Joaquín Paniello: "The Road to Emmaus shows God's love".

Reconstructing Jesus' conversation with the two walkers to Emmaus, tracing his words in the Acts of the Apostles, Gospels and Old Testament, could synthesize the book Why do you walk sadly? It was written by Joaquín Paniello, a priest living in Jerusalem, and presented at an Omnes Forum on the Holy Land, which was also attended by Piedad Aguilera, from the Pilgrimages Unit of Viajes El Corte Inglés.

Francisco Otamendi-June 30, 2022-Reading time: 10 minutes

Religious destinations are also gaining strength during these weeks, in view of the gradual return to normality. In addition to Rome, the land of the Lord, the Holy Land, has always had a special place among them. 

In this context, "Pilgrimages to the Holy Land after the pandemic" have been the subject of a Forum Omnes held in Madrid, sponsored by Banco Sabadell, the Fundación Centro Académico Romano (CARF), and Saxum Visitor Centre, a multimedia resource center that helps visitors to deepen their knowledge of the Holy Land in an interactive way, located about 18 kilometers from Jerusalem.

Among the attendees were the director of Religious Institutions and Third Sector of Banco Sabadell, Santiago Portas; the general manager of the CARFLuis Alberto Rosales, and other people related to the sector of religious institutions and religious tourism, as well as the director of Omnes, Alfonso Riobó, who moderated the event, and the editor-in-chief, María José Atienza. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also intervened in a video with the author of the book.

Demand recovery

The first speaker was the priest Joaquín Paniello (Barcelona, 1962), doctor in Physics, Philosophy and Theology. He has been living and working in Jerusalem for fifteen years, and has just published 'Why do you walk sadly? La conversación de Jesús con los discípulos de Emaús', a book published by emmausfootprints

Next, Piedad Aguilera, from the Pilgrimages and Religious Tourism Unit of Viajes El Corte Inglés, whom we will later quote at greater length, mentioned some data. "In 2019, the Holy Land received 4.5 million visitors, even with saturation levels in some places. Then came the covid: in March 2020 we were carrying 800,000-odd visitors, according to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. 2019 was even worse. But the sector expects, not long from now, "explosive demand." "In 2023 I think that will be the time when all the projects we have are going to be realized with that normality that we had in 2019. We are looking forward to everyone coming with that hope," said Piedad Aguilera.

A catechesis

The event was welcomed by the executive of Banco Sabadell, Santiago Portas. He pointed out that "today we are once again holding an Omnes Forum in person, or in a hybrid way, also by streaming, and it is a joy for everyone that in this return to normality the first event is with Omnes". 

Santiago Portas thanked everyone for attending and told the author, Mr. Joaquín Paniello, that "once I have read your book, I have become an ambassador for it. It seems to me that reading it is a catechesis that we should all go through to find our way, our true meaning".

The director of Banco Sabadell also thanked the presence of Piedad Aguilera, from Viajes El Corte Inglés, "our partner, with whom we have formalized an agreement to assist our clients in their trips to religious destinations and pilgrimages". Finally, he thanked the Latin Patriarch of Jesusalén, Monsignor Pierbattista Pizzaballa, a member of the Franciscan order, for his intervention.

Pilgrimage, a form of prayer

The director of Omnes, Alfonso Riobó, then thanked Santiago Portas and Banco Sabadell for "the hospitality with which they are hosting this colloquium today". "The theme that brings us together, the pilgrimages in post-pandemic times," he added, "arouses many memories, at least for those of us who know and read the Gospel frequently, because in this passage [that of the disciples of Emmaus] perhaps the first of the pilgrimages, or at least the first of the Christian pilgrimages, on the very day of the Resurrection, is exposed."

"And if we think of the Holy Land, probably one of the emblematic places where memory and imagination stop is the Road to Emmaus, whether we know it or not, perhaps we will know it soon," added Don Alfonso Riobó, who recalled the words of an Italian priest, Don Giuseppe, who recently had the opportunity to be in the Holy Land, after having waited a long time for it.

Giuseppe wrote, "Returning to the Holy Land is a great gift, because here are the roots of our faith, the presence, the life of the Lord, the life of the Church. It is really a return to the sources. After such a long time, it is a precious gift at this moment to be able to give life to this form of prayer that is the pilgrimage, a form of life that allows us to enjoy the beauty of the Lord". 

Reflection on Emmaus and the Luke passage

"It is not a travel book, nor a prayer guide for the pilgrim, but a reflection on that place and on that passage," said Alfonso Riobó as he introduced Joaquín Paniello, who has written the first book to present in dialogue form the conversation of Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

But he has achieved this by reconstructing in its pages more than two thousand years of history told "through direct and effective images, which reveal a profound biblical knowledge, theological-philosophical rigor and great respect for the sources," said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who prefaced the book. 

