I am still in disbelief. I feel like the Holy Land was a dream. I have a hard time comprehending that I walked where Jesus walked. I saw what He saw, felt what He felt. I prayed where He prayed. I encountered His love in a new and incredible way
where He layed it down for me. I knelt in prayer where Mary knelt when she said yes to being the Mother of Christ. I lept for joy (literally, we were taking jumping pics) where John the Baptist jumped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. I knelt where the shepherds knelt, adoring the newborn Savior. I renewed my baptismal promises where Christ was baptized. I sat where Peter sat when he was told to leave his nets behind. I saw wine turned into blood where Jesus first turned water into wine. I received a teaching in the sinagogue where Christ taught. I was on the water that Jesus walked on, the water where Peter learned to trust. I received the Eucharist where Mary Magdelene received healing, where she first encountered true love. I was able to adore Christ in the Eucharist on Mt. Tabor where the apostles adored Him during His transfiguration. I prayed in the desert where Christ prayed for 40 days. I stayed and prayed where Christ asked his disciples to stay and pray during His agony. I prayed for all of you in the Garden of Gethsemane, touching the trees that Christ touched when He was thinking of you. I had confession where Jesus took on my sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. I was mocked as I walked the
way of the cross where Christ was mocked. I received the body of Christ where His body was nailed to the cross for me. I knelt where Mary and John knelt when Christ was hanging on the cross. I was filled with hope, just as the disciples where, in the tomb of the resurrection. I feel like I was given a second chance, I was renewed, I was made new where Christ has been giving second chances, renewing, and making all things new for the past two thousand years. I am still in disbelief.
I want to thank all of you for your support and prayers because I could not have taken part in this incredible pilgrimage without you. I want you to know that I brought you all with me in prayer and I am so excited to share all of my adventures with you!
With telling people I recently went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land comes the follow up question,”What was your favorite place?” To which I respond, “I can’t tell you my favorite place… But I can tell you my favorite experience about every place! Do you have a few hours?” Each holy site came with a new and unique experience of Christ and the gospels. Each place holds a very special place in my heart, because with each place, Christ revealed Himself more and more.
I think one of the reasons this trip was so amazing and life changing is because it really was a pilgrimage. Not just a tour or sightseeing, but a pilgrimage. We had the incredible blessing of having Johanna, a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi, as our tour guide. At each site she read the gospel passage that happened there, she gave us a reflection on the passage and then we had personal time for meditation. Of course the rest of the time we were running around laughing, taking pictures and having the time of our lives, but this is why we were all there: to live the fifth gospel. To see the gospels come to life and to allow our faith to be deepened and our prayer lives to be strengthened.
It was SUCH a blessing to be able to go on this pilgrimage with 3 amazing consecrated and 12 of my missionary sisters. Something that I love about our group is that we just love being together! And to experience the Holy Land together brought our sisterhood that much deeper. I could write pages and pages about all of them and how they have changed my life this year, but that is for another time. Now is time to share all of the incredible experiences that Christ so perfectly layed out.
Arrival (April 2) After 11 hours of plane rides, with a quick stop in Germany, we (four missionaries from Overbrook and I) finally made it to Tel Aviv! It was insane to think that the pilgrimage we had heard so much about, and that we had been anticipating and preparing for for so long was finally here!
We had to die down the usual screaming and tackling that comes with our reunions, but it would be a lie to say we didn’t draw attention with our hugs and laughing. We couldn’t help it! Reunited in the Holy Land. No one could wipe that huge grin off of their face and we just kept saying over and over, “Woah… I can’t believe we are actually here right now!” And so it began. RCMC Holy Land Pilgrimage 2013.
We piled into a huge bus, met our bus driver and soon to be new best friend, Tony (more commonly known amongst us as “TONAAAAY!”), and headed to Tiberius. It was a solid hour ride which consisted of sleeping, learning history about the Holy Land, and taking pictures every two seconds of the goat, the sign in Hebrew, and the Orthodox family walking on the side of the road. (Our favorite phrase became “I’m not a tourist” as we looked around and did something that said “I am a tourist. To the max.”) When we got to our hotel, we unloaded all of our things and took over the third floor. We then headed to the dining room for delicious native Mediterranean food (I still don’t know what some of those things were…), said night prayers and headed to bed right away so we could start early the next morning.
Day 1 (April 3) We were supposed to get a wake up call at 6am, but the lovely hotel staff decided to give us a call around 5am instead. With jet lag as our enemy and extreme excitement as our best friend, there was no way we were getting back to sleep. One of my best buds and roomie, Julie Voss, and I decided to take advantage and watch the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee from our window. It was SO beautiful! Jesus was giving us a little preview of the insane blessings and surprises He had in store.
After breakfast we headed to Capernaum, the town where Peter lived and where Christ did much of His public ministry, for morning mass. When we got there we had a
little bit of time before mass was going to start so we walked down to the Sea of Galilee, read the gospel passage of Jesus calling the first disciples, and had time to pray and meditate on our own.
I found a rock to sit on and soaked it all in. The sun was beating down, a small breeze blowing, and I looked out over the sea and started imagining Christ there. Not only did I imagine the stories in the Bible, but I imagined moments that are more relatable for me: Jesus and the disciples going out in the little boats, splashing each other, laughing, just like we missionaries had done so many times on the lake during the training program in Michigan. I imagined Jesus taking Mary out on a boat for a
picnic. Then I imagined Jesus walking up to Peter, right in front of where I was sitting, and asking Him to leave His nets behind. It was amazing to have the time to reflect on the idea that Christ is asking me to leave my nets behind just like he asked Peter. What are my nets? Am I willing?… After some time I took out a little prayer card that I had been using every day for a while and looked at the picture on the front. It was a picture of Jesus and some disciples on a boat. And it was SO crazy because I looked up at the view, down at the picture, and back again and realized that the mountains in the background of the picture matched up with the mountains that I was looking at (It is hard to tell, but I included a picture. If You click on it you can see a larger view)! It was details like that that made me realize how present Christ was with us on the pilgrimage.
We headed to the beautiful church that was above the house of Peter ! The church walls were made of glass windows so looking forward we saw the Sea of Galilee and behind us were the ruins of an ancient synagogue. Bird were chirping the entire time. In the middle of the church there was a big section of the floor, also made of glass, that looked right into St. Peter’s house. One of our two amazing chaplains, Fr. Juan, had us look into the house while we said the apostles creed. This is where is all started. Upon this rock I will build my church.
After mass we went to the ruins of the synagogue where Christ taught. They were awesome! We took some pictures, had another reflection and just enough time to dip one foot in the Sea of Galilee before we were off to our next stop.
Just looking at the Sea of Galilee is incredible. Not only is it a breath taking view but it is very emotional. This is where Christ was. This is where He walked on water. This is where He calmed the storms. This is where He preached to the crowds. But it is not until you actually get in a boat and go out on the water that it becomes real.
We got on a super cool, old looking boat and did just that. We read the passage of Jesus calming the storms and then had the rest of the time to just reflect and experience. We played “I Can Only Imagine” and “You Are Loved” on the boat speakers. It was so beautiful. You didn’t even have to say anything, pray anything write anything… You could just close your eyes, open your arms, feel the breeze, and experience Christ. Just BE with Him. We were on the boat for almost an hour even though it felt like 10 minutes.
As we were getting off of the boat one of the missionaries
went to get her ipod from the sailer, a tough looking guy. He was very thankful and said the music really touched him. He told her that he had started crying and that he could really feel Jesus present on the boat. One of the amazing things is that almost everywhere we went, through the experiences Christ was giving us, He also touched the hearts of so many others.
Next we headed to lunch at a restaurant called Tanureen. This is the only place that serves whole fish from the Sea of Galilee. I am not a huge fan of fish, but I thought hey, when in Tiberius… It looked terrifying, I am not a fan of eyeballs, but it ended up tasting pretty delicious! No regrets. And it came with french fries, so my American side was satisfied. Lunch was an experience in itself.
After lunch we headed to the Mount of Beatitudes. There is a beautiful church there that is in the shape of an octagon. On each wall is written a different beatitude. It is really cool to say a pray to the Holy Spirit, walk around the church, and when so inspired kneel down, look up at the wall, and see what beatitude you have. And not just, oh that’s nice, I like that beatitude, but that is MY beatitude. Why was I inspired to stop here? What is Christ asking of my? How am I being called to live out this beatitude? I encourage you to open the gospels and see which Beatitude sticks out to you. The church is on top of a mountain so I spent most of my time looking out over the Sea of Galilee.
It was really cool because all of the Beatitudes were written in Latin. I looked at mine and asked someone to translate it. I brought it to prayer, but it did not resinate with my heart, so I kind of forgot about it. Since I arrived home one thing I have been really praying for is purity of intention and purity of heart. A couple weeks ago I was doing a meditation on the Beatitudes and all of the sudden I realized the beatitude I had had translated was “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God”! God is so detailed!
We prayed the rosary as we walked on a path down the mountain, one which Christ most likely would have walked with his disciples, and made our way to the Primacy of Peter. This is where Christ asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
I am a very visual person, so coming to the Holy Land I was so excited to know I would be able to look and visualize different stories of the Bible (he must have stood here and looked that way when he said this…). What I didn’t realize is that in many places, a church is built around the site for preservation purposes. This made it a lot more difficult to put myself in the scene, for example the multiplication of the fish and the loaves. The was something I had a lot of difficulty with at first. A lot of us missionaries also experienced dryness in prayer so the first few days were pretty difficult, spiritual wise. I caught myself praying because I felt like I should, or I would see someone writing in their journal so I would take out mine and nothing would come. But I realized that Christ speaks to us in different ways at different moments. I thought a lot of my pilgrimage would be spend in intense prayer and journaling. It took a few days to find the balance of what was helping me most, but much of my time was simply spent be with Christ in His home, talking to Him. By the end of the pilgrimage I was able to see what a gift this dryness really was. Through it, Christ was able to speak in a new way.
