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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Archbishop's pilgrimage to the Holy Land

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land

Thursday 2nd February 2012

Archbishop Rowan Williams made a personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting Galilee, Nazareth, Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and spending time at the religious sites associated with Jesus' early ministry.

Dr Williams described the pilgrimage as an opportunity for renewal and spiritual refreshment.  In an earlier interview for BBC Radio 4's "Sunday" programme, broadcast on Christmas Day 2011, the Archbishop said that a pilgrimage should be something special and meaningful:

"When I choose to make a pilgrimage it's not just to make a trip, it's not just to do some sight-seeing.   

"With a pilgrimage you let things go so that there is enough room for the place and the story to settle in and make an impact.

"It's the company, it's the sharing, and it's also that sense of stripping down."

Archbishop's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Jan 2012. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

Archbishop Rowan travelled with a small group of colleagues from the UK, and throughout the journey members of the party shared their reflections on the experience.  A limited selection of the Archbishop's reflections and speeches are included here (see downloads on the right).

On the Sea of GalileeIn Galilee, the group visited the historical sites of the Mount of Beatitudes (where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered) and Capernaum (the village where Jesus lived during his ministry), and sailed on the Sea of Galilee.

The party then went to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, after which the Archbishop met local Anglican clergy and civic and religious leaders at a reception hosted by Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem.

The following morning a Eucharist was celebrated on Mt Tabor, at which the Archbishop preached on the transformation of Christ.  The Archbishop, Bishop Suheil and the rest of the group then travelled to Zababde in the West Bank to visit the Anglican parish there and to see the health clinic which is run and funded by the diocese. This warm and moving occasion included not only local dignitaries but also children who sang in Arabic and English.

Children singing at Zababde, West Bank. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Jerusalem

In his address at Zababde, the Archbishop spoke about the importance of looking forward in hope to the future.  "Just now we saw the future.  We watched and we listened as today's children sang to us, and I'm sure that all of us will have felt as we listened the question, the challenge - what is their tomorrow, what is their future?  And I believe we will all have been stirred to commit ourselves afresh to make sure that there is a tomorrow here for those people."

Bishop Suheil Dawani, Archbishop Rowan and child in Zababde, West Bank


Baptismal site at 'Bethany beyond the Jordan'On the banks of the River Jordan the next day, the pilgrims renewed their baptismal vows in the rain at the site of Jesus' own baptism.  The party travelled to Qumran to look upon the mountain caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and spent time at the Greek Orthodox monastery of St Gerassimos, located in the desert to the north side of the Dead Sea, before visiting the Mount of Temptation.

In Bethlehem, the Archbishop celebrated the Eucharist in the Chapel of St Helena at the Basilica of the Nativity, and preached about the pronouncement of the good news to the shepherds (Luke 2.8-14) and the relationship between 'good news' for us and 'good news' for everybody else.   The group also visited Bethlehem University where they met students and viewed the new Education building, and had a chance to renew friendships that had developed during the Conference on Christians in the Holy Land held at Lambeth Palace in July 2011. 

On the final day of the pilgrimage, the pilgrims walked the fourteen Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City, and visited the Monastery at Abu Ghosh. The Archbishop spoke about the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35) and how Jesus builds bridges between God and those walking away from God, between the past and the present, and between followers.

Archbishop Rowan and Bishop Suheil in the Church of the Resurrection, Jerusalem

Although the pilgrimage was officially over, the group were privileged to attend a Eucharist the next day in the Chapel of Abraham at the  Church of the Resurrection.  The Archbishop spoke about the presentation of Christ in the temple (Luke 2.22-40), reflecting on how we ourselves are offered as a gift to God and to the world. 

He also thanked His Beatitude Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, for his hospitality and for the commitment shown towards peace in Jerusalem and the region as a whole. 

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