Holy Land Pilgrimage 2018


April 4, 2018

Until now, I can still remember how everyone in my class was very excited preparing for this pilgrimage. We were given checklists for all the things that we need to bring, for the places that we could visit, and of course the must-visit restaurants where we could eat some delicious and affordable local food. It is still clear in my memory how Fr. Dennis, our pilgrimage director, repeatedly told us that we are pilgrims, not tourists, that we journey, reflect, and pray about the Holy sites, not go only to take pictures of them.


As days have passed in the Holy Land, walking as a pilgrim and reflecting about my vocation, one word that keeps coming back to me is the word “apostle”. Maybe this is because we cannot separate the apostles of Jesus from His stories, that whenever we hear the story of Jesus, we also hear the stories of apostles. Whenever we visit Holy sites, we often hear their names included in the story. These apostles are great inspirations because they left everything and accepted the call of Jesus Christ.


However, the word “apostle” is a gem in itself. The word apostle is from the Greek word “Apostolos” which means “one who is sent off”. But apostles are not sent off like tourists who go somewhere for vacation. They are sent off with a mission: to proclaim the good news to all the nations and to the peripheries of the world. They were not sent to comfortable places, but they were sent to the places that were uncomfortable for them. And as we know from their stories the apostles of Jesus were martyred because of their work of evangelization.

Reflecting upon the gem of the word apostle, I am reminded that as a Catholic and as an aspiring priest, I am also “sent off” not to go on a vacation, but I am sent by Jesus to do His will and to go on a mission, to places that I am uncomfortable with: to the places of division, to the places of hatred, to the places of fear, etc., to bring His good news and His light to these places. As I go back to pursue my formation and prepare to be a priest of the future, I print in my heart the gem of the word apostle, that I am one who is sent off and carry the burning fire of eagerness to do the Father’s will and to proclaim His good news.

May all of us live to be true apostles of Jesus Christ, those who sent off and go to do the mission entrusted to us as faithful servants of God.


By Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson

Photos by Declan McNicholas, Diocese of Gary, and Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson


March 13, 2018

“Don’t lock yourself in your room.”  One of the first things I heard after entering Mundelein Seminary was the strong recommendation to keep the door to my room open as often as possible.  Sometimes I want to keep to myself and struggle to accept visitors into my life, but a visit from a brother seminarian, even when it seems to be inconvenient, can often be life-giving.  We are made for community, to learn to live more other-centered; this pilgrimage has certainly offered many opportunities to practice other-centered living.

Our Blessed Mother certainly knew how life-giving a visit can be.  When our group visited the home of Elizabeth in the hill country, where Mary ministered to her six months pregnant cousin, I was particularly moved by the painting in the chapel there.

The painting doesn’t do justice to how hilly this hill country actually is, but it does beautifully symbolize the effect of her loving visit.  Mary is shown walking through a wilderness, a desert in which all the means for life are absent.  And yet, at her feet, plants are beginning to sprout and bloom.  So often, while we have been studying the Prophets, we learned how the wilderness (symbol of sin, of slavery, of loneliness) is the place where God shows his mercy and brings new life.

Even though we all need some time to be alone, moments when we close the door to our room, I also know that life is very burdensome without a sense of belonging to a group, without a sense of communion with others.  Loneliness can become like a desert/wilderness.  Yet as I learn to accept others into my life and reach out to them that desert can be filled with life.

By Br. Matthew Schuster, S.J.C. – Canons Regular of St. John Cantius

Photos by Declan McNicholas, Diocese of Gary, and Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson

So That They May All Be One

March 11, 2018

Recently we had the opportunity to visit the Armenian Seminary in Jerusalem. We started our visit with a time of liturgical prayer called vespers. Following this we met one of the Priests who explained to us some things about the Armenian Church and their Cathedral in Jerusalem, Saint James. Following this we moved to a soccer field where some of our guys played against the Armenian Seminary. It was a time of good fun and brotherhood. During this time we even acquired some fans from the other team that cheered us on.

When the game ended we had dinner with them at their seminary. There we experienced true Christian hospitality. During dinner they sang hymns for us, one of which was full of patriotic pride for their home country of Armenia. Talking with them we entered into their world and learned about their history, culture, and family. This was a moment of great unity between our two Churches.

At the end of the day when reflecting on the experiences something was very evident: the desire for unity and peace. I remembered Christ’s words “That they may be one” (Cf. Jn 17: 21). One of the things I realized that day was that there is much more that unites us than separates us. That is why I encourage us all to pray for Christian unity and for peace around the world.


By Gerardo Olivera, Archdiocese of San Juan

Photos by Declan McNicholas, Diocese of Gary, and Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson


March 8, 2018

To be frank, the image of fishing in the Bible has always been one of my least favorite. For one thing, I don’t find fishing to be terribly exciting. For another, I find all seafood to be vile, and I’m still wrestling with how the Lord himself could have eaten it. Friday in Lent? Cheese pizza, please.