"I would like to make a comment and link the theme of pilgrimages with the reason for this book on the Camino de Emáus," said Joaquín Paniello. "First I have to say that I have not made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, because I went, and I stayed. When we go to the Holy Land, we go thinking about the things of the Lord, of Jesus. But sometimes we miss a dimension of the root. Because Jesus was a Jew, he lived Judaism, he lived many things related to Judaism, and sometimes we leave many things aside, and we miss many things that are very much at the root".

"We know very little of the Old Testament."

"I have to confess that being in the Holy Land I have begun to appreciate the Old Testament and the Jewish people much more. There are many things in our liturgy, in our prayers, in the blessings, that refer to how the people of Israel, in the first century, lived Judaism, and how many of the things have been inherited to our days".

What does that have to do with this book? When we go to the Holy Land we have to see the Old Testament behind it. We Catholics know very little of the Old Testament, and we miss out on a wealth of information". "Now, we need a guide in some way. And I realized that when I was there".

"The Saxum Visitor Center was born to transmit the figure of Jesus and the Holy Places. When the project started, I had to follow it from Rome, but then I went to Jerusalem in 2010, and I was able to follow, even before starting to build, a matter linked to the permits (the land had not yet been purchased), and collaborating with what the professionals were doing, what could be the basic idea to transmit what we wanted there," explained Joaquín Paniello. 

"We realized that he was on the Emmaus Road, and that being on the Emmaus Road summed up everything that was wanted at that center," the book's author reflected. "That it was, in a way, that people passing by could say, like the disciples themselves, 'Didn't our hearts burn within us when he spoke to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?' And what did Jesus say? What did he explain to them? That's when I started to get into it."

"They needed to talk about the prophecies."

"I had not studied the Old Testament in such depth. I had in theology classes, etcetera. And I noticed a couple of things that really caught my attention," added Joaquín Paniello. "One is that the early Christians needed to talk about the Old Testament, the prophecies in particular, and how they had been fulfilled in the life of Jesus, in order to present Jesus." And St. Justin, for example, in the second century, when he wrote to the emperor, it was not enough for him to present Jesus by saying that he was an extraordinary person, that he performed miracles, etc., but he begins by saying: in the Jewish people there is a figure who are the prophets, who said what was going to happen in the future. And he introduces Jesus as the one in whom the prophecies are fulfilled".

Situation similar to that of St. Justin

"Right now we are in a situation similar to that of St. Justin. We have to talk about Jesus, and many people think that Jesus was a great figure, a great man, and that's it. No, wait a minute, there is a plan of God from a thousand years before, David for example, and even before, the blessing of Jacob to his sons, where it already says that someone is going to come, that Judah is going to have a scepter, that he is going to be King -Judah at that time was only one of the sons-, and that this reign was not going to be lost until the one we were waiting for came. It was sixteen hundred years before Christ".

"There is a whole plan, and as it gets closer it intensifies, and the prophets become more and more concrete, telling us what has to happen in the life of Jesus, and how it will be fulfilled later in his life," Joaquín Paniello emphasized. "Of course, this introduction does not mean that Jesus suddenly appears, a great character, son of God, but that there is an introduction that seems to me very important for evangelization". 

That was one of the things that caught the attention of this Catalan priest based in the Holy Land. But there is more. "The other has to do with sending the first version of the book to many people, who gave me comments, and I gathered a lot of things from many people. The book in the end is not only mine. One of them told me: whenever I read chapter 24 of St. Luke, I get angry, because St. Luke says that the Lord told them everything that Scripture says about Himself, and he says nothing!

The authority of Scripture

"But I realized that he does say a lot, but not there," Paniello argues in his book. "St. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. And in both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles there are many references to prophecies (they already appeared in St. Matthew, a little earlier). And in the Acts of the Apostles there are many speeches of some of the apostles".

"Those discourses would be long," the author continues, "and St. Luke includes a prophecy in each discourse, which logically came from the conversation with Jesus. It is the only time that Jesus speaks to his apostles not from his authority but from the authority of Scripture. There is only one passage, something similar, that of the Samaritan woman, who begins to speak with him. But here he is reasoning everything from Scripture, so that they realize that everything has been fulfilled in the life of Jesus. That there is a long plan of God. There are many things that, being there, you realize more deeply". 

Jesus is transforming them

"The disciples of Emmaus were deeply discouraged, saddened. Their state of mind was one of total disaster," Joaquín Paniello pointed out in the colloquium, in a moment that seemed central to his brief presentation. "From there to returning to Jerusalem at nightfall, there is a whole journey with Jesus that transforms them. The first thing Jesus had to do was to make them understand that the Cross could have a meaning. That the Cross is not really incompatible with the love of God".

