Paola, 40 years old, and Riccardo, 49, are a couple of walkers who have decided to undertake The Path of the Disciple, a journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem based on the guidance of Silvano Mezzanzana, published by Edizioni Terra Santa. She a teacher, he a former firefighter and scholar of theology today, both of whom share a passion for pilgrimages on foot such as the Camino de Santiago or the Via Francigena, they met at a course to become hospitable, that is, to learn to welcome pilgrims in donative hostels. During their journey they stayed in the guesthouses of the Association pro Terra Sancta and Mosaic Center Jericho and visited some activities. Intrigued by their history, we asked them to tell us about their adventure in the Holy Land and the most significant moments of their journey.
What brought you to the Holy Land and what prompted you to make a pilgrimage on foot?
We met by doing the thing that belonged to us most and we liked it better: walking and welcoming others. On 25 July last year, we were married on St. James’s Day. This trip is a bit like our honeymoon, we managed to organize it thanks to the gifts of friends and relatives. After having traveled the roads of Santiago and Rome alone, we had the desire to come to the Holy Land together on foot.
We like to travel, but we realized that when you travel just to see the places you can’t get in touch with people like when you are walking. Walking you have time to understand where you are, to get in touch with the place in a profound way and to really meet people.
Could you briefly tell about the trip and some significant episodes?
The journey in the Holy Land is very different compared to other destinations. In twelve days, following the guidance of The Path of the Disciple, we crossed Galilee, Samaria and through the desert of Judah we arrived in Jerusalem. It is an adventurous journey, both for the less signaling of the route (we based ourselves on an application with GPS connected to the guide), and because, being less frequented, it has fewer accommodation facilities and consequently we must stop in more obligatory stages. For these reasons we recommend that you be at least two or rely on a local guide.
The peculiarity of this trip is definitely coming into contact with the local population. Although there was an initial fear, especially mine [admitted Paola ndr.], Before entering the Palestinian territories because of the news that is often read in the newspapers, since the entrance to Jenin this land has exceeded our expectations. Beyond the chaos and a bit of dirt on the streets to which we can be less accustomed, that is, that has greatly affected us was the welcome and the great benevolence we received. Although people were surprised by the fact that we were walking, the welcome towards the stranger and the traveler was always present.
It is just part of the culture of this people: from the worker in the quarries, to the blacksmith, to the fruit seller, everyone wanted to offer us water, coffee and food. For example, a 12-year-old boy from Jenin who sold candy on the streets offered us free cookies without wanting anything in return. One day even a wealthy immigrant family in the United States welcomed us into their home and the daughter gave a necklace to Paola. At all levels of society, from the poor to the rich, we have received gifts based on the possibility of each without any secondary interest, an aspect that we will always carry in our hearts.
During your journey you stayed at the guesthouses of the Association pro Terra Sancta and the Mosaic Center Jericho, how do you rate your stay at our facilities?
We stayed one night at the guesthouse in Nusf Jubeil and decided to stay one more night in Sebastia. We needed a little rest because the journey in those areas is challenging. We have been able to appreciate the welcome and the particular care towards the guest of your activities. When we arrive at Sebastia or Jericho we have had the impression of being in small oases: the rooms are beautiful, clean and comfortable. Your facilities are an excellent filter that mediates between the country from which we come, Italy and our western standards, and the local traditions of the country we are visiting. Excellent cuisine: we still like to remember Maklube, a dish of rice and chicken, which we ate at Sebastia.
Sleeping in our guesthouses you have got to get in touch with our projects and the local community we work with, do you think this has given an added value to your trip?
Yes, of course, we were very well received by Rami and Shadi who work at the guesthouses. They are guys who manage to convey the passion for their work and the land in which they live. We stopped to talk to them and to some local people, and we could understand each other even if we spoke two different languages. Personally, says Paola, at the Mosaic Center in Jericho I fell in love with mosaics, I was thrilled to see these guys work and create these masterpieces: I’d like to come back to do a mosaic course. In this center one breathed a magical atmosphere and a very familiar climate. We really appreciate your work and we hope that many pilgrims can come to know him.
What has this experience left to you and what do you bring in your heart after this adventure?
It is a journey that we recommend everyone make at least once in their life. A definitely challenging route, but the arrival on foot from Bethany to Jerusalem, after all these days of walking, leaves a unique emotion.
We will take with us the many people we have known. The welcome and the spirit of giving to the other of this people. From the Bedouins who live in the desert, to the fruit sellers, to the children who have always given us smiles and greetings, to the many people who have offered to help us and give us a hand: they are the most beautiful memory of this adventure.