New Holy Land virtual Advent pilgrimage hopes to fill ‘holy sites with peace’ — By: Catholic News Agency

Altar of the Child Jesus and the relic of the manger in the Church of Saint Catherine (Basilica of the Nativity) in Bethlehem. / Credit: Magdala Center

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Magdala Tourist Center, located in the biblical town of Magdala on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, announced a virtual pilgrimage due to the conflict in the Holy Land, which is preventing pilgrims from visiting in person this Advent and Christmas season.

The “Star of Wonder Advent Pilgrimage of Peace” will start on Sunday, Dec. 3, and continue throughout the Advent season. Each Sunday, a video will be released from a holy site and will discuss its biblical meaning and include daily reflections.

Holy sites in the virtual pilgrimage will include Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene; Nazareth; Ein Karem, the place of the Visitation and birth of John the Baptist; Bat Sahour; and Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

The grotto where Jesus was born inside of the Basilica of the Nativity. Credit: Magdala Center

Kathleen Nichols, the director of Magdala’s English media team who leads in-person and virtual pilgrimages, told CNA in an interview that the virtual pilgrimage was “inspired by the conflict here in the Holy Land.”

Nichols and her small team went into the Palestinian Territories to film in the now-empty sites connected with Christ’s birth. Their hope is that virtual pilgrims can fill these places with prayers for peace from all over the world.

“People cannot come in person, and everyone wants to help by praying for peace,” she said. “And so I wanted to fill the holy sites with peace.”

“We hope people can fill the holy sites, especially the site of the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, with prayer for peace,” she added.

Kathleen Nichols inside of the Basilica of the Annunciation. Credit: Magdala Center

The Magdala Tourist Center, which began construction in 2009, is made up of an archaeological park, guest house, and worship center. As construction began, workers who were digging the foundation of the guest house discovered a first-century synagogue. Inside that synagogue, they also found the Magdala Stone, a discovery many archaeologists consider the most significant archaeological find in the past 50 years.

Other attractions include buildings considered mansions of wealthy merchants from Magdala, a marketplace, and four “mikvaot,” which were ritual baths. Additionally, the Duc In Altum, which gets its name from Luke 5:4 where Jesus instructs Simon Peter to “launch into the deep” or “put out into deep water,” serves as a place of prayer and worship for Christians of all denominations.

First-century cave located next to the Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth (Grotto of Mary’s “neighbors”). Credit: Magdala Center

While pilgrims are canceling their planned trips to the Holy Land, Nichols hopes the virtual pilgrimage will help participants “fully understand what true peace is by encountering the Prince of Peace” and that “they [will] be encouraged to return soon to the Holy Land once the conflict is resolved.”

“And especially support the many people so affected by the conflict,” she added.

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