The church at the primacy is built around the rock where Christ made a fire
and cooked fish for the disciples after his resurrection. Having difficulty praying there I went to the spot where Christ took Peter, asking him three times, “Do you love Me?” After praying for some special intentions there I decided to stand in the Sea of Galilee. I didn’t have to say anything, I could just be with Christ. Christ stood in this water. He felt this breeze. He also felt this dryness in prayer. It was a beautiful place and I think we all would have been happy to sit there all day.
Our last stop of the day was the church of the multiplication of the fish and the loaves. It was a beautiful church! We didn’t spend much time there but we had a chance to make a visit to Christ in the Eucharist. Many of the holy sites close down around five in the evening, so after that we headed back to the hotel. Before dinner we decided to hit the streets and head in to the markets. It was awesome to really get a feel for the culture. The purpose of our trip to the markets was to find gypsie pants, something locals definitely don’t wear… yet. We wore them pretty much every day after purchase so I’m sure the trend is spreading there as we speak. There was music playing on the boardwalk and we were able to talk to the people and get a feel of the ways of Tiberius.
After dinner we said night prayers and then hit the pillow. Day One: above and beyond all expectations.
Day 2 (April 4) Every day we would say, “This literally could not get any better,” and we were always proven wrong. In the morning after breakfast we hit the bus and headed to Cana, the city where Jesus preformed His first miracle. There is a church build over the still intact rooms where the wedding occurred! We began with a gospel reading outside and then went inside to pray and look around. One of the coolest things about the Holy Land is that it seems like every corner you turn you either encounter a group of seminaries, or a priest celebrating mass with a group. It is awesome! Not only was there a mass going on outside, but there was a special mass going on inside where six or seven older couples were renewing their wedding vows. It was beautiful to witness. During our time of meditation I was having a hard time delving into prayer so I listened to the homily and was able to see all of these couples renew their promises to each other through Christ, which was a beautiful prayer in itself. I was also able to reflect on the role that Mary plays in our lives, always bringing us closer to Christ. “Do whatever He tells you.” After we visited a site we always shared our lights or things that stuck out to us from our meditation. One of the consecrated shared that in her time of reflection she had a light about prayer. Just like Mary, when we see a problem, we should put it in Christ’s hands. But,
it is the way in which we do this that is important… So often we run to Christ and say, “Christ, they have no wine, you should make money appear so we can go buy more.” We know the problem, and we think we know the solution so we give our intention to Christ, wanting Him to fix it in our way. But instead when we pray, just like Mary, we simply need to put it is His hands (“They have no wine.”) and trust that He will take care of it in His time and His way.
Before we left we went downstairs and looked at the room where Jesus and the disciples were during the wedding. We also got to see one of the big stone jugs that Jesus used to preform the miracle. There was a layer of think plastic protecting the rocks so we couldn’t touch them, but we were able to write our intentions down and throw them over the plastic wall. I prayed for all newly married couples, all married couples that I know, especially those marriages that are struggling and suffering, and of course for my future husband! We went across the street to buy some wine. What better place, right? The man working there was really funny and told us that if we had trouble getting the wine through customs to tell security that we bought bottles of water in Cana and there must have been a miracle because now they are wine! It was hysterical. After some wine tasting and buying we headed to the bus. A lot of us bought a bottle of wine to save for our own wedding, so we were sharing and imagining what it will be like when we tell our husbands about Cana. The best scenerio that we came up with is the following: after our wedding we will take out the bottle of wine and give it to our husband, telling him that we prayed for him here and we saved this bottle of wine for all of these years. He will be extremely touched, and with tears in his eyes he will take out his bottle of wine and say, “I did the same thing.” We had fun to say the least. (For the record, future husband, if you are reading this I approve 100%. I do in fact have a bottle of wine waiting for you.)
After Cana we headed to Nazareth. This was one of my (many) favorite places because some very special moments happened here. We started with mass and then visited the Church of the Holy Family (built above the house where the holy family actually lived!) and the Basilica of the Annunciation. There is a french movement in the Catholic Church that runs a media center right across the street from the Basilica of the Annunciation and they were so generous in letting us use their beautiful chapel that was on the roof. It has huge windows behind the altar that look out at the dome of the basilica. Fr. Juan said mass for us and his homily was focused on the line “Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” He also talked a lot about the Our Father and how Mary was the one who taught it to Christ. I had never realized that before. Sometimes I forget that little Christ had to be taught things. It was a beautiful mass. Then we headed to the main churches. We first stopped in the Church of the Holy Family. It is really beautiful! There are so many different status and paintings. Most of the first level was blocked off but you could go downstairs where there were some little alcoves. There was a metal grate in the ground of the lower level that you could look down into. Right below was the house where St. Joseph and the Holy Family lived! It was super special! This was another place where you could write down intentions and drop them on to the rock. I prayed in a special way for my family and my brother Joseph and his future wife and family.
We didn’t have too much time before lunch so we spent a few minutes there and then headed to the Basilica of the Annunciation. I was with my friends, Coral and Julie, and we had been excited about visiting this basilica since our Spiritual Exercises in February. For 33 days before our pilgrimage we had been preparing to make a consecration to Jesus through Mary. We thought what better place to give our lives completely to God through Mary than then the place where she said yes to giving her whole life to Him. The place of the annunciation. “Your will be done.” While walking from the church of the Holy Family to the Basilica we ran into a new young priest, told him what we were doing, and asked for his blessing. It is amazing because we will probably never see him again, but we were able to receive his special blessing and he helped me realize more deeply what this consecration meant, right before I made it. Something he said in his prayer over us was something along the lines of, “Let these girls give everything as they freely choose to be slaves of you and slaves of your Son…” He renewed, once again, my desire to make this consecration.
We finally made it to the Basilica which was incredible. So peaceful. Right in the middle of the church you go down some steps and there is the grotto where the angel appeared to Mary. Looking straight up from that spot is a huge cone shaped dome. That’s where we wanted to make our consecration. We were so excited! We walk down the stairs where most of our group was already praying and all of the sudden we hear, “Okay girls, 5 minutes until we have to leave.” We had mini heart attacks because we didn’t want it to be rushed. I mean, this was kind of a big deal… We talked to one of the consecrated and she said we could stay behind and have as much time as we needed.
In the grotto is a a little staircase an an altar that says “The Word Became Flesh Here.” It was so simple. It was awesome because, like I said, I was having the hardest times picturing the stories of the Bible because there where churches around the holy sites, but this was the first time I could really put myself there. I could imagine everything perfectly. I was there with Mary and with her saying, “Your will be done.” We took time to prepare our hearts, and then all three of us prayed the prayer of consecration together out loud. We decided to sing a few songs and the people around us began to sing too. We didn’t know each other and yet we were united through prayer and song to Our Lady. Now I have to tell you, I can’t really sing. Yes I was in choir, yes I can stay on pitch, but it is not the most beautiful thing in the world. Usually when I sing, especially a lot this whole year, I hold back and sing really quietly. In the Holy Land it was like something came over me and in every place that we sang, I sang out, loud and proud. And it didn’t even matter. It wasn’t about sounding the most beautiful, it was about praising God. So here we are a group of five or six, singing our hearts out to Our Lady and the sound just echos because of the dome above us and it sounded like all the angels were singing with us (I have no doubt that they were)! It was incredible. All three of us decided to sign and date a paper, roll it up, and throw it into the grotto (The grotto was behind a metal fence for preservation). We got up to leave and all of the sudden Julie realize that there was a tiny tabernacle right behind the altar that we hadn’t noticed before. In that moment it really hit me (again) that Mary does and always will bring us to Christ, that is the whole purpose of our consecration! We went with the intention to put our lives in her hands and she brought us right to Christ. Leaving the church we could not stop smiling, squealing, and jumping up and down.
The church is encircled by a wall that is covered with mosaics and paintings of different Marys from all over the world. We spent some time looking at all of them and then headed to lunch where we met up with the rest of the group.
Lunch was delicious. Something I always forgot when we went to restaurants is that they serve several courses. In this case, six. And all the food was just so good! So when the first course comes you just eat and eat and eat and eat until you are full, and then you eat a little more… The waiter comes and takes away the pasta and you are ready to go when he brings out the soup. And then the meat. And then more meat. And then potatoes. And then salad. And then dessert. Not to mention there is always pita on the table (and in our pockets on the way out). And the big male waiters always insisted that we finish all of our food for each course. “Eat eat!” I was scared not to… But it was great, we were never left hungry that’s for sure!
After lunch we had another INCREDIBLE experience: Mount Tabor. I am smiling typing this right now because on the mountain (well, walking down it, technically) was a time of such renewal and joy and such a deep experience of Christ. Okay, Mt. Tabor is HUGE! We had the option to walk to the top or to take a taxi. Let’s be real, I took the taxi.
The few of us who took the taxi had time to stop in a little gift shop at the top, take in the breathtaking view, and go inside the church before we were joined by the rest of the group. The Church of the Transfiguration was covered in beautiful mosaics, the most beautiful is the scene of the transfiguration which covers a huge part of a dome that you see right when you walk in. It was difficult to pray here because of all of the tourists, but we had a super special grace coming our way. Once the whole group got to the top of the mountain we had the incredible blessing to have holy hour (exposition of the Eucharist for an hour) in a little tented area just outside of the church. It was so beautiful because after about ten minutes a very young nun peeked her head in and when she saw the Eucharist was there she fell on her knees and stayed there for the rest of the hour. We were all sitting because the ground around us was gravel. Very sharp gravel. We knelt for benediction and I could barely stand it for five minutes because all of the rocks were so jagged. It was a beautiful testimony to see her kneeling there, smiling the whole time.
I have come to love adoration, especially being back home, but that day it was so hard for me because I was having so much dryness in prayer and a really hard time focusing. I got it in my head that I wasn’t taking advantage of the moment and I was doing something wrong and I felt really bad because here was, Christ right in front of me, and I couldn’t even stay with Him for one hour. Father preached to us and I barely remember any of it. I just remember noticing how windy it was and thinking how beautiful it was outside, and then feeling badly afterward. After Holy Hour we all walked down the mountain but I was in this little funk and I just waned to walk by myself. All of the sudden one of my friends ran up, put her headphones in my ears and said, “Listen. Take it in.” (I have realized this year that music really helps me to pray, so this is exactly what I needed in that moment.) She pushed play and O Come O Come, Emmanuel by ThePianoGuys was playing. I couldn’t hear anything else. I just started looking around and taking in all the beauty around me. The church, the huge trees, the view from the mountain… Even after five seconds I was just filled with this peace and couldn’t stop smiling. I just needed those few moments and I really felt Christ saying, “I see your heart. I know your dryness. I love you, let me show you my masterpiece.”
