Those who are regular perusers of these pages will remember my review of Diana von Glahn’s terrific series “The Faithful Traveler” on EWTN. Well now, Diana is back with a new series, premiering tonight at 6:30 pm Eastern on EWTN, which she and her husband David talked about with us recently on the Catholic Weekend show. In “The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land”, the von Glahns take us on the pilgrimage of a lifetime, and you will most definitely want to come along for the trip.
Employing a mix of documentary-style footage, unscripted observations, and interesting interviews, with – I have to say – some beautifully photographed segments and well-designed, appropriately helpful graphics, this six-part series covers many of the places most of us only know from Bible stories. From Mount Carmel, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, to Jericho, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, we are shown all over Israel and Palestine. Along the way we see many amazing things, we meet interesting people, we laugh, and we may even shed a tear.
We also come to appreciate why seeing these places is such a wonderful opportunity for Christians to understand their faith on a new level. As Diana takes great pains to point out, we cannot know for certain, in most cases, whether a particular contemporary structure does in fact stand on the site of the original one from Biblical times. Yet without focusing so much on that issue, she helps the viewer to consider the broader historicity of the Bible. For example, St. Luke in his Gospel describes the Virgin Mary as proceeding in haste to the Hill Country in Judea, to visit the now-pregnant St. Elizabeth. Well and there it is, on screen: the Hill Country of Judea, which as Diana shows us, is very hilly indeed.
Throughout this well-produced series, it is difficult to imagine a more engaging on-screen travel companion in the land of the Bible than Diana. She has done her homework, as any good guide should, mixing a careful balance of providing information of interest to all, with offering some clarification for those who might not have heard of a particular term or concept before. She is a charming, natural tour guide, never saccharine, and clearly enjoyed the experience – that comes through in spades during the series. At the same time, she is also realistic about things, such as how exhausting all of the walking is going to be if you do go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
One technical aspect of the show I personally appreciated, and which a lesser producer would not have bothered to take the time to do, was the incorporation of subtitles when needed. While someone on camera may well be speaking English, we have all been in a situation where we can understand what someone with a thick accent is saying when they are speaking *to* us, but not when they are recorded. The show makes certain that if there is any question about whether the speaker can be understood, the subtitles go in to help the viewer.
I also appreciated the fact that Diana does not just visit the sites one would expect her to, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, although of course she does so and takes part in the pious devotions associated with them to show us how it’s done. However she also takes the time to visit some lesser-known gems in the Holy Land, which I might not otherwise have seen or heard about. The beautiful little Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation for example, is much smaller than the Basilica of the Annunciation nearby, and yet to my mind is a far more beautiful structure. And I was surprised to learn about the Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, with its beautiful blue and white azulejos and religious art from Spain, given that I have a particular devotion to his birthday and connection to that country.
The fact that there were these two beautiful churches, among many highlighted in the series, surprised me a great deal, as I have seen so many images of really hideous structures over there. Of course, there is the sweep of history to consider, and Diana makes the point of explaining – and in some cases being able to show us – how layer upon layer of Christian buildings were built one atop the other, as styles changed and wars and time damaged older construction. Moreover, when she likes something in a building, she likes it, and when she is not so fond of something, she is charitable about it, which is a virtue I could certainly get better at practicing.
Diana also takes time to draw attention to the fact that the native Christian populations in the Holy Land are declining, a phenomenon we are seeing throughout the Middle East. One comes to understand and appreciate that in many cases, these pilgrimage shrines are not just historic sites, but people’s parish churches, and a part of their community fabric. So often in these conflicts the plight of Christians caught in the middle are completely ignored by the outside world, while not-so-subtle threats are posted – as Diana shows us – against those who choose to practice Christianity. The safety and well-being of these communities is something all of us ought to be keeping in our prayers.
You can watch a preview of “The Faithful Traveler in the Holy Land” below, and for air times for all six parts, as well as re-air dates, be sure to check the EWTN website. You can also purchase copies of BOTH series from the von Glahns at their own site, and particularly for those of my readers who are homeschoolers, this might be something very much worth looking into. It is a real pleasure to see my fellow Domer Diana back on television again with such a terrific series, one which I highly recommend to my readers.