Church Lads Pilgrimage to Jerusalem
Then to Calvary and Gethsemane
Our main objective on entering Bulgaria was to stop at the first spring and wash the van. After doing this very necessary chore, we continued our journey until we were about four miles from Sofia, where we spent the night.
This second and concluding article describes the last stages of the 7,000-mile pilgrimage we made to Jerusalem by two members of the St Peter’s, Abercwmboi, Church Lads’ Brigade, Derek Aust and Alun Davies, with their captain Ken Sweet, and Mr H. Peters, as co-driver of the van in which they travelled the roads of eight countries. (Written by Derek Aust).
We began the next phase of our journey in; the very-early hours of the morning, only to see that the people were already up in the morning, the streets, and road sweeper, women at that, were about to commence work. Bulgaria again is an agricultural country and most of the workers in the fields were women, and not men as one would expect. Before our exit from Bulgaria, we had clear indications of our approach to the desert, and among the roadsides. The land was becoming more barren, and the heat was becoming more intense.
We camped that night by the side of a lake, about twenty miles from Istanbul, thereby enabling us to have our first swim of the journey.
The following day, the second rest day of the pilgrimage, was spent looking around Istanbul, otherwise known as Constantinople and the former capital of Turkey. Again, we dined out, but not before stopping outside several restaurants and contemplating whether to enter or not. We eventually decided to give their food a try and we were not disappointed because the food was, absolutely, delicious.
Europe to Asia
We then leave Europe to Asia in 20 minutes. Once we had crossed the Bosporus Straits (time taken approximately 20 minutes), we were still in the same country, (Turkey), yet in different continent (Asia Minor). From now on we saw little of scenic Interest the land being mostly barren. Our early arrival in Ankara enabled us to have a brief glimpse of the capital of Turkey.
On the continuation of our Journey the land was again very barren. One noticeable feature was the various colours of the mountain lops. This is probably the result of the perpetual heat cast down upon them from day to day. We also saw former Crusader’s castles, which were something of his historical interest to us. We camped the night at Iskenderun, a military zone, situated 600 miles from the border.
Syria again appeared to be an extremely poor country. The people’s dress and particularly their homes, led us to this impression. It is police state, and we were stopped several times by police who wanted to examine our papers. On the border we met several young boys, and we were astonished to discover that they were learning to speak English in school at nearby Dericia. We arrived that night in Jordan the Holy Land and we spent the night about 100 miles outside Jerusalem.
The following morning, we did not onto Jerusalem immediately but went few miles further on to Bethlehem. Here we visited the Church of the Nativity. We were truly fortunate to be shown round by a guide, who use the complete history of the Church. We saw the actual place where Jesus was born, which was for us the climax of a thorough examination of the Church. We then returned to Jerusalem, the objective of our pilgrimage. It was in the Old City that our interests were going to be centred and not the New City.
We entered the Old City by the Damascus Gate, and then proceeded along the narrow street, until we reached the Via Dolorosa (way of the Cross). We walked along the street, observing the stations of the Cross as we did so.
We had great difficulty in finding the Church of the Holy Sepulture, but we were fortunate enough to ask a priest who was going in that direction. He did not only take us there but acted as our guide. He showed us some of the actual steps which Jesus had trod on His way to Calvary, steps which had been preserved to this day. We then saw the place where he was tried, crucified and then buried. We were astonished to learn from the priest that Calvary was not a hill as we thought, but a big rock.
The next place of historical interest and religious interest which we visited was the Garden of Gethsemane. After seeing as much as we could of Jerusalem, we moved on to Jericho. Our stay there was only a brief one, but we did see what remained of the walls of the Old City.
We set out afterwards for the Dead Sea, the lowest spot-on earth, being 1,297 feet below sea level. We arrived there in the early hours of the afternoon, when the heat was intense, and almost unbearable. We dared not take the risk of going in the sea when it was as hot and so we waited until about six in the evening.
We had all heard that a person could boat on the Sea, but to experience if for oneself was something different. They say that you do not swim in it, but we swarm in it, which was perfectly true. It is one of those things, which one would have to experience oneself to really believe.
We had spent several days in and around Jerusalem and had visited many places of religious interest to on this pilgrimage. For us, the dream of visiting the Holy Land had come true and the fact that have done so we will cherish to the end of our lives.
We had taken 12 days to reach Jerusalem after traveling over distance of 3.500 miles. Alun and I are greatly indebted to Mr. Sweet Rod Mr. Peters, who were co-drivers and who carried out their task competently and efficiently.
On reaching the Syrian frontier, on leaving Jordan, we soon discovered that they were not allowing any tourist to enter the country as a result of a revolution in Damascus. It was only after we had been there three days that they finally allowed us to go. During this time, we became well acquainted with many of the other tourists and, also with the customs officers and police.
“Dai Five Minutes”
There was on Syrian officer whom we will never forget. We repeatedly asked him how long it would be before we I could go through the country and his reply would be “in five minutes,” of course, he was right, but we promptly nicknamed him “Dal Five Minutes.”
Once the frontier was opened it was like a rat-race. However, we were soon back on the road again after three days of anxiety and worry. Our immediate Intention was to traverse Syria as quickly as possible, but our aim was not aided any by the soldiers who continually stopped us to check it our passports were in order.
We spent the night by the Mediterranean Sea, at Iskenderun (Turkey). We decided, after losing much valuable time result of the hold-up at the frontier to get up early in the mornings, thereby enabling us to have good start. This decision was implemented with the utmost success. It was, then quite; obvious that we would not have much time to look around any towns on the way, at least not until we had made tip for some of the lost time.
The next three nights were spent on the outward journey, Ankara, Istanbul and Sofia. It was the morning after leaving Sofia, that we heard of the disaster which had be fallen the city of Skopje in Yugoslavia. It so happened that we had camped the previous night about 30 miles from the city stricken by the earthquake.
That day we made for the house of the Yugoslav people with whom we had become so friendly, on the outward journey. When we arrived there their food and drink set out ready for us as if they knew the exact time of our arrival. They were very hospitable people and extremely kind.
After the meal we had a long discussion concerning such matters as Communion, and comparison of their living conditions and, also, the cost of living with ours. We sympathised with their way of life and tried to give them hope on and some encouragement and some hope for the future.
After another early start, the following morning we were able to make Graz (Austria) by 5 p.m. we decided to have meal in the town. The evening turned out to be one of the most enjoyable since leaving the Holy Land.
Our next destination Munich (Germany) and so we had sufficient time in hand we spent a day there. Then we moved to Calais, where we spent the remainder of our time before settling out for home on the 5th of August, arriving at 3 p.m. the following day.
Our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which had taken nearly five weeks, had come to an end.
We have taken 1.000 feet of film, as well as still photographs, all of us hope that in the, near future we will be able to show them to all who are interested.
It was decided several months before we set out on our pilgrimage, that we would bring back a cross for our own Parish Church of St. Peters and also for the for Church at Ystradfellte, St. Peter’s church Lads Brigade here always held their annual camp at Ystradfellte and every year the people have welcomed us and treated us with the utmost kindness, and so over the years a strong bond has developed between the two Parishes, a bond which will now be strengthened even more by the cross, they have received, brought back from the Holy Land.
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