Holy Land Pilgrimage

The Sound of Silence

February 23, 2020

Silence of the Sacred Host, pervade me!
Hiddenness of the Sacred Host, envelop me!

The Holy Land is remarkably compact in size. Yet, scattered in this small region of the world are four Carmelite monasteries which sit as silent witnesses to pilgrims of the mystery of the Incarnation.

In typical Carmelite fashion, there is a hiddenness to these oases of prayer. Two of these monasteries are in the range of Mount Carmel. The first, El-Muhraqa, commemorates the place where Elijah challenged and defeated the prophets of Baal by calling down fire from Heaven. Down the range is the Stella Maris Monastery, which houses the cave where Elijah dwelt. This monastery is the Motherhouse of the Carmelite Order.

The other two Carmelite monasteries are in Bethlehem and Nazareth, respectively. One could easily pass by these places of silence and contemplation without realizing they exist. While visiting Nazareth, a few of us wandered to the door of the Carmel and knocked. A gentle-eyed, French Carmelite named Sr. Miriam Thérèse led us into their simple chapel to rest in the Presence of Jesus. While leaving, Sr. Miriam collected our names so she could continue to pray for us. What a gift to have a Carmelite nun put us on her prayer list!

The life of the great prophet Elijah would mark the Carmelite charism. Focusing on prayer and contemplation, the Carmelites are stunning witnesses to a hidden life in Christ Jesus and silence. Just like Elijah, who found the Lord in the sound of silence (cf. 1 Kgs 19:12), so too these faithful followers of Elijah find the Lord in the deep silence of prayer. They remind pilgrims like us just why we are here in the Holy Land: to receive the love of Christ more deeply, seeking Him in faith and prayer at these blessed sites.

Christ is the perfect embodiment of silence and hiddenness. He spent nine months hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. He then spent most of His first 30 years on earth, in a certain sense, hidden and silent at Nazareth. He now continues this way of hidden silent love, in a profound way, transubstantiated in the Most Holy Eucharist. He hides in what appears to be ordinary bread, but indeed, is no longer ordinary bread, while He silently awaits each one of us. This very same Jesus, who walked these lands, awaits you and me in the nearest Tabernacle.

– Elliot Żak
Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana

Five Days of Silence: Evaluations of the Christ Project

February 23, 2020


I am wondering, is forming a man to be a priest simply a “project” like any other “project” organizations do? Typical projects for other organizations have managers and stakeholders who do their best to control the outcome. On the surface, forming a priest is like one of these projects, but unlike a typical project, this one is unique and special. It is a Christ Project.

Projects typically need evaluations at three stages: the beginning, middle, and end. During our five days of silence, God performed an intimate evaluation of His Christ Project within us all. During the retreat, Christ Himself spoke to us interiorly through our prayer and exteriorly through the physical sites and experiences we encountered at the Holy Places we have visited in our preparation for the Diaconate.

Pilgrim Post

I could not think of any other place more fitting to visit during our Canonical retreat than the shores of the Sea of Galilee! We stood next to the sea on which Jesus Himself sailed during His ministry! When I looked to the West, I noticed the village of Capernaum where Jesus ministered. When I shifted my gaze slightly North, I looked upon the Mountain of the Beatitudes where Jesus taught us how to be like Him and live out our lives as he did. All this has simply drawn me deeper into the Christ Project within myself and I’m sure my brother seminarians would say the same.

It was an amazing experience! An experience of evaluation without our controlling anything. The Holy Spirit worked within us as we discovered and rediscovered our calling. He did this by helping us to better understand the expected fruits of our Christ Project.

For me, the questions our Risen Lord asked St. Peter in John 21: 15-19 kept resounding like bells inside my heart. Do you love me? Do you love me? I kept replying: “Yes Lord but give me the graces I need.” I believe that if we love the Lord, then the work of tending and feeding Jesus’ sheep will be experienced as a joy to us all.

