There are many companies and organizations planning trips to the Holy Land, which is why we often get asked, “What makes you different? What is the advantage of taking a Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimage? What do you offer that I might not get if I traveled with another group?”
Good question! And, because we hear it so often, we decided to commit a whole blog to……..
The Top 5 Things That Make Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimages Unique
Pilgrims carry the cross along the Via Dolorosa.
1. We take pilgrimages, not trips.
There are many travel organizations planning “trips” to the Holy Land. After all, Israel is a significant location for three major world religions. However, there is a BIG difference between a trip and a “pilgrimage.” A “trip” to the Holy Land may take you to all the major sites with religious significance, but you would be the person fully responsible for connecting these sites to your faith, to scripture, and making it a “spiritual experience.”
Whereas, by definition, a Holy Land “pilgrimage” IS a spiritual experience, because deepening faith is the exact goal of a pilgrimage. Therefore, all the people on your pilgrimage are there for the purpose of deepening their faith. The pilgrimage will include opportunities for worship and reflection, and your guide serves as a spiritual director, helping everyone to understand the spiritual significance of every site and how it’s connected to scripture and the life of Jesus.
Friars walk with children from one of the Franciscan parishes.
2. We are Nonprofit.
While there are many companies planning trips to the Holy Land, there are also many Christian organizations planning pilgrimages to the Holy Land. However, not many of these are nonprofit organizations such as Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimages.
FHLP is run by THE Holy Land Franciscans, the same Franciscan religious order whose friars live and work in the Holy Land. Since part of their mission is to connect the faithful to the Holy Land so that people all over the world may carry the Holy Land in their hearts no matter where they are, their goal is not to make a profit from planning pilgrimages. Therefore, your trip fees are going toward your trip, but not going toward profits and company overhead.
A room at the Notre Dame Hotel in Jerusalem.
3. First-rate travel, lower prices.
In addition to being nonprofit, we also have little overhead costs. This helps us keep the costs of pilgrimages down; you’ll find that comparable trips are often more expensive. However, we still include first-rate accommodations on all pilgrimages.
A friar cleans the lanterns inside the tomb of Jesus.
4. Access, access, access!
There are many Christian pilgrimages led by biblical scholars, “Christian celebrities,” or well-known priests and pastors. Despite how knowledgeable many of these people are, they’re still not considered to be “locals.”
Holy Land Franciscan Friars are based in Jerusalem; the Holy Land is their home. Our pilgrimage guides are not just people who’ve frequently visited the Holy Land, they are people who’ve lived there. They KNOW the culture, the people, and these sites extremely well.
In addition, many of these holy sites are within the “custody” of the Holy Land Franciscans, meaning the friars are the ones responsible for guarding and restoring them. This means that they have a higher level of access to many of these sites as compared to other organizers. Besides just visiting these sites, you will get to worship and celebrate Mass inside many of them because of that access.
A narrow walkway through a market in Jerusalem.
5. We go out of our way to support Holy Land Christians.
The population of Christians in the Holy Land has dwindled to just 2% in places like Bethlehem thanks to being restricted by the Jerusalem barrier wall. After the wall was erected, people in nearby cities like Bethlehem could no longer travel into Jerusalem for work. This caused the economy outside of Jerusalem to dramatically change, and now people in the area are heavily dependent on tourism for survival.
Our friars know which religious gift shops are actually owned and run by Christians and will direct pilgrims to these places. Some of our pilgrims have even gotten opportunities to dine in the homes of Christian families, getting to have a closer look at what it’s like to be Christian in the Holy Land. Supporting these “living stones” in the Holy Land is another part of the Holy Land Franciscan mission, and the friars go out of their way to help pilgrims form solidarity with these ancient Christians.
We hope this gives you some answers as you are inquiring about and planning your pilgrimage. After you return from the Holy Land, let us know if there’s anything we should add to this list! Email us or leave a comment in the Franciscan Holy Land Pilgrimages Facebook group.