By Rand Dalgamouni
AMMAN – A group of Swiss pilgrims, who embarked on a pilgrimage to the holy lands six months ago, have used their stay in Jordan for the past three weeks to reflect on their journey so far.
The pilgrims, who walked all the way from a town in central Switzerland, said their journey through Jordan’s villages and cities has offered them a tranquil respite after a tense period in unrest-stricken Syria.
“The experience… was in contrast to our experience in Syria, where there were feelings of pressure and tension all the time,” Father Christian Rutishauser, programme director at the Lassalle-Haus Bad Schönbrunn in Switzerland, told The Jordan Times on Thursday.
Despite being warned about the security situation in Syria by their embassy in Damascus, the four pilgrims insisted on sticking to their planned itinerary.
They said Syrians gave them information on the safest routes, which helped them complete their 15-day trek through the country without any problems.
The pilgrims are taking the ancient Christian pilgrimage route that goes through the Alps, the Balkans, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.
“We arrived here [ahead of schedule] … so I got the chance to reflect on my experiences,” Franz Mali, professor of patrology and ancient church history at the University of Fribourg, said.
Rutishauser highlighted three goals behind the journey.
“The pilgrimage is first a spiritual exercise,” the 46-year-old said, noting that it is a lesson on how to deepen religious faith.
The Jesuit father added that the goal behind the endeavour is also to determine “how pilgrimage can contribute to the dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews”, noting that it is also “a walk for justice and peace” to a region where peace is “not a given”.
As a professor of church history, Mali said he felt that he should visit the holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
“The situation in the region is difficult; I cannot visit it as a tourist… I want to see the people living in these cities and places,” the 50-year-old noted.
“When I was offered to go on foot in a pilgrimage for six months, I thought it is just the right way to go to these places, respecting the people and their conflict,” Mali told The Jordan Times.
Reflecting on their journey so far, the pilgrims expressed their surprise at the hospitality they have received en route.
“I am moved by the hospitality and helpfulness of so many people,” said Hildegard Aepli, a theologian working with the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese in St. Gall in Switzerland.
“The feeling is that we are not lost, people are always there to help us with food and shelter,” she noted.