A Holy Land reflection from pilgrim Patrick Archer: The themes of birth and renewal are constant in the Holy Land. Lent is a time to renew and strengthen our faith, just as pilgrims do here in this amazing land every day.

Just outside Jerusalem lies the beautiful and peaceful village of Ein Kerem which seems to already be experiencing an early spring as the almond trees blossom. Here is the Church of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56) where Mary visited Elizabeth while they were both expecting and it is here that Mary prays the Magnificat. The birthplace of John the Baptist is also here in Ein Kerem where the Franciscan Church of John the Baptist now stands. Fittingly, we traveled on to Bethlehem where Christ was born six months later. Here in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity where Mary gave birth, we sang Silent Night which was very special even as throngs of tourists or pilgrims passed through.

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Returning to Jerusalem from Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank, we had to cross through the high concrete separation wall (which reminded me of the Berlin Wall), dividing Israel from the West Bank. This wall is a physical and metaphorical of the divide between Jew and Arab and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to a lasting peace. We all should pray for reconciliation and a renewal of the peace process in this holiest of lands for all three faiths.