"Once I was asked by a friend to guide a woman at the Holy Sepulchre. I don't think she was practicing her faith, but after she came out of the tomb she was weeping. So she was hit by the experience," he continued.
Owusu said the Holy Land has played a large role in the Christian imagination "since time immemorial."
"Believers have always wanted to go back to their roots, to see the places where our salvation history took place. For example, St. Francis of Assisi was so eager to go and see where Jesus was born, where he was crucified, and where he rose again."
A Holy Land pilgrimage "really helps Christians in their belief, it ignites their faith and helps us to understand the Scripture in a different way."
Macora has seen pilgrims weeping at the altar in the quiet Basilica of Agony, near the Garden of Gethsemane, the site where Jesus prayed before Judas handed him over to be arrested.
The Franciscan priest, an American who grew up in a military family, has served in the Holy Land for more than 20 years. Among his current roles is guardian of the Flagellation Monastery in Jerusalem.
Meeting local people is an important part of the experience, he commented, as they are "definitely part of the enduring fascination of the Holy Land." Some people, such as the region's shepherds, maintain cultural practices similar to those of biblical times. The guides who accompany visitors and pilgrims are very important, serving as "an ambassador of his or her people."
He also cautioned that the enduring problems and recent history of the Holy Land, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are something that first-time pilgrims can misunderstand.
"I think that they have to understand how complex the Holy Land is," said Macora. "I think that they need to hear both sides of the story. There is a conflict going on and there are all kinds of sharp rivalries, even between Christians themselves."
Israel is about 75 percent Jewish. Its Palestinian population, largely resident in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, is about 18 percent Muslim and two percent Christian, with both Christians and Muslims tending to identify as Palestinian Arab. The Christian population has largely declined due to emigration. Only about 16,000 of the 870,000 residents of Jerusalem are Christian, a significant drop in recent decades, CNEWA reports.
Owusu said there is more to the region than many visitors expect. While people hear about the Holy Land through news media, which often tell stories of violence and conflict, he stressed the importance of "those stories we don't hear: the day-to-day experiences that go on there among these people, where Christians and Muslims live together in the same place, where Jews and Muslims live together in a particular place."
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"Those things never come on the news," he said. "These are the things that really make the place real. Not occasional crisis, but the day-to-day life that really goes on. That is what people would really like to know."
"It is a place where life continues," he said. "People should not be limited to the bad news, but they should look beyond that and be hopeful."
However, Macora said it is difficult to make deep contact with local people.
"It takes time to understand certain things and this is not easily achieved," he said. "For someone coming to the Holy Land for the first time, there is a lot of information, almost too much, to process on the first pilgrimage."
For Owusu, the Holy Land should never be "a museum where you go and only see places."
"The people are formed in Mother Church, especially the Christians in the Holy Land," he said. "The people reflect the reality and the history of what we know about the place, especially in connecting it to the Scriptures."