I ran to catch up with the group and we took a picture all together and then my friend Coral and I stayed back to take a few more pictures. You know when it is really cloudy and stormy, but the rays of light shine through the clouds and you look up and although most of the sky is dark, there is one part that is almost blinding to look at because it is so bright? That happened. And we thought how appropriate to see this where the Transfiguration occurred. The blinding light. And then, I kid you not, it got really windy and the clouds were moving all over the place, and all of the sudden they formed around the bright spot in such a way that it looked like a shining heart in the sky. We pretty much freaked out. It was just for us!
And then we began our journey down the mountain. I really can not put in to words the beauty I experienced and the feeling of complete joy that overcame me. We didn’t talk most of the way down, we just looked. The path down was a switchback so every time we turned a corner we stopped to take it in. You could see for miles, mountains, valleys… It was extremely windy and it was sprinkling. We put the headphones back in a listened as we walked. The were points on our walk down where we would just start dancing. Or we would stop and hold our hands out and look up at the sky, just completely taken over. As I was looking out at the view I almost couldn’t comprehend the beauty. I was also looking at things along the path, a flower, a tree… I started looking more closely at the tree and the intriquesy of its bark. How long God must have spent carving it… When I imagine creation I don’t see God pointing His finger
and saying BOOM, I want to ocean right there, BANG give my some mountains, BAM can I get some continents up in here? Nah, I see him taking each tree, each flower, each petal, each leaf, and crafting them one by one until they are perfect. And I looked out and thought this is true beauty. And then it was as if Christ said, “This beauty does not even begin to compare to your beauty in my eyes.” If He spent so much time on that piece of bark, imagine how much time and love He put into creating me. It wasn’t just boom Catherine Mulhern. No, he formed me and molded me and carved me until I were perfect in His eyes. And then He wrote my story. A love story. All the ways He was going to pursue my heart. It was a series of thoughts like that rushing through my mind the whole way down the mountain. It was indescribable.
When we got back on the bus everyone was beaming and sharing their lights and experiences. Again, moments like these, the details, you can have no doubt that God exists.
One missionary, Pau, shared that, on the pilgrimage, she was really praying for a closer relationship with Mary. We read in a message Mary had given to a visionary that she comes with the wind and that wherever you smell roses, she is present. During the whole trip we had some super windy days and seemed to see roses everywhere! Pau told Mary she knew she was present, but she doesn’t really like roses. Her favorite flowers are found all over Mexico where Pau is from, but not once had she seen one in the Holy Land. She had asked Mary to send her one. During Holy Hour Fr. processed in with the Eucharist, a candle, and a vase of flowers. Guess what the vase was filled with? Her flowers!! There were so many lights like this, like it was a little bit insane!
We headed back to the hotel for dinner and then spent the evening hanging out in the lobby, talking, going through our pictures, and playing our own renditions of “Don’t Stop Believing” on the hotel piano. When we got off the piano a woman started playing and of course it made out music sound like Chop Sticks compared to her Beethoven, but we had fun. It was the most beautiful version of chopsticks that I had ever heard.
After dinner our chaplain, Fr. Jaun, came to the hotel to spend some time with us. We took over a corner of the lobby, made a bunch of couches and chairs into a giant circle, and asked Fr. to tell us his story. His vocation, his experiences of the Holy Land, his work with the excavation of Magdela (I will tell you more about that later), and anything and everything else. Fr. Juan is amazing. He reminded me so much of Jesus! He was hysterical, incredibly deep, and so so loving. We ended up bringing out the pop and the beer and he talked to us for hours, telling stories and giving advice. He had us deeply contemplating in some moments, and practically crying we were laughing so hard in others. Let’s just say he had us hanging on to every word he said.
At the end of the night, before going he told us he had a proposal. He asked us what we thought of waking up early and having a meditation by the Sea of Galilee while the sun was rising. Like we even had to think about it…We pretty much died of excitement! What better way to start the morning, right? And so we did…
Day 3 (April 5) It was amazing that some of the deepest moments of prayer and meditation were not only at the holy sites, but also in places completely unexpected. By 6am we were out the lobby doors, walking through the dark streets of Tiberius, making our way to the pier on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The walk was only about ten minutes and when we got there we pulled up chairs and faced the water. Fr. Juan began preaching a meditation as the sun started to rise but to be honest I can’t even remember the subject he spoke about. I was just looking at the sky thinking, “What the heck! The ENTIRE sky is covered in clouds!” We couldn’t even see the sun. You could tell it was rising because it was getting brighter out, but no sun in sight. Some of the clouds were outlined in a brilliant light, but my focus was on where the sun was supposed to be. I wasn’t complaining, I mean I was sitting on the edge of the Sea of Galilee! But I knew it was definitely going to be different than I had imagined.
After Father’s preaching we sat in silence for a long time watching the sky. My expectations had been in hope of seeing something similar to the sunrise Julie and I had seen the first morning, just more up close and personal. I remember thinking, looking at all of the clouds” Was it even worth waking up for?” All of the sudden the clouds break apart and the sun explodes through so brilliantly and so brightly that you couldn’t look for more than a second without turning away. I was like, wow, I am such a brat, Jesus just wanted a little patience and trust to prepare me for the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. The most incredible part is that the clouds that we had not wanted at the beginning made this moment SO much more beautiful. It was indescribable. The clouds were radiating light and all I could think was this is a glimpse of Heaven. We couldn’t stop staring. Temporary blindness was worth the risk.
While still taking in the view in complete awe we put our chairs into a circle and shared our lights. I realized that the sunrise I just watched was pretty much the story of my life. I am so stubborn when it comes to my will and my ways. Here I am walking to the pier with so many expectations of this sunrise, just like I have so many expectations of how my life is going to play out. When I see these clouds, these unplanned circumstances in life, I refuse to see the beauty that God is working around
the edges and keep my eyes on my plans and what was supposed to happen, where the sun was supposed to be. But taking a step back and opening my heart I am able to look around and admire the bright light outlining the clouds. But even if there is a beauty to it, the sun is still missing. I mean I know the sun is there, Christ is ALWAYS present, the sky is getting brighter, but the clouds are so big, such a barrier between me and the Son, so frightening… But finally, after much perseverence, when I am about to give up because of the clouds, God shines through. He triumphs. And the clouds that are always something so unexpected that I think are going to ruin my life or destroy the sunrise are really, in the end, what made this sunrise the most beautiful I have ever seen. It really renewed within me the conviction that obstacles in our life are beautiful and will make our triumph in the end that much more beautiful. Purification. God is always on the other side of those clouds wether we see Him or not and He will never fail us. He will always shine through when we need Him most. It was true, the sunrise was not at all what I expected, it was SO much better!
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast, piled all of our suitcases into the bus (Goodbye Tiberius, hello Jerusalem!) and were on our way.
First stop of the morning: Magdala. When Fr. Juan first came to the Holy Land he had a dream of building something that would bring more pilgrims and that would result in the healing of many hearts. He was not sure exactly what he was called to build or start, but he was dreaming big. He found a large piece of land and with the help of some generous donors and the hand of God, he now had a place to start. In the Holy Land, when a piece of land is purchased, you have to test it and make sure there are no ruins underneath before you start building. Turns out there were ruins, and that was the beginning of Fr. Juan’s incredible Magdala project! Magdala was discovered and is
being excavated as we speak. Not only will we one day be able to walk through Magdala, including one of the only first century sinagogues found thus far, but we will also be able to experience Christ in a powerful new way through the multimedia center, the beautiful church, and the center for women that is being built on site.
Father Juan is so on fire and excited about this project and all of us felt the same way after our visit there. He showed us around the site, explained the process of excavation, let us walk into the church that is still under construction, explaining his vision of all of the chapels and paintings, introduced us to the donkeys, and then after falling in love with Magdala, we were able to have mass on site. I think Magdala was so powerful for a lot of us because we, as women, have been hurt and know so many who have been hurt and rejected or who don’t know their worth. It is so beautiful and encouraging that a site is being built just for them in Magdala. It is being built for us! For women’s healing. I hope to take my daughters there some day. (Magdala is in need of volunteers,donors, and prayers! Click here to learn more!).
Mass was incredible. We were sitting on folding chairs under a tarp, looking out over the excavations, it was windy and sprinkling, our feet were covered in mud, and we were receiving Christ where Mary Magdalen first encountered Him. It was just for us. During his homily, Fr. Juan talked about names. How sometimes we don’t like our names or because of past mistakes, our name seems to take on a derogatory meaning. He had us imagining how much Mary Magdalen probably dreaded hearing her name when it was on other people’s lips because it was always filled with hate. But when Christ called her name, it was totally and completely out of love. No judgement, just much needed acceptance. So when we walked up to communion father said our names. “Catherine, receive the body of Christ.” Christ was calling us each by name, and saying with TOTAL love,”This is my body which has been given up for you”, and extending His healing hand. Even though the site is not extraordinary looking (yet!), full of mud, rocks, and construction, none of us wanted to leave. Christ was so present. Plus we had a lot of fun chasing the donkeys around!