We have finished a five-day silent retreat. Have we been silent? Externally, yes, but internally, no. God’s evaluations of our Christ Projects had us reporting to Him, negotiating with Him, and asking for His support.

You also, we presented to Him during our Holy encounters.

Peter Walusimbi

Diocese of Kiyinda-Mityana, Uganda

Jesus and the Sermon of the Mountain

February 22, 2020

Blog Post

Blog Post







Marhaban friends! This past week has been a blessing as we have been able to experience a silent retreat. As part of our retreat, we were able to pray and celebrate the Eucharist on the Mount of the Beatitudes. During my second year of theology, in my Synoptic gospels course, I was able to study in depth Matthews’s discourse of the sermon of the mountain and the beatitudes. The sermon on the mount according to the Gospel of Matthew, was a discourse offered by Jesus of Nazareth to his disciples and a great multitude of people that surrounded him (Mt 5, 1; 7, 28). Tradition says that the sermon as developed on the side of a mountain. Probably, its best-known portion is that of the Beatitudes, which are at the beginning. It also contains “Our Father”, as well as “Jesus’ version of the Golden Rule”. Other verses often cite the reference of “salt of the earth,” “light of the world,” and others. The Sermon on the Mount can be considered as similar to the most succinct Sermon on the plain, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 6, 17–49). Some commentators believe that these may be different versions of the same text, while others say that Jesus frequently preached similar themes in different places.  For many, the Sermon on the Mount contains the main disciplines of Christianity. For me, this experience of being able to visit this mountain and pray with the beatitudes had filled me of joy and has helped me develop a greater love for Jesus and the beatitudes. Visiting this site only enhanced and brought what I had studied in my course to life. It was an honor and it gave me peace to be able to pray here as I began my díaconate canonical retreat. Thank You and God Bless.


¡Marhaban amigos! Esta semana pasada ha sido una bendición, ya que hemos podido experimentar un retiro de silencio total. Como parte de nuestro retiro, tuvimos la oportunidad de rezar y celebrar la Eucaristía en el Montaña de las Bienaventuranzas. Durante mi segundo año de teología, en el curso de evangelios sinópticos, pude estudiar en profundidad el discurso de Mateo sobre el Sermón de la Montaña y las bienaventuranzas. El Sermón de la Montaña según el Evangelio de Mateo, fue un discurso ofrecido por Jesús de Nazaret a sus discípulos y a una gran multitud de personas que lo rodeaban (Mt 5, 1; 7, 28). La tradición dice que el sermón se desarrolló en la ladera de una montaña. Probablemente, la porción más conocida es la de las Bienaventuranzas, que están al principio. También contiene “El Padre Nuestro”, así como “La versión de Jesús de la Regla de Oro”. Otros versículos a menudo citan la referencia de “sal de la tierra”, “luz del mundo” y otros. El Sermón de la Montaña puede considerarse similar al Sermón sobre la llanura pero de una manera reducida, que se menciona en el Evangelio de Lucas (Lc 6, 17-49). Algunos comentaristas creen que estas pueden ser versiones diferentes del mismo texto, mientras que otros dicen que Jesús frecuentemente predicó temas similares en diferentes lugares. Para muchos, el Sermón del Montaña contiene las principales disciplinas del cristianismo. Para mí, esta experiencia de poder visitar esta montaña y orar con las bienaventuranzas me llenó de alegría y me ayudó a desarrollar un mayor amor por Jesús y las bienaventuranzas. Visitar este sitio hizo viva la experiencia de haberlo estudiado en clase. Fue un honor y me dio mucha paz poder rezar aquí como el comienzo de mi retiro canónico para el diaconado. Muchas gracias y que dios los bendiga.

