A pilgrimage to the Holy Land… in His time

Visiting Israel has been in my travel bucket list ever since August 2011 when I listed down countries, cities and sites that I want to visit in this lifetime.

Nov 10, 2023

Faithfully speaking - Julie Lim Seet Yin

Visiting Israel has been in my travel bucket list ever since August 2011 when I listed down countries, cities and sites that I want to visit in this lifetime.

Since Malaysian passports are not valid in Israel, the only way to visit the country is by joining a pilgrimage. When international travel resumed after the pandemic, a friend and I started planning for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The first group that we had been eyeing was sold out. So, we quickly booked with another tour operator for a pilgrimage scheduled in November 2023. We had paid the deposit in May 2023, which gave us 6 months to prepare physically, spiritually and mentally.

Pilgrimage preparations
I spoke to friends who have been to the Holy Land for tips. Many of them said that if they had the means and time, they would return to the Holy Land for a more spiritual experience. In their maiden pilgrimage, they were fascinated and overwhelmed by the sites, that they couldn’t stop taking photos. As a result, they sort of neglected the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage. Therefore, by returning to the Holy Land for a second time, they hoped to be able to focus on the spiritual bit as they would have already passed the initial sense of awe.

A friend advised me to read through Gospel passages which took place at the sites that we were going to visit, so that the passage would come alive when I visit the site in-person.

I had also bought and started reading the first few chapters of Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. The first sentence in the book gave me goosebumps: “The history of Jerusalem is a history of the world.” YouTube was also my go-to for information on the Holy Land.

Climbing Mount Sinai was part of the pilgrimage, so I started training for it. In jest, I wanted to bring an electronic tablet up the mountain so that I could pose for a photo with it, just like Moses, albeit with a different kind of tablet.

In spite of preparing for the pilgrimage in various ways, there are things that are beyond our control. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”

War broke out
On October 7, the Israel-Hamas war broke out. Initially, the pilgrims in the group were hopeful that the war would end soon so that we could proceed with the pilgrimage. However, as the departure date drew near, and the war escalated, the tour operator gave us pilgrims two options. In Option 1, we had the choice to defer/postpone the pilgrimage to June/July 2024 or Nov/Dec 2024. In Option 2, we could cancel the trip and refund the cost of the pilgrimage, minus RM2,000 non-refundable deposit.

My friend and I decided on the latter, simply because the war is uncertain. If it doesn’t end by 2024, the pilgrimage will remain in limbo; we won’t be able to move on with our lives and other travel plans, and our money will be stuck with the tour operator. It was not an easy decision to cancel the pilgrimage, but I felt at peace after praying about it at Mass.

Whilst my friend and I were discussing whether to postpone or cancel the pilgrimage, we couldn’t help lamenting over our fate, and at the poor timing of it all. I have friends who decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, booked their spot with a tour operator, and completed their pilgrimage all within a few months. Life is unfair, but at the same time, the world does not revolve around me. As I write this, innocent lives are lost in the war in Israel (and Ukraine). Women and children are crying out for help, and all we can do is pray for peace. There are more pressing things going on in this world than to lament over a cancelled pilgrimage.

I begin to see why certain wise people say that whenever something is meant to be (God’s will), the path to achieving it will be relatively smooth sailing. My attempt to visit the Holy Land was certainly not smooth, and in the end, I have cancelled the pilgrimage. Perhaps the wise people are right.

Lessons and takeaways
There are two lessons and takeaways from this incident.

Firstly, don’t plan your travels too far ahead. If you want to make a pilgrimage, or travel to a particular place, and all the factors are favourable, e.g. flight tickets, weather, work schedule, etc. quickly travel within two months, or else your plans may get derailed.

Secondly, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps it is not my time yet to visit the Holy Land, or perhaps it is not God’s will for me to make that pilgrimage at all. Just like everything in life, place the matter in God’s hands. If it is meant to be, it will happen — in His time.

(Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She can be reached at: [email protected])

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