We had a long bus ride and made our way to Mount Carmel. Looking out the window as we made our way up the mountain we could see the crowded city and the beach of the Mediterranean Sea which was covered with hundreds of people, umbrellas, and parasailers. We knew where we wanted to go next! When we made it to the top we stopped in the gift shop and bought some scapulars and other cool things and then headed to the convent.. The sisters were SO generous and they made us a delicious multi-course meal and then gave us permission to use their chapel to pray the rosary together as a team. The chapel was BEAUTIFUL! There was a huge colorful statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel surrounded by pure white angels just above
the tabernacle. We knelt right by the altar united in prayer to Our Lady. The tabernacle and altar where up a few steps from the rest of the chapel which had a huge dome painted with brilliant colors. The walls were covered in paintings of angels and saints. Before we left we took a few minutes to sing some Marian songs. Again, sounded like the angels were singing with us! I got the chills it was so beautiful! Our group has quite a few fantastic singers, harmony included, so I loved the times of sprayer through song. We got a little bit lost on the way out so we did a little exploring in the convent. We ended up in a room full of cupboards, so of course we looked inside, and we found a beautiful old monstrance and all kinds of other cool things used for the mass!
We said our goodbyes to Mt. Carmel and made our way to the coastline to see Caesarea. Caesarea was once a fortified city under the control of Herod. It underwent many conquerings and was destroyed and rebuilt many times, but now only incredible ruins remain. We got of the bus and headed to explore. As soon as we entered we could see the huge waves of the Mediterranean! We were SO tempted to go in, but we knew we
would have a chance later. We went to a media center and learned a little bit about the history of Caesarea and then headed down to the sea for a meditation. We read a good portion of Acts 10 because it was in Caesarea that Peter first brought the gospel to the Gentiles. It was here that Cornelius was going to bow down to Peter but where Peter taught that he is merely a servant of the Lord and must not be bowed down to. As the passage was being read we sat on stone stairs, grains of sand beneath our feet, looking into the huge waves of the Mediterranean. This helped me a lot not only to picture this passage, but to better understand the calming of the sea. When we had been at the Sea of Galilee it had been so calm and serene and this helped me to really picture the waves and storms that must have happened there.
After our meditation we had a lot of time to explore. It was awesome! Some of us went down to the ocean to feel the water and look for shells (there were signs in Hebrew that said do not enter. This is one of the moments we were glad we couldn’t read it!) and others went to explore the ruins. It was a beautiful sunny and windy day, and you could smell the salt of the ocean in the air. We went on a hunt for ice cream and when we couldn’t find any we decided to just sit and enjoy the day. We got some great pictures and gained some awesome memories!
Our final stop before the new hotel was one we had been waiting for all day… The ocean!! By the time we got there it was almost sunset and it was incredibly windy. The freezing cold ocean didn’t stop the majority of the missionaries from sprinting into the water and diving in. It was so cool because, even though this beach was a little ways from Caesarea, there were ruins on the beach! It was like a dream… My friend Michelle brought her ukulele so we were singing and dancing along the beach,
looking for shells and taking in the incredible view as the sun began to set. The sky was filled with clouds and the view was reflected in the water. Truly breathtaking! We made our way back, the majority of us dripping wet and shivering to the bus where we had a nice long ride to Jerusalem.
We made it to our hotel, exhausted and so incredibly happy, just in time for dinner. Before bed we all crowded into a tiny hotel room, 5 to a bed, and prayed the stations of the cross. Each was given a station and we were able to share a reflection or a prayer. My station was “Jesus Comforts the Woman of Jerusalem.” I thought it was so beautiful and was able to reflect on how we are those woman. We have come here trying to discover how we can console Christ on His walk, but really He is the one giving so much to us. After stations we headed to bed. Jerusalem had a very different feel than Tiberius, a whole new experience waiting to be discovered…
Day 4 (April 6) Bethlehem. After breakfast we said morning prayers on the bus as we made our way through the streets to the place where our Savior was born.
After going through security, crossing the wall between Jerusalem and Palestine, we stopped first at a little Christian store filled with BEAUTIFUL religious items. They had shelves of incredible hand carved olive wood statues, incredible icons, and all kinds of cool little nick nacks. In Palestine the Christians are persecuted and this store was run by five or six Christain families as their main income. We were able to meet some of the family members who walked around the store and talked to us as they helped us find the things we were looking for. We were so happy to support them. Please keep them in your prayers! It is so beautiful that in the place where Jesus humbled Himself and was born in a poor stable, the Christian community perseveres through poverty with humility. What a testimony they are!
After filling our bags with Christian collectables, we made our way to the Basilica of the Nativity . On the way we all picked little pieces of paper out of a bag. Each slip of paper had a different person or animal that would have been present at the nativity, and it was encouraged that as we entered in the basilica, to put ourselves in the place of that character and see if it helped bring a new perspective of the nativity.
It was a really special detail! I chose “a little sheep”. It didn’t help me much in my reflections that day, but it would help me weeks later in a special way. After returning home, around the time of Good Shepherd Sunday and the time of all the good shephard readings at mass, I was in the process of making a big decision. I had a lot of unrest, but it could not have happened at a better time. The passage that stuck out to me in mass one day was the one that said, “The sheep recognize the voice of the shephard,” so that because my prayer, “Christ, help me to recognize your voice as I make this decision.” I was talking to my spiritual guide, thanking her for being such a good shepherd to me and she responded “Of course, my little sheep!” When she said that, the moment of choosing that piece paper in Bethlehem and thinking it was a little crazy in the moment came rushing back and I was just blown away once again by the detail with which Christ write the story of our lives. I am His little sheep and He is my Shepherd.
Palestine is a lot different than Galilee. I didn’t feel in danger at any time, but here the people were not afraid to make comments and they were also not afraid to stare. We kept in a close group as we made our way through the streets.
The basilica is not as physically beautiful as some of the other churches. But it makes sense because the lower levels are made out of rock (caves). The doors are very short, so you have to bow down to enter the place where our Savior was born. Not only must we physically bow down, but we must also humble ourselves spiritually as we enter such a holy place. This sight is owned by the Orthodox, so the upstairs was covered in all kind of gold and red adornments. The birth of Our Lord and the spot where His manger laid is downstairs in the cave. We looked around upstairs for a little bit, hearing the history of the church and reflecting on the story of the nativity and then we headed outside. Johanna was telling us about how Mary and Joseph would not have only used this cave for one night, but would have lived there for a few years, which I never knew. It was beautiful, later going down into the caves, not only to imagine Christ as a newborn, but as a little 10 month old crawling around, just like my little brother Patrick is now. The caves were miles long and the portion where Jesus was born is blocked off and preserved, and the rest of the caves that are used are filled with different side chapels.
Before going into the caves we walked down the street to the Milk Grotto. It is believed that as Mary and Joseph were traveling they would have stopped in this cave so Mary could nurse Jesus. While doing so a drop of milk fell to the ground and the cave became covered in a thin white powder. Since then, thousands of couples who have had trouble conceiving have gone to the grotto, prayed to Mary, scraped and consumed some of the powder, and later conceived through her intercession! It is run by Franciscan brothers and the one who was giving us a tour showed us his office, his walls covered with letters and pictures of babies and families who had been part of one of these miracles. He said about one or two letters come every day with new stories of life! But it is not only a place of miracles related to conceiving, but similar to Lourdes, it is a place of healing. Many miracles similar to those that have taken place in Lourdes have happened as a result of praying to Mary with total faith and consuming the powder. We were able to buy some powder, and after some time of prayer (I prayed in a special way for all couples who are having trouble conceiving as well as all of those in need of physical healing) we headed back to the caves for mass.
We had the incredible blessing of having mass said for us by our other chaplain, Fr. Kelly LC, in one of the side caves. It was incredible! It was the middle of April, but we were celebrating Christmas! It was so beautiful because the whole time we could hear
other masses going on in different languages. Christmas songs that we could recognize were being sung in Hindi in the neighboring grottos. Instead of Christmas carols, I sung them as lulibys. It was incredible to see that we were all united in prayer, from all over the world (in our group of missionaries alone we had people from Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, the states, Germany, Ireland, and a little old man from Bethlehem who joined us for mass) come together to celebrate the birth of Our Lord.
We also had a little statue of baby Jesus to pass around during mass (We were joking, “wow, that powder from the grotto worked fast!” when one of the missionaries walked in with the statue) to help visualize and delve deeper in to prayer. Rather than picturing newborn baby Jesus, I pictured Him learning to walk here, in a way I had never pictured Him before. We sang Christmas carols and it was beautiful because right after the consecration we heard a baby in the other room crying. It helped me a lot. Christ, the created and reedemer of the world was a baby, and he cried here, he was completely dependant here.
After mass we headed to the main church where there was a candle procession down to the cave where Christ was born. This was it. This cave was once filled with animals, reeked of manure, it was damp and cold, and it was where Christ was born. We were able to stand where the three kings stood, in awe. I couldn’t stop imagining how many conversions must have happened here, not just in the past few hundred years, but in the hearts of the shepherds and all the people who had first come to visit the newborn Savor. In meditation I was comparing myself to the cave. So dirty and unworthy of the Savior, but Christ chooses to dwell there so He can
touch my heart and bring conversion. The Franciscans sang their prayers and then we all filed out. There had been a good amount of people in the procession, enough to fill the cave, so we were unable to touch the stone where Christ was born in that moment, but after we filed out we got in a line so we would be able to go back down and spend more time there.
Usually you have to wait in a line that takes a few hours to get through to the cave, but Johanna (similar to Sr. Palmera, for those of you who have heard about our family Rome adventures) took four of us to one of the gaurds who let us in a side way. We were able to touch the stone (only for a second because there were so many people) and then go to the back of the cave and pray. It was unreal. I closed my eyes and I was there, at the nativity. Christ was born here.
After some time of reflection I was watching people flow through and touch the stone where He was born. A lot of people went, smiled for the camera, and walked out of the cave without a second glance. At first I was a little bit mad. That is so rude, people are touching the stone just for the picture and nothing else. But then I realized, some people just don’t know. How blessed I am to have had the formation I have, and to believe that even though people are just touching the stone and walking away, He is touching their hearts in a very profound way. Even though I KNOW Christ’s presence, so often I act that way. Who am I to judge? The four of us spent time in prayer, and after making a little visit to where Jesus’ manger was, we headed back upstairs.
The rest of the group was still waiting in the longer line so we went outside to a little courtyard in the sunshine. We were journaling, sharing stories, taking funny pictures, laughing and having a grand ol’ time. It was a place of such joy. New life. Renewal.