All this has made it difficult for me to stomach the “fishers of men” expression that has become one of the standard ways of describing the call to discipleship (see Mark 1:17). During our recent weeklong retreat, as I walked along the Sea of Galilee—the very place where Jesus called his first disciples—I pondered why the Lord couldn’t have used a phrase more congenial to my own tastes. The answer didn’t immediately come to me.

Fast forward a few weeks. We were sitting in our class on the Prophets, discussing the oft- passed-over book of Habakkuk. Our professor drew our attention to Habakkuk 2:14-15:

You have made mortals like the fish in the sea,

                        like creeping things without a leader.

            He brings them all up with a hook,

                        and hauls them away with his net;

            He gathers them in his fishing net,

                        and then rejoices and exults.

The prophet Habakkuk was complaining to God that Judah’s enemies were about to attack and drag its inhabitants away into exile, as if they were helpless little fish. This was a stark warning for the people of God who had forgotten the God who saved them time after time. It was Habakkuk’s way of describing what divine judgment on that fateful “day of the Lord” would look like. It’s no surprise, then, that Habakkuk’s image would become a popular apocalyptic image for future generations up to the time of Jesus: when people are being “fished out” of the sea, the end—the day of the Lord—is at hand!

Having this in mind, it makes the call of the first disciples even more interesting. Jesus promises to make his first disciples fishers of men as a sign that the end—the “day of the Lord” or “the kingdom of God”—is at hand (see Mark 1:15). Yet the day of the Lord need not be a moment of fear and calamity or doom and gloom. Jesus is turning this image on its head. The day of the Lord can be one where people witness that God himself is in their midst in the person of Jesus Christ, the one who came not to condemn or destroy, but to save and gather all the lost for eternal life. The day of the Lord should in fact be a day for rejoicing and exultation, a day when we accept our call not only to be disciples, but also to make disciples for the kingdom.

I’ll admit that coming to see the “fishers of men” language in a new light hasn’t made me dislike eating fish any less than I already do. But it has helped me to appreciate how important and thrilling it is to cast our nets into Scripture, even into less-chartered waters like Habakkuk, every day. Only then will we be able to fish out the Good News and help others to do the same.

To all those who have made it possible for us to fish for greater understanding of this Good News, especially here in the Holy Land, thank you!

By Ryan McMillan, Archdiocese of Chicago

Photos by Declan McNicholas, Diocese of Gary, and Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson

Jesus, the Good Tour Guide

March 8, 2018

I have a lot of respect for tour guides these days. These courageous people have a monumental task every day: a guide must bring a large group of categorically ignorant people who they have never met around a place that is very foreign, filled with vendors, crowds, and shiny things to see without losing anyone. In addition to providing time to see things, bathroom stops, and food, they have to communicate essential information about this particular place to this hungry, hot, and impatient group. I have a lot of respect for guides.

After several weeks of riding on buses and visiting sites, I have met many guides and experienced the way they do their jobs, and an unexpected fruit of these weeks of pilgrimage is that I have become a sort of expert on guides. I compare guides to each other, I admit it. They are all extremely knowledgeable, but the way guides communicate varies greatly. Some I understand well and they understand my questions. For others, I do not see the significance of what they think is important. They are all personable, but the level of connection is unpredictable. I like some more than others. Some of them get on my nerves a little after a long day. Some feel like family.

Not long ago, near the end of a day, our guide was saying some final things about our location and I was tired. I was hoping he would finish soon, and my mind was on dinner. He finally did finish and we all got on the bus. As we were making our way through traffic, I realized that guides are a lot like shepherds. More than that, guides are like pastors. Their job is very much like the task of a priest pastoring a parish.

Suddenly I felt remorse for my lack of attention. In the future as a priest, there will be times when I speak too long and people start thinking about dinner. As I experienced, sometimes little things make it difficult to see the importance what someone is telling you, even a message as eternally significant as the Gospel. My experience with tour guides has made me more aware of many things to take into as a guide of God’s people. Speak shorter. Be patient with the bored. Watch out for people wandering away. Take care of those who need the bathroom. And always, always see that they have good food to eat.


By Rob Mulderink (Diocese of Grand Rapids, MI)

Photos by Declan McNicholas (Diocese of Gary) and Peter Pedrasa (Diocese of Tucson)

‘Rise and have no fear’

March 6, 2018

Coming down from Mount Tabor, the thought occurred to me that the sacrament of Holy Orders is in some way clothed by the mystery of the Transfiguration. I don’t think a man with any degree of humility can approach holy orders without some sense of fear and awe before the mystery. The disciples were having some reason to fear as they ascended Mount Tabor with our Lord. Jesus had just informed them that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. (Mt 16:21) They were told, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24-25)

The call to follow our Lord in this way would be unimaginable without our faith in Him as God. For this reason the glory of the Lord was revealed to the apostles on Mount Tabor. They heard the voice of the Father say, “This is my beloved Son… listen to him.” Jesus then said to them, “Rise, and have no fear.”

