One of the blessings, in preparation for deaconate in the Spring semester of third theology at Mundelein Seminary is the opportunity to go to the Holy Land for nine weeks.
Thirty two seminarians were given the experience of the lifetime to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and ending in Jerusalem. I have been touched by all the pilgrims from all over the world bringing their traditions and customs. At the grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally, groups of people sing a Christmas carol in their native language. I was most touched by being able to go and kiss the spot where Christ was born.
One time, I even met a group of Methodists from Iowa and met a student at Bethlehem University who worked an internship, for the Diocese of Des Moines. The world is so small. In Nazareth, one could see where Jesus stayed for most of his life. In Galilee, besides seeing the beautiful view of the sea, one could see where Christ started his ministry.
We’ve also stopped at many national parks where the terms bedrock and crusader ruins became a common place. I even did something that I never do and got into the water and went swimming in the Dead Sea. In the sea, one floats because of all the salt.
With nine weeks, we have been given an opportunity that few receive. Pope Francis was there in the Holy Land for three days in May (23-25) and thus, I’ve become truly grateful.
In Jerusalem, it seems on every corner there is a major historical site. I have become more aware of Judaism and Islam by visiting the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. It was at the Dome of the Rock where I met a Jewish woman born in Moline, saw a John Deere tractor, and a group of pilgrims from the Quad City area, where I am from. Though the Temple Mount where the Dome of the rock is located, is such a point of contention, it was relatively peaceful on my trip in the silence and peacefulness once inside.
There are many things to do in Jerusalem and I’ve taken full advantage of visiting a lot of places. Going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum brought to reality the suffering of the Jewish people. As a former political science major, I went to the Supreme Court building and the Knesset where the Parliament meets. I was amazed at the open access of the government where the people are allowed to attend committee meetings. What struck me the most was the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I have been fortunate to go with the Franciscans at 3 p.m. on Fridays, three times and follow the Stations of the Cross. Though, there are so many people, I see that as a blessing because it shows that Christ still does matter to people. It seemed to me that the world stops while we walk past each station of the cross. People in the stand, soldiers stand, shopkeepers look at us in awe and silence.
I was even able to spend my birthday, March 7, here on a Friday in lent. The date was special, also because three months from March 7, is my deacon ordination, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport June 7, God willing, to which you are all invited to. There is no greater gift that realizing that and God’s love for all of us.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the pinnacle of our faith. Calvary where Christ died on the cross, the place where Jesus was laid and buried are all present. I met on Calvary, an orthodox priest who if I had a beard and ponytail, pretty much looked like me. He even had my smile which freaked me out a bit. The culmination of the pilgrimage was when along with ten other classmates, I spent the night at the Holy Sepulcher. We pretty much had the church to ourselves and I was able to in silence pray for everyone, including all of us. The only rule was to stay awake, which surprisingly I was able to do, easily.
Know of my prayers for you and please pray for me too as I prepare myself for my deacon ordination.