After everyone had made their visit to place of the newborn Christ, we went out to lunch at a place called the Shepherd’s Tent. It was really cool! It was in a huge tented area and we sat on couches around the tables and shared stories and enjoyed eachothers company and delicious food. It was really casual and a nice time to relax.
After lunch we went to Ein Karem, the place where Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. When they say Mary traveled through the hill country, they really mean it! It was a beautiful day out as we walked up one of the hills to the Church of the Visitation. This is the place where the Magnificat was first said so on a wall outside of the church, the magnificat is written on a bunch of different plaques, each in a different language. There are a lot of languages! We read the gospel passage of the visitation, sang the magnificat together, and then had time to explore and write our own magnificat. There were many places to pray: you could look out over the hill country, go into the little pink chapel (we met a girl there our age who asked
about our group and we were able to tell her all about the Mission Corps), upstairs in the larger chapel, covered in BEAUTIFUL paintings where Jesus was present in the Eucharist, or anywhere outside which was exploding with greenery and bright flowers. I was not feeling very well, so after making a visit to the chapel I went to look out over the beautiful rolling hills. I was imagining how many times Mary must have stood there, maybe not feeling well from morning sickness, and just being consoled by the incredible view. After about half an hour we all met back up and took some pictures (jumping pics included!), filled with so much joy where John the Baptist first lept. We made our way to the bus and back to our hotel after a long and spiritually intense day.
After dinner and some late night bonding we hit the sack, ready for our minds to be blown yet again with the amazing things coming the next day.
Day 5 (April 7) We woke up early and walked through the streets to the Holy Sepulcher for morning mass. Many of the holy sights in Jerusalem are holy for Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox. For a while all three groups fought over who had control over the sites, but as they were getting destroyed by all the fighting, they decided to divide everything up. Any one of any religion, for example, is allowed to visit Calvary, but it is “run” or “kept up” or “under the control” of the Orthodox. You can usually tell which group is in charge of a site based on the kind of adornments are used to decorate it. The Holy Sepulcher is the church which contains Calvary, the stone where Christ was laid to be wrapped in linens, the tomb of the resurrection, many special chapels, and items such as one of the pillars that could have been used during Christ’s scourging. Each religion is in charge of a third of the Church, and each has turns throughout the day to have services at certain altars. The Roman Catholics have an altar just to the right of Calvary (the spot where Jesus was nailed to the cross) where they are able to celebrate mass early in the morning. This is where we were headed.
It turns out the mass schedule was overbooked so we had mass with a priest and group of seminaries from Germany. Half of mass was said in German which was really special for Anna Maria, one of our missionaries from Germany! Mass was incredible. We were receiving the body of Christ where He was nailed to the cross for each one of us. Mass was said quickly because Roman Catholics only have a certain amount of time at that altar in the morning so groups were continually flowing in every half hour. After mass we went outside to talk with the seminarians, tell them about our missions, and take a picture with the German priest.
We had a tour of the Holy Sepulcher (It is INCREDIBLE! There are so many cool chapels that all have their own special story) Even though it was completely out of sorts, one of my favorite places (other than Calvary of course) was an area of the church that does not belong to any of the religions, or possibly it belongs to all three. It is a little area in the back of the church that looks like it is under construction. Johanna told us that as of now they each have an “equal” part of the church, and only this small spot remains. In order to avoid conflict, they left it as it is, just stone pillars and debris. looking up from there you see the huge dome in the middle of the church, covered in a mosaic of Christ looking down, smiling. It has so much symbolism. Christ is looking down at all His people, seeing that each religion is trying to glorify Him in a different way, and He allows all of us to do so in peace.
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and then made our way to the old city of Jerusalem. First stop: the wailing wall. The wailing wall is the only remaining wall of the original Jewish Temple and it is one of the holiest sights in the Jewish religion. It is believed that, before the temple was conquered and destroyed, the glory of God dwelt there. Thousands of Jewish people make pilgrimages there every year. It is a very solemn place and it was beautiful to see the ferver of the people praying there. After visiting I have so much more appreciation for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and how we believe that He is, and always will be present.
After the wailing wall we walked to Bethesda to see the pools and visit the church of St. Anne. On our way I met a boy. He was such a stud. He had thick curly brown hair, deep brown eyes that were to die for, and we got a long just fine. He was about three years old. We couldn’t speak the same language, but we communicated through funny faces and high fives. He was such a cutie! He reminded me so much of little John the Baptist. He definitely made my day brighter and had some pretty impressive funny faces.
The Bethesda pools were really cool. We read the gospel passage of the healing that happened there and had some time for reflection. I was exhausted, so after looking around a bit, I sat against an ancient pillar, sun beating down, and reflected on the gospel passage until I fell asleep. Power naps, I love them.
After probably 10 or 15 minutes we went into the church of St. Anne. It was very simple, mostly white. There was a huge dome and the church had AMAZING acoustics. You know what that means… time to sing! There were other people we didn’t know who joined in and some who just sat and listened. The angels were definitely singing with us! There was also a beautiful statue of St. Anne and Mary as a little girl. I gained so much more appreciation for St. Anne, especially making my consecration to Mary. Mary is the best mother we could ever ask for, and she learned how to be a good mother from St. Anne.
Downstairs there was a little chapel with a tabernacle and the place where it is believed Mary was born. It was really nice to sit down there in the presence of Christ and hear the beautiful voices of some of the consecrated and missionaries singing to Our Lady upstairs.
Then came one of the most intense and beautiful parts of the day: Stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa. We saw where Christ would have been taken and beaten on Holy Thursday before He was dropped into the pit for the night. Our guide went into the detail of the kind of beating He would have received from the gaurds and I was sick to my stomach. And the was only the very beginning of what He suffered for my sins. We began stations on the stone where Christ was scourged. I knelt on the uneven stone, picturing the scene from the Passion of the Christ movie, placing my rosary and holy medals in the crevices that were once filled with pools of His blood. I pictured the moment in the Passion, after Christ is whipped over and over, blood spilling, unmoving. And all of the sudden, he looks over the post, He sees me there, and legs shaking, He stands up. For me. I am His consolation.
Each station was so powerful. This is where it happened. This is where He suffered almost indescribably for me. And He wanted me to walk it with Him so He could show me once again How much He loves me. That He would do it all over again just for me. At each station we read a gospel passage and had time to write our own stations. After a few minutes, whoever felt called to share their reflection would do so. It was Divine Mercy Sunday, so as we walked from station to station we sang the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Before we started stations I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Writing our own stations? That takes effort. It was already really hot and we were walking a long way. People were already staring, I didn’t want to share my deep reflections in front of them. After stations began, I was SO happy we were did it. First of all it helped me to really delve into each station, but being their, writing my own experience of walking the Via Dolorosa with Christ, it is indescribable… And it is not about whether people are staring or not, it is about walking with Christ, helping Him carry His cross.
The way of the cross goes through different churches and streets of the market. As we walked in prayer, everyone else was going about their normal lives. Selling fruit, walking through the streets, riding bikes and laughing loudly… People didn’t care that we were trying to pray. Some even said, “Those are the crazy the Catholics. The ones who actually take it seriously…” How Christ must have felt walking the way… not only taking on all of the guilt and physical pain possibly bearable, but while doing so being
ignored by those He was doing it for. How often do still do that today? Just walk by or ignore Christ in others who are suffering? Walking the way of the cross helped me to realize so many things. I always used to think if I had been there when Christ was, I would have stayed with Him, I would have been at the foot of the cross with John and Mary. How could I ever deny Him? But in reality, every time I sin, I am in the crowd yelling,”Crucify Him!”, I am the soldier with the whip, I am the one spitting and criticizing, I am Judas. And yet He kept going for me…
Like I said, each station was such a powerful and beautiful experience, especially as we shared our reflections, but there were a few that stick out in my memory. One of them was the fourth station, Jesus Meets His Mother, which was just outside the doors of a church (with a huge picture of the Divine Mercy on the wall!). After reading the gospel reflection we went inside the church for our time of reflection. We had to walk down some stairs to get to the chapel, and they led us right to a HUGE and BEAUTIFUL statue of Jesus meeting Mary along the way. It looked as if Christ was the one consoling Mary. I realized even more Mary’s love for me. Here was her son, her little boy, completely pure, completely innocent, suffering for me. If I was in her place, how much I would have hated me! But she sees Christ love for me and loves me just the same, no matter what I have done.
After turning the corner from the status we came to an adoration chapel, Eucharist exposed in a BEAUTIFUL monstrance! The monstrance was about as tall as me and was Mary cradling baby Jesus in her arms, the host exposed right where little Christ’s face should be. I could not think of a better representation of Mary. She truly is every monstrance, holding Christ up for us to encounter.
At one station there was a very faded red hand print on the wall. Christ was HERE.
Another was the station where Jesus consoles the holy women of Jerusalem. This was one of the stations in the middle of the street. There is a little circular crevis in the wall to signify where the station took place. As we were praying a group of boys, maybe 12 years old, rode through noisily on their bikes. One of them stopped and I assumed he just wanted to cause trouble like a lot of other people we had encountered along the way. But he stood in the middles of us, silent for a moment, put his fingers in the crevis, made the sign of the cross, and hopped back on his bike to join his friends. It was SO beautiful! Even though it was such a regular part of his life, he took the time to stop, even though his friends had kept going, to pray. We ended stations in the Holy Sepulcher at the tomb of the resurrection. It was an indescribable experience.
We headed to the Notre Dame Center, a very nice hotel, next to the center of the consecrated and legionaries stationed in Jerusalem, for a late lunch. One of the consecrated woman gave us a really cool presentation on the Shroud of Turin! It was incredible! I learned so much detail of the exact and intense suffering that Christ went through for me. The intensity of His suffering is proportionate to the intensity of His love for me. Then we all went to the consecrated’s beautiful little chapel to pray the rosary together. That night we had the very special blessing of having Holy Hour on the Mount of Olives, so we were given the choice either to go back to the hotel
and rest, or head to the markets to shop until then. We all chose the market.
