I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.
This is the guiding principle of my life from now on. Many apologies for having been silent for the last few months, but I have had many things to think about, and have experienced conflicting emotions, senses and thoughts taking me from despair on hearing some painful news, to great hope, absolute trust in God, and the wonderful family, friends and of course our team at Pax Travel, whom I cannot thank enough.
The Middle East continues to be an area to be treated with great care. Thankfully, our pilgrimages to The Holy Land of Israel, Jordan and Palestine have continued without interruption, and never cease to delight our pilgrims from the British Isles, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
I am planning a new pilgrimage based on the Gospel of St Mark. More about this in a month or two. We are also taking a group of pilgrims from Aid to the Church in Need to Egypt this autumn to visit groups of Coptic Christians including their Bishops. Not so fortunate are the Christians of Iraq and Syria. For us, Syria was the jewel in the crown of the Middle East, and we took many Christian groups both to Lebanon and Syria, visiting the tragically-fated city of Aleppo, as well as Homs, Damascus, and the wonderful Roman city of Palmyra, now held by the band of criminal psychopaths known as Daesh.
I will not grace them with the term Islamic State, since that is an insult to our many Moslem friends. Daesh has nothing to do with the true meaning of Islam, and the sooner these criminals are defeated the better for us all. Just think of and pray for the many refugees, both Christian and Moslem who are either in fear for their lives, or have lost everything except their faith. I also remember fondly the wonderful pilgrimages we organised a few years ago to Tunisia, visiting Christian North Africa, including to the town of Sousse where criminals from Daesh murdered over 40 innocent holidaymakers a few weeks ago. We saw mosaics from the 2nd and 3rd centuries here, as well as a vast complex of Christian catacombs on the western outskirts of the town containing the remains of 150,000 Christians! Oh yes, and there were pilgrimages to The Lands of St Mark the Evangelist, Egypt and Libya, including the Valley of St Mark, to the East of the pleasant (at the time we went!) seaside town of Al Bayda, where St Mark visited to evangelise the land about twenty years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. When the Arab 'Spring' was heralded by the West about four years ago, did our leaders have any idea what they were encouraging! O tempora, o mores!! Next year is the Divine Mercy Jubilee year in Rome, and we are organising a big programme of tours for parishes and other groups who have commissioned us to organise their pilgrimages for them. It is always a great privilege to be asked, and we will give everything our best effort.
To end this letter to you, I would just like to share the first verse of the psalm which introduced it:
I love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal; for he turned his ear to me in the day when I called him. Philip Dean