In antiquity, especially in the Holy Land, the pilgrimage had mostly a penitential function, also due in part to the difficulties that such a mission involved: long and difficult journeys, discomfort, political problems and so on.
Pilgrims were animated by very deep faith and were even ready to die, which sometimes happened in the course of their journey.
The pilgrimage was also an opportunity to expiate their sins, which was shown symbolically when they replaced their ordinary clothes by those of the pilgrim, the expression of their wishes.
Today, with the comforts of modern life, luxury hotels and fast means of transport, that external aspect of repentance has been lost and the pilgrimage is often converted into tourism, even for those go on it for strictly religious reasons.
The truth is that being pilgrims is no easy task.
The most important thing of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is the interior decision to answer the call of the Spirit in a personal way, like a disciple of Jesus.
Therefore, the pilgrimage is also “a path of conversion”: the pilgrim has the chance to live out the experience of the prodigal son, he who knows sin, the harshness of the ordeal and repentance and the sacrifice of the journey, but who also knows the embrace of the merciful Father who leads him back to life (cf. Luke 15,24).
In this process of “life change” to be oriented towards God, participation in the sacrament of reconciliation will be required, where the pilgrim realizes his sin, confesses his faults and receives the grace and pity of the Lord.
In such a context, the encounter with the Holy City should start from the Mount of Olives, more precisely from the Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit, the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, deaf and blind to the Saviour and the symbol, for this reason, of our insensitivity: "If this day you only knew what makes for peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19,41-44).
Refusing Christ meant war and destruction for Jerusalem.
Fr. Artemio Vítores, ofm
Vicary of the Custody of the Holy Land