Home' The Southern Cross : August 2016 Contents Page 10 August 2016
Southern Cross | news
Watching the nightly television news
nowadays is a heartbreaking experience
for Herta and Burckhard Deyerling from
Inevitably it will feature vision of the
latest bombings in Syria or images of
refugees fleeing by foot to the safety
of neighbouring countries as a civil war
rages around them. It will show a country
that has been torn apart over the past
five years, a country fractured by the
influences of different religious groups.
To see Syria in such turmoil is “absolutely
terrible” according to the German-born
Deyerlings, who experienced a much
different country during their 800km
pilgrimage from Antakya, in southern
Turkey to Jerusalem in 2011.
Together with a friend from Germany, they
were the last foot pilgrims to pass through
Syria before the borders were closed.
Although they became used to being
stopped by the secret police each day to
have their papers checked, the trio found
the Syrians were peaceful and quick to
offer “ancient hospitality”.
“It was a total surprise, as we didn’t know
there would be no hostels and no place
to stay in these little villages,” explained
“We would walk into a village and a lot of
people would surround us – usually men.
We didn’t speak Arabic but we would use
a bit of sign language and usually out of
the crowd one or two would come forward
and indicate to follow them.
“We were typically invited into a house
with a number of rooms and after a bit
of talking in English, Arabic and sign
language – with lots of laughter – the
dinner was served. When it was time to go
to sleep the hosts brought blankets and
pillows into the living room for us.
“In the morning we had breakfast and then
departed with lots of waving and good
wishes, like old friends... and all this for
strangers who came along from nowhere.”
Burckhard added that while the Syrians
hosting them were Muslim and they knew
their guests were Christian, it was of little
“What a wonderful getting together it
was,” he said.
“When you read about history in Turkey
and the Middle East, it was quite common
that different religions lived peacefully
together under the protection of the
Muslim ruler. What a change to today
where very few people live in harmony
anywhere in the Middle East.”
He said the people they met on the roads
often stopped to offer them a lift as they
were amazed that they would want to
undertake the pilgrimage by foot. But
for them, it provided a wonderful way to
experience the “spiritual connection” to
the old country.
Throughout the five weeks they spent
in Syria, the Deyerlings also stayed in
monasteries and churches. The nuns and
priests who crossed their paths may have
had a premonition of what was about to
happen in their country, as they all asked
the pilgrims to ‘pray for us’ when they
reached the holy city.
There were some beautiful memories to
treasure from their three months on the
road, including staying at a monastery
in Ma’aloula, an ancient town where the
people still speak Aramaic, and another
monastery at Mar Musa, perched high up
on a mountain.
“From the Christian point of view it was
very lovely that we could do it the old
way – by walking. When we arrived in
Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre and we had a list of names and
prayed for people in different countries, it
was really a case of, ‘hey we have arrived
and we did it under our own steam’ –
and that was an incredible feeling,” he
The couple, both now 73, have also
completed the two other major pilgrim
routes from medieval times – to Santiago
de Compostella, which attracts more
than 200,000 people annually, and to
Rome, which is undertaken by hundreds
of pilgrims. According to their research,
when it was open, around only 50
pilgrims completed the route from Syria to
Jerusalem by foot each year.
They hope that Syria will find peace again
someday and in the meantime they make
financial donations to support those who
have been displaced from their homes,
or refugees who have left for the safety of
“We are extremely saddened and horrified
by what is happening in Syria today. It
was one of the most interesting countries
we visited in that part of the world,” said
“We are still left with the feeling that we
really made an effort to reach Jerusalem,
not as a package tourist, but the old
fashioned way, meeting the people and
experiencing the land step by step.”
Foot pilgrims lament Syrian crisis
Herta and Burckhard Deyerling were the last foot pilgrims to cross Syria before it descended into unimaginable chaos in 2011.
They experienced a completely different Syria to the one now portrayed in the news – a country of warm, hospitable people
who welcomed them with open arms, despite differing religious beliefs. Lindy McNamara reports.
FAITH-FILLED FOOTSTEPS: Herta and Burckhard Deyerling during their five week pilgrimage through Syria, and below,
enjoying the hospitality of villagers they met along the way.
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