"That part seems to me to be the first thing to turn our own experience around. Understanding what God is like and that God's love is also manifested there is very important. I would say that the thread of God's love is fundamental in the book, because it is about highlighting that God's whole plan is for love. Everyone who reads this book will find new things", he concluded.

Experts in the Holy Land

"The Holy Land is the Promised Land. A land of infinite paths, a whole world of surprises and sensations. A place where the sacred becomes everyday and close to be felt in its varied landscapes, in its delicate aromas, in its culture, its history..., and above all in its deep silences that invite reflection and prayer".

So begins the description made by the Pilgrimages and Religious Tourism Unit of Viajes El Corte Inglés, of which Piedad Aguilera and her team are part, of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. "A journey unlike any other, which should be made at least once in a lifetime," as Piedad Aguilera said at the Omnes conference, in which "pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a journey through the scenarios of the Old and New Testament, a journey through time, a journey through the melting pot where different and varied cultures converge, eagerly seeking a new path that leads to peaceful coexistence between the different cultures and religions that are manifested in it".

At the Omnes Forum, Piedad Aguilera began by recalling the recently signed alliance between Viajes El Corte Inglés and Banco Sabadell "to boost spiritual and cultural travel to religious destinations. It is a project that we have launched with great enthusiasm and excitement.

Regarding the book by Joaquín Paniello, Piedad Aguilera pointed out that "from a technical point of view - we are dedicated to the world of travel - this biblical journey, this historical journey, can add much value to our routes, especially starting at the Saxum Visitor Center, which we know, which provides a fantastic location for our pilgrims of what the Holy Land means. If we then also take that route, as far as we can, to Emmaus-Nicopolis, it will be fantastic".

Comply with the pilgrim's expectation

"It is true that it is a bit complex for us to synthesize our projects in seven days," acknowledged the director of Viajes El Corte Inglés. "What we are looking for is simply for the pilgrim to let himself go and not have to worry about his flight, accommodation, etc., and to synthesize that agenda."

"We like to emphasize that the pilgrimage begins when we have the meeting with our group, because there we have to detect what is the real motivation of the pilgrim. And based on that, we select the places, where we do the Eucharist, and above all, it is very important to detect the pastoral and that liturgy of faith, so that the pilgrim receives what he expects to receive, and his expectation is a success".

"What could be better than the trip to the Holy Land!"

"We are not dedicated to evangelization, but I believe that all of us who are here have the obligation, from our fields, and after the pandemic, to boost that confidence and that guarantee to the traveler, to have that desire to experience that experience. and what better than the trip to the Holy Land," encouraged Piedad Aguilera.

"Undoubtedly there are many places in the world, many places of worship, but we always say that the Holy Land is a journey unlike any other. We offer the Holy Land as a trip that you have to make at least once in your life, whatever the motivation of the visitor. We have had groups with a more cultural interest, but everyone who comes to the Holy Land arrives transformed, in one way or another. The pilgrim is the most grateful trip we have. If we add to that the pastoral care of the chaplain priest who is in charge of each pilgrimage, and the Christian guides that we always have at the destination, I think it is a success".

"They have suffered a lot."

"We try to bring the world of the great cultural heritage that we have, both in Spain and in places like the Holy Land, closer to the traveler. And with it we generate that experience that is the proof of everything that happened there in so many centuries, for any believer or non-believer," continued the expert, who wanted to emphasize the help of the Church to all Christians in the Holy Land.

During these two and a half years, "the Christian communities in the Holy Land, not only those in Israel, but also those in Palestine, have suffered a lot, because the visitor brings a wealth and a daily sustenance that in these two years have been very difficult. And it is fair to say that the entire Franciscan Order, with all that it means in the Holy Land, and other religious institutions, have carried out important actions to help these Christian communities, which are a minority in the Holy Land.

"You live together naturally."

Regarding security, sometimes political or social data are offered that create "fear of the Holy Land," added Piedad Aguilera, "but when you visit the old city of Jerusalem and see that you can live there naturally, fears dissipate. Since the last Intifada, I believe that it has been possible to travel with total normality".

Now we are putting in place all the resources, air, hotel, because we are going to face "an explosive demand". And in 2023 I think that will be the moment where we are already adapted, where all the projects we have are going to be carried out with that normality that we had in 2019. We are looking forward to everyone coming with that hope." Piedad Aguilera wished to highlight, finally, "that security that we can provide the traveler, in the structure of specialized people we have in the unit, hiring insurance at destination with comprehensive health coverage, so that the traveler can be with peace of mind in the event of an incident, which can happen to anyone. Our capacity to react to unforeseen events is guaranteed".

The subsequent discussion gave the opportunity to ask numerous questions to the speakers, about the guides, the profile of tourists and pilgrims, about pilgrimage, etc., which can be viewed on the Omnes Youtube account.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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