Haifa, on the coast of the Mediterranean known in the Bible as the Great Sea, the home of the Carmelite order.  Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel who had gathered at the cave of Elijah (photo left).  The current Church of Stella Maris is dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, built over the cave and is itself a minor basilica and a place of pilgrimage (photo right).

Mass was celebrated in the chapel adjacent to the Church and the group was joined by a party of pilgrims from Southern California, who were beginning their pilgrimage but without a priest.  Fr Mervyn spoke of pilgrimage being a snapshot of one’s life, and of life as a pilgrimage to God.  He recalled the words of Pope Francis recently that our family life could be summarised in three words:  Sorry when our actions and deeds to others fall short; Please that we should not take things of granted, and Thank You for the actions taken by others on our behalf.  At this Church devoted to Mary, Star of the Sea, a light for sea-farers to return home safely but for all travellers too, he spoke of Our Lady placing her cloak over all the people of the world; it was right to offer Our Lady prayers and thanks at the end of the pilgrimage and at the start of the journey of our Californian friends.

On leaving Mount Carmel for Ben Gurion airport, the Pilgrims travelled past the aqueduct of the Roman City of Caesarea.  It was first constructed by King Herod in 20 BC to provide a steady flow of running water from the mountains.  Caesarea was the capital of the Roman Province of Judea and official residence of its governors, including Pontius Pilate who would have travelled from here to Jerusalem for the trial of Jesus.In Caesarea, Peter preached to a Gentile congregation at the house of Cornelius whom he baptised as the first pagan convert to Christianity.  From the coach, the group was able to see the impressive aqueduct and the remains of the Roman theatre.

On the final journey to the airport, the Christian Palestinian Guide, Heitham from Bethlehem, who had provided much valuable background at each location was thanked by the group, together with the coach driver Asme, who had so often squeezed the coach into seemingly impossible gaps between cars and buildings.

At Heathrow, the pilgrims separated to go to their individual homes but they did so with sadness.  The 46 members of the group felt they had developed a special relationship and had bonded one with another across their different national and cultural backgrounds.  The pilgrimage cemented true friendships based upon a common commitment to a Catholic Christianity – originating not from Oxford, Banbury, Warwick (or Downham Market!), England, or Europe, but from a Middle Eastern town now under siege.

Sadly, this is the last dispatch from your correspondent in the Holy Land who is now signing off having returned home to Wheatley.