Ritchie Ortiz
Archdiocese of Chicago

Entrusting the Priesthood to the Saints (Podcast)

February 21, 2020

In this episode, seminarians Robert Ryan (Archdiocese of Chicago) and Noah Thelen (Diocese of Grand Rapids) talk to Elliot Zak (Diocese of Lafayette) in the Holy Land. Elliot shares about his journey to entering seminary, and he talks about praying through the intercession of saints, such as St. Mariam Baouardy, The Little Arab, St. Joseph, and others. Listen until the end to also hear what their favorite food is from the Holy Land.

Gone fishing!

February 16, 2020

Gone fishing! Please pray for the Mundelein pilgrims as we enter a time of retreat in preparation for our diaconate ordinations in the spring and early summer.

Please pray for our pilgrims by name:

Andy Matijevic (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Andrew Meng (Diocese of Wichita)

Ankit Mathews (Archdiocese of Kottayam)

Antonio Camacho (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Christopher Landfried (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Colm Mitchell (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Daniel Villalobos (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Derek Hooper (Diocese of Jefferson City)

Elliot Zak (Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana)

Eric Zenisek (Archdiocese of Dubuque)

Falasiko Matovu (Diocese of Kiyinda-Mityana, Uganda)

Francis Gayu (Diocese of Las Cruces)

Jake Dunne (Archdiocese of Dubuque)

Joby Joseph (St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago)

Kyle Tietz (Archdiocese of Dubuque)

Leonel Sepulveda (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Martin Coolidge (Archdiocese of Dubuque)

Mauricio Espino (Diocese of Las Vegas)

Michael Barbarossa (Archdiocese of Seattle)

Michael Kelly (Diocese of Yakima)

Michael Klatt (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Michael Lingaur (Diocese of Gaylord)

Brother Nathan Ford (Canons Regular of St. John Cantius)

Nathaniel Resila (Diocese of Albany)

Noah Thelen (Diocese of Grand Rapids)

Peter Walusimbi (Diocese of Kiyinda-Mityana, Uganda)

Ritchie Ortiz (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Robbie Cotta (Archdiocese of Atlanta)

Rob Ryan (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Ryan Brady (Archdiocese of Chicago)

Sam Conforti (Diocese of Joliet)

Seth Lorenz (Diocese of Lubbock)

Tony Famave (Diocese of San Jose)

Will Stuever (Diocese of Wichita)

“But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places to pray.”-Luke 5:16

Love and Responsibility

February 16, 2020

There’s no such thing as a free breakfast—or so Fr. Kasule told us in his homily along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

We were celebrating Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter in the outdoor chapel. Gentle waves licked the rocks as Fr. Kasule elaborated on the Gospel reading from the 21st chapter of John.

Jesus had died on the cross and the disciples had returned to their old ways as fishermen. After a fruitless night at sea, a stranger told them to cast their nets to the other side. Upon realizing it was Jesus, Peter dove into the waters and swam to shore. There, Jesus said to him and to the others, “Come, have breakfast.”

The Gospel could have ended there and it would have been a pleasant passage. Jesus reveals himself, raised from the dead, and brings Peter a free breakfast.

Yet, Jesus draws Peter aside to ask him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Talk about a direct question! Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus hits him with a three-fold command: “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.”

It was never a free breakfast after all! Jesus had weightyexpectations of Peter as the future pastor of his fold.

In his homily, Fr. Kasule made reference to John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility. One cannot speak of love without speaking of responsibility. To demonstrate true affection, one must make an honest investment and take action.

Indeed, responsibility is not something extra added on to love. To take responsibility is to love. Jesus’ admonition to Peter, “Feed my sheep,” is not a condition placed on Jesus’ love for him. Rather, it is the true way that Peter can love the Lord.

I was acutely aware of the relevance of the Primacy of Peter for us as men preparing for ordination. As Peter was commanded to feed Jesus’ flock, so too will we be commissioned. We will servein parishes and schools, feeding God’s people with Jesus who is true food and true life.

Priestly ministry—and any vocation for that matter—is not some free gift without responsibility. Rather, it entails entering the lives of others, giving of oneself. “Feeding” and “tending” are the two verbs that show this most clearly.

