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'Pilgrimage-the Road to Istanbul' (BBC2 Fridays)

With people self-isolating and having time on their hands, viewing and watching things on TV are becoming regular rituals, but trying to find programmes of real value, comfort and meaning to us is not always easy.

However, I may have a solution for the next few weeks with something that I think will appeal to  those keen on going on a pilgrimage but without leaving their homes.

Each year the BBC has a Pilgrimage series which takes place either before or during Easter where a number of celebrities go on a modern-day pilgrimage to try and learn about faith, what they believe (or disbelieve), understanding and other cultures.

This year the programme entitled ‘Pilgrimage – the Road to Istanbul’ is being shown on BBC1 each Friday at 9pm. The three-part series of one-hour episodes features 7 reasonably well-known personalities as they walk part of the 1,400 miles ‘The Sultan’s Trail’.

The trail they are going on which runs from Belgrade in Serbia to Istanbul in Turkey was originally the one that the Ottoman Empire’s Army used to invade western countries in the 16th century, but it is has now been transformed into a path of peace where pilgrims of all faiths and cultures can come together on their journey.

However, these programmes tend to be only as good as the celebrities going onto the journey. So, who are our fellow pilgrims?

  • Adrian Chiles TV and Radio broadcaster who became a Catholic in his late 30’s and after being invited to a church service (there’s an idea!) and says, “I love faith and I like walking”.
  • Fatima Whitbread World javelin champion and Olympian – a Christian who spent most of her early life in care but said that “Sunday School gave me a sense of belonging”
  • Edwina Currie ex politician who was brought up Orthodox Jewish, who studied classic Hebrew but rebelled from that faith;
  • Dom Joly – comedian and the most committed atheist of the group (“If religion makes you happy then bully for you, but just leave me out of it”)
  • Pauline McLynn- actress probably best known for ‘Father Ted’ who was brought up in Ireland and baptised as a Catholic but has moved away since then (“I don’t need organised religion”)
  • Mim Shaikh a radio broadcaster and actor who is a liberal Muslim (“When I need strength, I pray”)
  • Amar Latif a blind TV presenter who was brought up a Muslim (“It’s made me realise how much people get out of religion, and how much greatness can come out of it”)

What makes the programme a real comfort and joy is that all our group of pilgrims, without exception, are very reasonable people. There are no extremists, and all are prepared to understand what others believe (or not believe) without judging them. 

There are though some sobering moments in the show. On their walk through Serbia, they pay a visit to the Crveni Krst concentration camp where the German Gestapo killed10,000 Serbs, Jews and Romanis during WWII. A difficult experience for all especially Edwina Currie who feels the loss for her community even though she no longer shares its faith.

Perhaps the most moving portions of the show are when our pilgrims sit down for meals and discuss what they believe or disbelieve- and why. In one of these heartfelt conversations Amir Latif speaks eloquently about the fact that “Religion is a great influencer”, and how faith can warm and sustain you.

Let’s say “Amen” to that! Episodes 1 & 2 are still available on the iplayer with the 3rd and final episode due to go out on Good Friday (10th April)

Tags: TV Review, BBC, Pilgrimage, Adrian Chiles, Dom Joly