It was an afternoon of exploring and haggling. We went in all kinds of shops and met all kinds of people. It was so fun to get to know people in Jerusalem and share our mission with them. We made friends with a really nice guy who tried to teach us how to pronounce his crazy awesome Hebrew name. Nope. We were unsuccessful. But it’s okay, we succeeded in making a new friend. It was sad to think this would be one of our last time in the markets, but we took advantage! After buying the rest of our gifts and souveneirs we walked back to the hotel, ready for Holy Hour.
For me, I was having mixed feelings. I mean who gets to have holy hour in the Garden of Gethsemane?! I just remember how hard it was during Holy Hour on Mt. Tabor and I was exhausted from the day, so as much thought it could be an amazing time of prayer, I was afraid I was going to fall asleep just like the disciples did.
The Garden of Gethsemane is on the Mt. of Olives. There is a small garden full of trees which have been there since the time of Christ (they say, “these trees have seen everything…”). There is also a church built around the stone on which Jesus sweat blood. We had our Holy Hour in the cave where Christ told the other disciples to “stay here and pray” while He took three of them with Him further into the garden during His agony.
The Eucharist was exposed and Valerie, one of the consecrated gave a beautiful meditation. She talked about all the things we had done with Christ on this pilgrimage, how each day, with each new place He revealed Himself more and more, and now He was calling us here tonight for a very specific reason. What did He want to tell me? During our time of prayer there were two priests, one in the back and one just outside of the grotto, hearing confessions. I hadn’t been to confession in a while and decided to use my time of prayer to make a good examination of conscience. Something I have realized is that every time I go to confession it seems like I confess the exact same sins. I always resolve to do better, but I can’t on my own. I decided to talk to Christ about each sin specifically and ask for His help to overcome it. To put it in His hands. When I was just finishing going through my list, Father came in for benediction. I was so sad because I thought confessions were over… turns out Jesus wanted to give me a super special blessing before I was about to have the most profound confession I have ever had.
As I was talking to father, confessing, I pictured Christ taking on my sins, growing in agony, shaking as He beings to sweat drops of blood because of my sin. When I had finished, the priest helped me a lot. Every time I ever pictured the moments of resolution, I pictured running and jumping into God’s arms like a little girl does to her dad, Him glowing and saying it’s okay, here is a second chance! Father shared an image that helped me delve so much deeper. Christ is giving that same message of new life and forgiveness, of a second chance, but instead of being a glowing jolly man, He was standing before me, scourged, dripping blood, pulling me in for an embrace. This is true love. This is true forgiveness. Not only did it remind me how grave sin really is, but how deep Christ’s love is for me, and how I am called to forgive others. Then, as father was giving resolution, I pictured the scene in the Passion during the agony in the garden, after so much temptation, Christ stands up, smashes the head of the snake, and continues on.
They opened the garden with the old trees, the ones Christ leaned on during His agony, so we could go in and pray. As we were walking there we saw a man who was dressed like Jesus. I was like, “I’M HAVING A VISION!” It turned out to be a man named James who we were to encounter many times in the next few days. We did not talk to him that night, but just watched him in prayer. It helped SO much in picturing Christ, truly present there during His agony.
I walked around the garden, feeling the trees, touching the dirt, looking up at the sky which was similar to that in the scene in the Passion of the Christ movie on the night of the agony in the garden. I found a huge tree, I don’t know why I picked the one I did, and knelt and prayed for all of you, and all of the intentions you sent me. I started picturing Christ walking around the garden, in so much agony, and making His way over to the rock where He sweat blood and put it completely in the hands of God the Father. I know how much I need Christ in my life and how much I constantly need to be putting everything in His hands, completely. So I made my way to the church, walking with Christ…
When I walked in, there was Jesus, exposed in the Eucharist! Waiting for me. Kneeling where about 8 seminaries and the man that resembled Jesus. I couldn’t stop smiling, it was like Jesus and his boys, his disciples! And then I realized, that each one of them IS Christ. What a blessing priests are!! I made my way to the front of the church and knelt in adoration with the seminarians. And I put it all in His hands. After some time of prayer I looked
up to a beautiful mosaic displayed on a half dome above the altar and what do I see? A tree that looks exactly like the one I was kneeling in front of in the garden where I prayed for you. I closed my eyes and someone tapped me on the shoulder. I was like, “Jesus?” It was one of the consecrated who came to get me, telling me everyone else was on the bus. Whoops, sorry team! Honestly, I would have been fine if they had left me behind. I could have stayed there all night.
After some intense bus maneuvering like a boss from our bus driver Tony, we made it back to the hotel. What a day. And it wasn’t over yet! As we were all heading to our rooms, Tony, who speaks about two words of english, invited us to the deck on the roof top. He made us homemade coffee and wanted to hang out with us! Seriously the best bus driver I have ever met. We brought out some Cana wine, asked the kitchen staff for glasses and snacks, and spent the next few hours communicating through charades learning about his family, laughing, and having a lesson on pronunciation of Hebrew words. Tony is a strong Christian and has young kids. Please say a prayer for him, and if you ever go to the Holy Land, look him up! There could not have been a better end to such an incredible day.
Day 6 (April 8) Although the pilgrimage was beginning to come to a close, the graces continued to flow. We started the morning at the place of the Ascension. It was a beautiful day outside, sunny with a nice breeze. We did a meditation outside of the little dome, reflecting on the immense joy of the apostles after Christ ascended. Inside was very plain, just a dirt floor and the stone believed to be the last place Christ stood before He ascended into heaven. It was INSANE because while we were inside this little building, windows blocked off, mind you, a white dove flew in the door and sat on the window sill. We were like, “Oh hey there, Holy Spirit!”
Next we headed to the place where Jesus taught the Our Father to the Apostles. There was a church and a wall, similar to the one at Ein Karem, covered with plaques, each having the Our Father in a different language. It was SO crowded, so after
looking around a little, we went behind the building where we found a dirt path that was surrounded by grass trees and wild flowers (Complimentary view of all of Jerusalem because we were on top of a mountain). Helen, one of the consecrated knows Turkish so she said the Our Father in one of the languages that it was first taught in, and we went off to say our morning prayers and do our morning meditation. I hopped a tiny rock wall and went into the wild grass, surrounded by flowers. As I was praying, once again I was reminding myself: Christ was here, He felt this breeze, He picked these flowers, He prayed here… and then I looked up and saw my missionary sisters scattered about and realized, He was thinking of them. He was thinking of me. It’s not just that Christ is present with us now, but in a way, we were present with Him when He used to pray here, always on His mind. It was such a beautiful day out! After some time we made our way to Mount of Olives near Gethsemane for a special mass.
Just being in the Holy Land comes with an INSANE amount of blessings, but it seemed like everyday God went above and beyond for us just like He always does. Fr. Kelly LC said mass for us just outside the Garden of Gethsemane, while we were looking at the city of Jerusalem. The sun hid behind the clouds and it started to get extremely windy as we found our seats on the stone steps and began to prepare our hearts for mass. We were told we could put any items on the altar for mass that we wished to be blessed. When you tell 13 girls who have backpacks full of rosaries, crucifixes, and holy metals, you can’t expect anything less than the altar to be practically covered. In the end it was good because we needed all those items there to keep the cloth and objects on the altar from blowing away.
Father gave a beautiful homily about all those who are rejected and don’t know their worth and how we are called to bring Christ to them. He reminded us that every single soul, not matter what they have done or failed to do, Christ suffered for them here. We need to remember that every person is a child of God. As mass went on it continued to get windier and windier. Things were blowing off of the altar and it got to the point where Father asked us to to form a circle around him and the altar during consecration to make a wind barrier. It was incredibly special. I was standing directly behind father. The most up close and personal consecration I have ever, and probably will ever encounter! I felt like I got an angles seat at mass. We sang Hero by Abandon during Communion and stood around the altar, being the body gaurds of Christ. Father used all of our items (bibles, bags of rosaries, etc.) to cover the chalice and the saborium. It was incredible.
After mass we walked through the streets and made our way to the spot where Jesus wept for Jerusalem. We had an incredible view of the Old City of Jerusalem! We had another meditation, took tons of pictures, and took in the beautiful view.
We were able to meet some of the consecrated stationed in Jerusalem and had lunch with them in the Notre Dame Center. After filling our bellies and looking through the hotel gift shop, we made our way back to the Old City of Jerusalem. We went first to the room where the last supper and the institution of the Eucharist occurred and then we went to the Dormition Abbey, where it is believed Mary fell asleep before she was assumed into heaven. The room of the last supper was big, open, and very simple. We had a reflection there and then sang a few communion songs like “I Am The Bread Of Life” and then we continued on. Even by day 6 I was in disbelief of the places I continued
to stand in. The Dormition Abbey is a very big and beautiful church. We spent most of our time downstairs in the crypt. It was a circular crypt and there was a large statue of Mary sleeping in the middle, and small alcoves and chapels surrounding, all covered with old mosaics. We found an alcove with a tabernacle and prayed our rosary there, singing Marian songs between each decade. At the very end we knelt around the statue of sleeping Mary and sang the Salve Regina. It was such a beautiful moment of prayer.
Our last stop before we went back into the markets was the church where Peter denied Christ and the pit where Jesus was kept the night before His passion. The church of the denial was filled with mosaics containing bright colors and much symbolism. Then we went to the pit. It was a deep hole in the ground, big enough to walk around in, which would have made it that much scarier in the pitch black. I can’t imagine the nightmares that Christ must have been having down there all alone in the cold. There is one spot on the wall where you can see a very faded red silhouette of a crouching down body. Christ leaned against this wall that night, covered in blood. Johanna sang a beautiful song from the view of Mary about her little boy, now in agony. It was a very special moment.
