My brothers and sisters,
It feels good to be back home here at Mount Carmel. As you all know, I have been away for several weeks traveling! I would like to take this opportunity to share with all of you my experience. My brother seminarians and I were on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land from January 5-18. This was my first time visiting this amazing place and I must admit it was very transforming. It is an honor and will always be an honor to walk in the same footsteps of Jesus Christ. “Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, our Lord and God,” sums up these two weeks.
The sites that we visited were: Jaffa, Akko, Nazareth, Sepphoris ,Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, Ein Karem, Bethlehem, Masada, Bethany, and Emmaus. This pilgrimage offered each seminarian and myself the opportunity to encounter Jesus in this very unique and personal way. Not only were we hearing about Jesus in the Gospels but we were with Him on the land that he walked. It was indeed and still is a transforming experience. One cannot leave the Holy Land without coming into contact with the humanity of Jesus, to experience what He experience, to see what He saw.
I cannot say that there was one experience that seemed to be the highlight of the pilgrimage. Each site that we visited, each thing we saw, we found ourselves saying, “it cannot get better then this” and somehow it did. To try to understand what this pilgrimage was about, I invite you to open up the gospels and read it, because what you read or hear at Holy Mass, we were present. There is so much truth in the saying that the Holy Land is the fifth gospel.
I would like to share with you some of my experiences. Friday, January 15th we had early morning Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre which is the burial site of our Lord. Please understand what a privilege it was for us to have Holy Mass at this Holy Site! The tomb of Jesus is very small and only three people could fit into it, so it was just enough room for the priests. We stood outside the tomb in a little chamber and celebrated Mass together. I had the privilege of reading at this Mass. This is the spot where Jesus our Lord was raised from the dead, so Jesus was no longer present in the tomb but during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the words of institution of Msgr. Swiader (Vice Rector) and Msgr. Vaccari (Rector), Christ was present in the Eucharist in His Body and Blood. After Mass, each of us at the opportunity to spend time in prayer and to venerate this holy site before the crowds came.
One other experience that I would like to share with you was walking the stations of the Cross. For years, I have always tried to imagine what it was like for Jesus to take up His cross and carry it, to experience what He experienced. I have read devotional books, seen videos, and the most famous of all, the film “The Passion of the Christ,” by Mel Gibson. Nothing in my perspective comes close, then walking in the actual footstep of Jesus. We began the stations at the Chapel of the Flagellation, where Jesus was tried and condemned by Ponius Pilate. Together we carried our own personal crosses that we carry in our lives as we retraced Jesus’s last footsteps just before His crucifixion which brought us to Calvary.
The part that made it all very special for me, was the honor of bring your prayer intentions with me to all these Holy Sites. All of you were in my prayers. What is great about bring your prayer intentions is that you were present with me in prayer at all these Holy Sites. In a spiritual way all of you were on pilgrimage with me. All the prayer request, all the crosses that we carry were left in the places that came into contact with Jesus Christ. That leaves a deep satisfaction in all of our hearts to know that our prayers are with Jesus Christ. I thank all of you for taking the extra time few weekends ago to write out your prayer intentions so that I was able to bring them to the Holy Land. All of us have benefited from this powerful experience.
On January 18th we packed our bags and spent 24 hours traveling from Tel Aviv to London and London back to New York. What is awesome about this pilgrimage is that it never ends. Every time, I open up the Scriptures, or hear it proclaimed at Mass, I go back to these Holy Places in mind and spirit and remember your prayer intentions that you all have entrusted me with. I thank you for that. If you have not yet had the opportunity, please check out the blog that myself and another seminarian posted almost daily with our experiences.
United in Prayer,