All good and well for Peter, James and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration. But what about us? Within the Basilica of the Transfiguration where we had Mass, there are on the walls of the crypt different symbols of the transfiguration:

His birth, whereby God became man; the Eucharist, wherein ordinary elements of bread and wine are transfigured into the real presence of Jesus Christ to live among us and to nourish us; and his death and resurrection which shows his power to transfigure our sinful flesh into life eternal. These symbols sum up the message of the Gospel which we are ordained to preach.

Although there has been built on this mount a church resembling the three tents which Peter proposed to build, we still had to come down after Mass.

The fear and awe will most likely follow us, and maybe even intensify, up to the moment in which we are prostrate on the floor before the bishop. But face down before such a mystery, our Lord will say to us, “rise, and have no fear.” And rising with our eyes fixed on Jesus alone, we will serve his Church.

By Bro. David Yallaly (Canons Regular of St. John Cantius)

Photos by Declan McNicholas (Diocese of Gary) and Peter Pedrasa (Diocese of Tucson)

Called to the Mountain, but not to Stay

March 6, 2018

My classmates and I have now been in the Holy Land for several weeks.  We have seen so many sites and places that we know historically from reading Scripture.  Three that stand out for me personally are the Mount of the Transfiguration, the Via Dolorosa that weaves through the streets of Jerusalem and the empty tomb of Jesus.

We had the opportunity to visit the Mount of Transfiguration and read the passage from Mark 9:2-8. Mark tells us that Jesus took Peter, John and James to the top of the mountain and there he was transfigured.  Peter offered to build tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah who had appeared alongside Jesus.  It seems that Peter was ready to settle in on top of the mountain.  But that was not Jesus’ plan. Jesus knew there was more to come and told Peter, John and James not to tell anyone what they saw, “until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”.  I am sure the men were very puzzled by this statement and probably more so as events unfolded in Jerusalem.

As I walked the Via Dolorosa with my classmates and prayed the stations of the Cross in the same place where Jesus was humiliated and suffered I found myself so tired and exhausted. I started to understand why Peter suggested to stay on the mountain; he was not ready for the Way of the Cross. Lastly, some of my classmate and I had an opportunity to celebrate Holy Mass in the empty tomb of Jesus. So, while I was reminded of my mortality I remembered that Jesus’s body is not in the tomb, it is within me. There is an immortality that is inscribed in my inner being (soul) that neither death, suffering or persecution have power over.


I am reminded that the Lord calls each one of us to this mountain, but he doesn’t want us to stay there because our Christian calling is to go and make disciples of all nations. Every time we feel too relaxed or comfortable, we must ask ourselves whether we are still following Jesus who did not build his tent on the Mount of Transfiguration; His tent was fully realized in Jerusalem at Calvary where death and sin were defeated. This indeed was the journey. I pray I will follow in the footsteps of Jesus by following his teachings and always being open to move where the Holy Spirit leads me.

By Sabelo Luthuli (Diocese of Eshowe, South Africa)

Photos by Declan McNicholas (Diocese of Gary) and Peter Pedrasa (Diocese of Tucson)

Journey to Jerusalem

March 5, 2018

Jerusalem. The Holy City. I’ve prayed with this city in the psalms countless times, and I am now finally able to visit. As we’ve traveled the Holy Land, I’ve found myself growing in anticipation to be in this great city. Part of that anticipation has come from my own prayer and reflection in recent weeks.

While on retreat, we spent part of our time reflecting on death. Particularly, we contemplated the meaning of dying to self. As Christian people, and particularly as future ministers of the Church, we are called to a radical renunciation of ourselves in our desires and in our pride. As I spent time praying on this, I tried to find a place in scripture to focus my prayer. I realized that Jerusalem was just that place.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). This he did knowing full well that he would be rejected, ridiculed, persecuted, and ultimately killed. I can’t imagine the depth of his love for the Father and for us to obediently follow that road leading to his death.

Jerusalem gives me the opportunity to reflect more deeply on what it means for me to die to myself. I’ve had to sacrifice my comfort while living out of my suitcase. I’ve had to learn a new level of patience when things don’t go as expected. In a few short months I will prostrate myself at ordination, symbolizing my death to the world. As I prepare for that moment, I will continue to meditate on Jerusalem and the death that once took place here, the death that gave way to resurrection granting eternal life.


By Michael McAndrew (Diocese of Dubuque)

Photos by Declan McNicholas (Diocese of Gary) and Peter Pedrasa (Diocese of Tucson)

Video Blog: Praying the Rosary at the Church of the Annunciation

March 4, 2018

Br. Matthew Schuster of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius reflects on praying the Rosary during a candlelit procession at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Video by John Hoang, Diocese of San Jose.

Snapshots from Week 4

March 4, 2018

Here are snapshots from Week 4 of our pilgrimage. Please continue to pray for our pilgrims, and know that you are in ours over here as well.

Photos by Declan McNicholas (Diocese of Gary) and Peter Pedrasa (Diocese of Tucson)