We had one last trip to the markets and headed back to the hotel to eat up and rest up for a big night. The first time we went to the Holy Sepulcher it was extremely crowded. If you wanted to spend any time touching the stone at Calvary, it was similar to Bethlehem, you touch the rock and go to the back to pray. The tomb of the resurrection is closed for much of the day and, even though you are able to see
everything in the church during the day, it is busy and noisy and very hard to focus and delve deep into prayer. Every night they lock the doors and no one can come in our out. There are Franciscan brothers who live in an attached building, and there are always Orthodox religious who stay and preform services around 2 or 3 in the morning, because that is there time. Along with them, they always allow about 20 or 25 people to be locked into the Holy Sepulcher all night. We got permission to be those people. We would be locked in from 8:30pm-5:30am and we had all the time we wanted to pray at Calvary, in the tomb of the resurrection, and anywhere else we wanted in the Holy Sepulcher.
We made our own chicken and hummus sandwiches in the hotel dinning room, filled our backpacks with all of our religious items and blankets (the Holy Sepulcher is made of stone so it gets very cold at night) and met in the lobby, still in disbelief that we were chosen to be locked in (apparently it is very rare to get permission to be locked in for the night and even more rare for a group of pilgrims to get that special permission). The doors are locked exactly at 8:30pm and if you are a minute late, you are locked out. We are not the most punctual group, and it was only by the grace of God that we made it on time.
We were supposed to meet in the lobby and be leaving the doors at 8pm. It was at least a 20 minute walk and not all of us were completely sure where we were going. Long story short, we had to leave in two groups, I was in the first, our group already running a little bit late. We were pretty much jogging through the streets and the markets because we did not want to be late. We were going strong, when all of the sudden we realized we didn’t know the right way to go anymore. 8 or 10 women lost in the now dark streets of Jerusalem. Not the best situation… And we only had about ten minutes until the doors would be locked. We kept going the way we thought and said a prayer to Mary. Literally two seconds after saying a prayer, a group or 6 or 7 seminarians walk around the corner. Guess where they were headed? The Holy Sepulcher! Not only did they lead us, but they also protected us. They were like our gaurdian angels as we continued in narrow streets.
We had about 5 minutes until the doors were locked and the seminarians, also pilgrims, got a little turned around themselves. We though, there is no way… But if we don’t make it, Mary must have something else really special in store for us. We turned another corner and guess who we saw? JAMES! The man who looked like Jesus! We were like, “JESUS! WILL YOU TAKE US TO THE HOLY SEPULCHER?!” We were
trying to get him to say “come follow me,” like Jesus didm but instead we got “you can follow me if you want.” Good enough for us! So here we are, Jesus look-a-like, 7 seminarians, and 9 women running through the streets trying to make it to the Holy Sepulcher before the doors locked. James told us we would definitely make it because he knew exactly how to get there, but we were worried about the other group, they were at least five minutes behind us.
Imagine, we see the doors, 100 yards away, almost at a full on sprint now, we have to make it! We run through the doors and who do we see standing in the entrance looking at their watches? The second group. We made it. All of us! We had no doubt that Christ wanted all of us here and He had something very special in store.
The priests and brothers from all three religions cleared out the building except for our group (seminarians included), and a group of about 6 or 7 other people who I think were from France. I didn’t actually talk to them because I couldn’t understand them. There was a little ceremony where the HUGE doors where shut and locked, we had a rundown from a priest of a few rules (no singing, no sleeping laying down out of respect, no one in the tomb of the resurrection after 12am because the Orthodox have a service there etc.) and then we had the next 9 hours to be with Christ.
There were no lights on, other than the candles lit throughout the church. It was dark and cold, but so peaceful. I started at Calvary. I was so overwhelmed that we had so much time to pray. What do I pray about? How do I take advantage of the time? What if I fall asleep? But I stopped the thoughts running through my mind a hundred miles an hour and just sat at His feet. There is a large crucifix, and I just looked. And then I began to thank. At first for His love and His humility and dying on the cross, but then I began to thank Christ for everything that had happened this year. It has been a tough year for me. It has also been the most blessed. Nothing I expected, and filled with a lot of hard moments, but those are the moments I am most thankful for, because those are the ones that helped me to grow the most. I started with my summer in Michigan, thanking Christ for many specific moments of so much joy that I could think of, for my formation and for all of my missionary sisters, for being sent to Overbrook and everything that came with it, for being sent home and having to detach to to be purified, for spiritual exercises, all the opportunities I had to grow at home, for the pilgrimage, and for a year of transformation. There were so many things about the year I hadn’t thanked Him for yet. What better place?
After a few hours at Calvary I made my way to the tomb of the resurrection. You have to duck down to enter and there is only room for two or three people. I was able to go in and pray with one of my best buds, Michelle. I don’t remember much (I embarrassingly hit my head a minute before on a marble stone so I was a bit out of it), not having a specific prayer, just laying my hands on the stone where Christ once laid and just trying to comprehend what had happened there. I then laid my rosaries, crucifixes, holy metals, and other items on the stone and prayed for some special intentions. The day before when we had been writing our own stations of the cross Michelle had forgotten something outside, so we never made it to the last station with the rest of the group. And now we got to. Together. After so much reflection on Christ’s suffering and passion, it was a beautiful moment to remember the triumph, the new life that resulted. The tomb was filled with beautiful adornments, and I just looked around and tried as hard as a could to remember every detail. I knew the tomb was only available for a few more hours and I wanted everyone to have a turn to pray, so I took a mental picture and walked out of the tomb of the resurrection.
Each moment was so special, but a lot of it is a blur as to where I went and how long I was there throughout the night. I visited many of the smaller chapels, one called Adam’s Chapel (Yes, sounds like Adam’s apple…) which was directly below Calvary (Calvary, being on a hill, was upstairs). After Christ had died on the cross, the earth below the cross began to tremble and a break in the rocks occurred that went a few meters down. When natural cracks like that happen in rocks they usually continue on for miles and over the years the rocks will continue to shift. The rocks have yet to move. It is called Adam’s chapel because the blood of Christ would have dripped down the rock which can be seen in the chapel, as conquered Adam’s original sin with new life.
There was also the place where Mary Magdelen had her first encounter with Christ after His resurrection. Especially after having such an amazing experience in Magdela a few days earlier, I loved that spot.
My friend Michelle and I went downstairs to the chapel of St. Helen (she found the cross Jesus was crucified on, and she also built a church around Calvary and the tomb of the resurrection for preservation) to pray the rosary for two of our missionary sisters who were back home on the rosaries we got for them in Cana. It was a very fervent and special time of prayer, and I was so glad we were able to share it together. Then our whole group headed downstairs for a little snack and to share our lights. We had to muffle our laughing and excitement as we shared special moments, and after about an hour we broke up again. I headed to Calvary for the rest of the night/morning.
Again, I don’t even know how much time I was there. It seemed like hours, but at the same time it felt like it could have been minutes. I took advantage of the opportunity, took out all of my religious items, and touched them to the stone of Calvary. I prayed for each person who would receive any of the items and for all of those who I knew needed special prayers. It really is crazy to touch the stone which once support the
cross, which was once covered in Christ’s blood. You have to crawl into a little space and reach your whole arm in a hole in the ground to touch it. Throughout my time there I crawled into the space 7 or 8 times. Each was such a special and intimate moment. I think it was around 3am that the Orthodox came through with incense, singing their prayers. It was different. It was beautiful. They also rung REALLY loud bells every so often that made me jump out of my skin, but it was always in the moments that I was dozing off, so it worked out really nicely.
There is a beautiful statue (from the shoulders up) of Mary just to the right of Calvary. Her face is so full of agony. I couldn’t stop staring, putting myself in her place as best I could. And it seemed like the longer I looked, the sadder and more desperate her face became. I wanted so badly to take that away so I asked, “Mary, how can I console you?” And she said, “Console Him!” I crawled into the little space once again at Calvary and asked Christ over and over, “How can I console you?” I wasn’t expecting a clear answer, and I didn’t get one. But I did realize that is a question I need to ask Him every morning, “Christ, how can I console you today?” I spent my last hour praying the rosary to console Our Lady, and then sat once again at the foot of the cross. While in Bethlehem I had searched all over the Christian store for a hand carved wooden baby Jesus, and finally found the perfect one! He is little, He can fit in your palm, and His face is beautiful. While sitting at Calvary, I took the little statue out and was turing it over and over in my hand, contemplating baby Jesus. Just like on the cross, baby Jesus’ arms were outstretched. Not purposefully, I’m sure, but on His hands and feet were little bumps in the wood where the nails would be driven. It just helped me a lot to realize the true innocence of Christ on the cross. Just as innocent as the day He was born. The sun started to rise and after what seem like forever, but at the same time only a few hours, the doors where opened and people started streaming in for morning mass. We made our way back to the hotel, exhausted, SO happy, and speechless which was a combination of the two. The sun was rising and we had our eyes on the prize: the pillow. After we made it back to the hotel we slept for a few hours and then set out on our last full day of adventures in the Holy Land.
Day 7 (April 9) This was it, our final day. The week had gone by so quickly, but at the same time we felt so at home in Jerusalem. We pushed two tables together for breakfast and went around and tried to sum up our experience of the pilgrimage in a word or phrase. My phrase was “Consoler of Christ” as I shared about my experience the night before at Calvary. This pilgrimage also really helped me to see Christ as my constant Consoler. It was amazing to go around, just like we had after spiritual exercises, and see the special ways that Christ touched each person’s heart in such a detailed and beautiful way. One of the missionaries shared that during the pilgrimage she had said yes to giving a second year! It was the perfect way to start our last day together.
After breakfast we got on the bus and headed to Lazarus’ tomb. Fr. Kelly celebrated our last mass all together and it was really special. We were in a simple stone building, sitting on wooden benches, the floor was covered in dust, and Christ was there. It was so simple. Just right. I was so exhausted from the night at the Holy Sepulcher that now I can’t recall the topic father preached about, but I remember it hitting home, being exactly what we needed to hear as we were heading back home after such an amazing pilgrimage.
After mass we made a visit to the church of the tomb of Lazarus. It was beautiful! There was a dome covered in beautiful, bright mosaics. After a short time there we headed back to the bus for a long ride to the Jordan River. A good portion of the day was spent going from place to place, but it was so so worth it! Plus, so many of the most hilarious and crazy bonding moments, deepest conversations, and best naps happen there. The bus rides were always full of fun times, and I will always cherish those moments, many which are better left unsaid (As they say, “What happens in Israel, stays in Israel”).