As I went forward to receive the Eucharist, I reflected on how appropriate the “food” image is for Scripture and for our lives. We all have a great hunger for the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. We all have a responsibility to feed those in our charge. Jesus showed this to Peter, and he shows it to us.

And so, there along the Sea of Galilee, where Peter encountered the risen Lord, we sang:

We praise you, Lord, for Peter,

So eager and so bold:

Thrice falling, yet repentant,

Thrice charged to feed your fold.

Lord, make your pastors faithful

To guard your flock from harm

And hold them when they waver

With your almighty arm.

Kyle Tietz

Archdiocese of Dubuque


The missing loaf of bread

February 15, 2020

We are currently in the Galilee section of our pilgrimage as we focus on holy sites that Christ ministered in for a long period of time before his journey to Jerusalem. Arguably, one of the most important event during Jesus’ Galilean ministry was his multiplication of loaves and fish, also called the “Feeding of the Five Thousand.” This is Jesus’ only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels, thus showing its significance to 1st Century Christians.

On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, there is a church dedicated to this miracle. This church, called “The Church of the Multiplication,” contains a famous Byzantine Mosaic dating from the 5th Century, which depicts this miracle. Pictures of this mosaic can be found throughout the Holy Land and so we have already seen this image numerous

When I first saw it, I was surprised to see that the depiction only has four loaves of bread with two fish. Yet in each of the four Gospels, the Feeding of the 5,000 began with five loaves and two fish. What were the Byzantines thinking? Did the artist read any of the Gospel accounts of this miracle? Assuming common sense on the part of the artist, we can ask, why is there a loaf of bread missing?

The key to this conundrum is the location of the mosaic. Most pilgrims who simply see the depiction on the side of a decorative plate or coffee mug would miss this context. In the Church of the Multiplication, the mosaic is on the floor just before the altar. That is to say, the missing loaf of bread can be found on the altar, and that loaf is none other than Jesus Christ, who is broken and shared for all the hungry who approach the altar for nourishment. A couple of miles down the road from the place where the multiplication miracle occured, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35).

The symbolism of the missing loaf brings out the central theme of the multiplication—the Eucharist. For Christians throughout the centuries, the miracle of the multiplication has always pointed to the miracle of the Eucharist. We even hear some of the same words when Jesus institutes the Eucharist and when he multiplies the bread. Before he feeds the crowd of 5,000, Jesus, “taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples…” (Mk 6:41). Later, during the Last Supper, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “‘Take it; this is my body’” (Mk 14:22). In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself as food to his people. He nourishes them and meets them in their spiritual hunger.

Therefore, the Church of the Multiplication, and the famous mosaic that lies before the altar, has valuable lessons for those preparing to be Priests of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, the priesthood exists for the sake of the Eucharist. We need priests because we need the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We need priests because we hunger for the Bread of Life.

Noah Thelen

Diocese of Grand Rapids

Ad Astra per Aspera

February 14, 2020

One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.” 

Miguel de Cervantes wrote these words about his hero, Don Quixote, a man who lost his mind and devoted his life entirely to chivalry at a time when living such a life was unheard of. This hero, at times a complete fool, sought to embody perfect virtue, in particular the virtues of courage and fidelity. The characters surrounding Don Quixote continually berate him, often violently, for being such a fool. Yet Don Quixote strove to reach the unreachable stars, and the world was better because he did.

​At times throughout the journey in this Holy Land, a Christian can feel like Don Quixote striving for the unreachable stars. When a Christian arrives at a holy site, he tries to be present at that place and pray, but is surrounded by people with their cameras out, taking pictures to document the moment. He is surrounded by people almost casually talking with each other or loud tour guides shouting instructions. It can seem like the life of prayer and true pilgrimage has fallen by the wayside, much like the life of chivalry had disappeared in Don Quixote’s time. It can seem totally countercultural to enter these sites and not take pictures with a cell phone. But perhaps these countercultural actions are the stars the Christian ought to reach for. Perhaps the world will be better for his striving for this true silence.

At times the Christian can be scorned for living this way (look to any of our martyrs). It is true also that the Christian is covered with scars, often the scars of his own sinfulness. But the true Christian strives with the last ounce of his courage to reach That Which is unreachable, our Lord and our God. The scorn of the world and the contempt of the evil one try to dissuade the Christian, but through those difficulties, the Christian perseveres. When that perseverance is genuine, That Which is unreachable comes to the Christian. The white marble altar in Nazareth proclaims “VERBUM CARO HIC FACTUM EST.” The fourteen-pointed star in Bethlehem marks the spot where VERBUM was born. The Christian strives for the Unreachable Star, and through the difficulty of perseverance, the Star comes to the Christian. Ad Astra per Aspera.


Will Stuever

Diocese of Wichita

Why are you here, Elijah?

February 13, 2020

Recently, my classmates and I had the opportunity to visit the Mount Carmel mountain range in the Galilee region for a second time. On our first trip, we were on the mountain of Muhraqa, where the prophet Elijah challenged over 400 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20 – 40). This time around we visited the Carmelite Convent that houses the shrine to Our Lady Star of the Sea (Stella Maris). The early members of the Carmelite Order built this shrine on top of the cave where, according to tradition, Elijah, the eighth century (BC) prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, spent some time hiding from those wishing to take his life. The first book of Kings relates the following concerning this: “There he [Elijah] came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him: Why are here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:9) In answeringthis question, the prophet gave witness to his faithfulness and steadfast resolution to carry out the work that the Lord had entrusted to him. However, those who, up to that point, had been unfaithful to God remained opposed to changing their ways.

Put differently, a sense of discouragement had started to overcome Elijah, making him feel unable to continue his God-given mission to the people of Israel. The words he had so far pronounced in the name of God had born no visible fruit, and the only viable course of action for him seemed to be to just stay in that cave. But that penetrating question came once more: “Why are you here, Elijah?” This time, even though the prophet responded the same way as before, the Lord God commanded him to leave that cave and “take the desert road to Damascus” where he would anoint the next king for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As I sat there contemplating this very cave, I reflected of the numberless times God has silently put forth the same question: “Why are you here?” One could give a thousand different answers and perhaps present a myriad excuses for why we have not yet taken that step that the Lord is asking us to take. Certainly, God had to ask this question to the Prophet Elijahtwice. After that, the prophet responded with action. Is it time for you to get up, exit that cave and spring into action?

Leonel Sepulveda

Archdiocese of Chicago

They have no wine

February 12, 2020

Cana is one of those places in the Bible that simply sticks out for people. Instantly people associate Cana with weddings and the beginning of Jesus’ miracles at his mother’s urging, “They have no wine” (John 2:3). Simply put, they have no joy. They have gone as far as they can go with Christ. It is time for him to change everything.

​The heart of the story of Cana is a story of vocation. The couple whom Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were celebrating were beginning their vocations as a married couple; while Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were beginning a new chapter of their own journey to sainthood, a new vocation following Christ.

​As I reflect on the story of Cana within the hallowed halls of the Church built in the late 19th century, the words of the steward began to take shape, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). Life without Christ is very similar, we think that what we are experiencing, the life we are living is filled with joy and vigor, but it slowly degrades into the lies of this world until it becomes fleeting moments of satisfaction followed by seeking our next moment of happiness. Ultimately, we realize it is an illusion, a descent from one gratification to the next.

​However, with Christ, everything changes. We go from living life on our own, to the sweetest, choicest, most satisfying adventure by the grace of Christ. Ultimately, this is the discovery of our vocation, our path to sainthood – whether it be marriage, the priesthood, religious life, or consecrated single life. The Lord is never outdone in generosity and desires to satisfy every desire with overflowing joy.

​It brings a whole new reality and comfort by the words of Our Mother, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).


Robert Ryan
Archdiocese of Chicago

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