We drove through the desert and made our way to the Jordan River. It was another perfect day, sunny with a breeze, humidity non existent. We made our way to a little ramada that had wooden benches and looked out over the River. We were preparing ourselves for a very special event: we were going to renew our baptismal promises where Jesus was baptized! It was unreal. We had a meditation on that gospel passage and were able to witness people being baptized during our time of prayer. I was SO excited! The last time I had renewed my baptismal promises was at the end of Spiritual Exercises and it had been SO special! After our reflection we had some time to prepare our hearts on our own. I found a little area on top of a set of stairs, and looking out over the river and the people there who were radiating with new life. I was about to open my journal for one of the first and last times on the pilgrimage and all of the sudden I see a white dove flying on the other side of the river. It was INSANE! Holy Spirit!
We all made our way down to the river where there were a few different platforms with stairs leading into the water. We renewed our baptismal promises together and then one by one, stepped into the water and had it poured over our heads. We were beaming. There was a group of older people who were watching and clapped when we were finished. We were able to tell them about our mission, take a bunch of pictures, and wade in the water. We also filled bottles with water from the river to bring home and save for a later baptism. On our way back to the bus we ran into some gaurds and took a picture with them before making our way to the Dead Sea which was another nice bus ride away.
Before going down to the beach we had lunch on a deck that over looked the ocean. It was an INCREDIBLE view! Again, it was a perfect day, and we couldn’t wait to get in the water! We made our way down several flights of wooden steps covered in sand and made camp in a spot just up the shore. And then we went in. And we floated. And we covered ourselves with mud. And it was so awesome. You can only stay in for about 20
minutes before your skin starts to burn so we enjoyed our time in the water, took a bunch of pictures fully covered in the soothing dark mud, and then sprinted to the outside showers to rinse off. It must have been quite a scene. We were all under the water screaming, trying to rub all of the mud off of each other, and laughing hysterically. It was the best. After a lot of rinsing and drying, we sat on another deck, taking in the beautiful view. When the whole crew was clean we made an ice cream run and then headed to the bus. I felt like I had been at the beach all day. Exhausted, sand all over the place, and so happy.
Then, as we were passing through Jericho, we went to the place I had been waiting for ever since I had heard the pilgrimage existed: the camel rides! We were driving through the desert and there is a little shop on the side of the road with two guys in front, holding a camel on a leash. This was it, the moment we had all been waiting for. We took turns by twos riding the camel around the empty lot. The ride was probably about 3 minutes long at most, but it was pretty much the best 3 minutes of my life. I was wearing my gypsie pants and a crazy pancho that I had haggled for in the market so I looked straight up ridiculous. I also asked the men to tie a turban on my head. It was legit. My friend Michelle and I rode our new camel friend, Sammy, and it was so fun! It was really scary when the camel sat up and laid down, as you will see in a later picture, but the other minute and a half was totally worth the two mini heart attacks.
After that fun little stop I thought we were headed back to the hotel for the night. We were driving through the desert, very dry and dusty hills, when all of the sudden Tony pulls over in what seemed like the middle of no where. I was like oh great, we ran out of gas and are stranded. Classic. But it turns out it was planned. The consecrated got out of the bus so we followed them up a giant hill, and when we came over the top we encountered one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen: Rolling desert hills. Nobody said anything, we all just found our own spot and prayed. It was INCREDIBLE! It started to get really windy again and we probably had 45 minutes alone with Christ, in the desert where He had been for 40 days. I played Hero by Abandon on my phone, and just looked, and prayed, and talked to Christ. It was incredibly beautiful, and I will never forget those special moments in the desert. Definitely one of my favorite places. I think we all could have stayed there for hours. The sun was beginning to set so we all got back into the bus, awestruck once again, and shared our lights. One missionary shared that she was looking down at the ground right by her feet thinking, “Christ, I am just like this sand, useless, just dust.” And then she looked up at the breathtaking desert and it was as if Christ said,”But if you let me, look what I can make with you, something beautiful!”
We had a long bus ride to the hotel, had dinner, and headed to Notre Dame to have one last special moment with Fr. Juan. While we were waiting in the lobby for him, guess who we saw? James (the one who looks like Jesus)! We finally got to sit down and talk to him. We asked him about his life story, why he dressed the way he does, and what his mission is. He explained to us that he is a lay man who takes literally what the Bible says about being a disciple: leave your shoes and your cloak behind. He travels from place to place and serves in whatever way he feels Christ is calling. I am so grateful, because he had helped us SO many times on our pilgrimage! Not just by leading us to places, but also by his presence, his ferver, and his example. We were able to take a picture with him, thank him for all that he does, and had done for us, and headed back to a room with Fr. Juan where he had something very special prepared for us.
When we entered the room there was a long table COVERED with food (dinner, round two!) and Fr. Juan brought the best wine the hotel had and asked us about our different experiences while in the Holy Land. We all went around and shared once again one word or phrase that summed up our pilgrimage and why we had chosen that word. We were able to sing a song for him (he was beaming!) and enjoy his company which is a given with Fr. Juan. We stayed and talked for a few hours and as we were getting up to go, he told us he had one last special gift. He gave each of us certificates that said we had completed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and beautiful little bracelets which he had chosen for us from the gift shop. He then took us down to the chapel where he blessed us and our bracelets. We made one final visit to Our Lady, singing the Salve Regina all together one last time, and made our way back to the hotel. What a pilgrimage.
Departure (April 10) We started the morning with 6am mass on the roof (which I accidently slept through), said goodbye to all of the people we met at the hotel (including a little group of old greek ladies who we had ridden the elevator with about four times and even though we couldn’t understand each other very well through our charades conversations, they gave us hugs and kisses on the cheek when we said goodbye), grabbed a quick breakfast and headed to the airport. It was crazy. Everything that had happened and that it was finally coming to a close. One of the missionaries shared a beautiful reflection on the bus. Including traveling days, our pilgrimage had been nine days long, just like a novena. And just like a novena, the fruit comes after the time of prayer. The pilgrimage wasn’t over, it was just beginning!
As our final mark in Jerusalem, we made a Harlem Shake video in the Tel Aviv airport. I think the people there were scarred, but it was so worth it! Still waiting for it to be posted, but will attach the link as soon as it is. We all bought our plane tickets at different times, and somehow all of us (but one) ended up in the back of the same plane for a 12 hour trip from Tel Aviv to New Jersey! And it worked out, with a few empty seats and some very kind people willing to switch, we all ended up sitting next to at least one missionary or consecrated! It was seriously the best plane ride I have ever been on. Usually I DREAD long plane rides, but I was loving it so much I was literally thinking, “Only 5 hours left?” I didn’t want to say goodbye. Plus we were having a blast. We watched movies together, raided the snack stand in the back, spoke in english accents to the flight attendant, and laughed our heads of the whole time (except when we were bawling our eyes out during an intense movie. The Impossible, you should watch it!). And then we got to stand in customs lines for two hours together before we (thought we) finally had to say goodbye. Turns out there were big storms in the area so with flights delayed and cancelled, we had just enough time for a trip to Ben and Jerry’s and long and much needed goodbye hugs. God is good. And it didn’t end there. I one one final stop before I headed home to Arizona: Overbrook Academy.
Overbrook (April 11-12) We arrived at the academy in the early am. I slept in the next morning and then went to see my girls!! This was the first time since I had left in November. It was THE BEST! I supervised lunch, went to a clinic, played basketball with them in free time, ate dinner with them, did night supervision, woke them up the next morning, and did it again. I definitely didn’t feel like I had never left (like it did after Spiritual Exercises), but it felt so regular. I LOVED it! And time flew by… I was jetlagged out of my mind the entire time I was there, but it was okay, I was there! I was so good to see the girls and the team again. I flew out the afternoon of the 12th, and although I didn’t want to say goodbye, I was ready to go home. Let’s be real, I missed it like crazy! I really was the perfect end to such an incredible pilgrimage!
Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land was above and beyond anything that I could have ever expected. Christ loves to work that way, He doesn’t give you what you expect, He gives you something way better! I wanted to encourage you to pursue a relationship with Christ, just as He pursues your heart everyday. Yes, I experienced Christ in a profound way in the Holy Land, but He can be experienced in that same way here at home through adoration, the gospels, and most profoundly in the mass! Something that was so beautiful about the Holy Land is that almost every missionary found something there that reminded her of home (cactus, mountains, those special flowers from Mexico, etc.). And yes, Christ physically dwelt in these places, but He also dwells in our hearts. I of course encourage you to go to the Holy Land if you ever have a chance! But also to say that Christ is asking you to encounter Him in a deep and personal way every day, and He will overflow you with those incredible blessings.
After reading my blog several people have made comments like, “Wow, you are so holy!” or “I wish I was more like you!” I just want to make clear that holiness is something I am definitely striving for, but it is not something I claim to be. I have had so many incredible experiences and blessings this year that many people can’t say they have had, all of which have helped me grow SO much! But I still have a LOOOOOONG way to go. These experiences helped me to see what I need to work on, and how much I need Christ in my life. Now it is time to start working on those things. Please pray for me! And know you are always in my prayers.
I plan to return to Overbrook for the girls’ graduation at the beginning of June. I will then be heading to Texas to help at a week long Regnum Christi girls summer camp (with my Jerusalem roomie, Julie Voss, and my sister Sarah!), and after a family trip to Colorado I will be heading back to Michigan, where it all started for me. I will be serving there for a month and a half training the new missionaries as they prepare set out and do the work of God (count on more blog posts to come!). After that I will be headed to University of Dallas for college. I don’t know what I will be studying yet, but I am excited to see where God takes me! Love and prayers!!
A few more pictures (I have an album on facebook as well. Feel free to friend me!):
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I hope you able to live a little bit of the Holy Land experience. Many people tell me, “Wow, I am so amazed at what you do!” Don’t be amazed with me, be amazed with Christ! I am just the lucky one who gets to live it. God Bless!
An album of shenanigans just for kicks:
(Click for larger view)
I have left my mark on the Holy Land, and it has left its mark on my heart ❤