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Holy Land Pilgrimage

The Pilgrims Have Returned

March 16, 2022

The Mundelein seminarians of third theology have returned back to Chicago safe and sound! It was an incredible journey, and though it was long and tiring, it was filled with unforgettable experiences, true fraternity, and a great desire to share what we have encountered in the Holy Land. We will have some time to recover, and then we’ll be back to the regular seminary schedule. However, there will be plenty of time to reflect on and share the numerous graces we’ve been blessed with in our nine-week stay in the Holy Land. We look forward to unpacking these with you and each other. As we all continue to prepare for the holiest days of our Church year, let us all pray that we may stay close to the Lord Jesus Christ so we can all celebrate the victory of his cross and Resurrection.

Check out the final podcast episode in the player above featuring Archdiocese of Chicago seminarians Kevin Gregus, Dan Korenchan and Michael Mehringer.

Thank you for the prayers and please continue to pray for us as we journey toward ordination.

Psalm 126

When the LORD brought back the exiles of Sion,
we thought we were dreaming.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter;
on our tongues, songs of joy.

Then the nations themselves said, “What great deeds
the LORD worked for them!”
What great deeds the LORD worked for us!
Indeed, we were glad.

Bring back our exiles, O LORD,
as streams in the south.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
bearing seed for the sowing;
they come back, they come back with a song,
bearing their sheaves.

Lord, I Give You Thanks

March 15, 2022

To the Lord, I must say: “I don’t know how I received so many blessings but seeing the changes they have made in my life, and I give you thanks. I never expected to have the privilege of spending so much time in the Holy Land. It certainly wasn’t possible on my own. You have blessed me in ways I never expected. Throughout this pilgrimage, you have moved my heart, drawing me closer to you. Lord, your movements are secret, but looking back, they are clear. You have changed me for the better.

I’ve stood with awe at the place you were born, walked the paths of Galilee where you preached, and kept vigil through the night at the tomb where you were laid. I can’t help but feel a part of my soul has risen to you and returned anew. I know my frailty, so thank you for sharing your strength. My dearest hope is to retain these gifts and share them in my ministry. On this journey, I felt joy and excitement for my upcoming ordination. You showed me the beauty and breadth of the Church in a new way. Worshiping in Jerusalem together with people all around the world was something special. Thank you for continuing to guide and keep me on this pilgrimage.

You have moved me to gratitude through this journey, recalling my friends and family. It has been a special privilege to bring their intentions here to the holy land. Not everyone gets to share in this opportunity. Keep me mindful of that. Perhaps this is why so many shared my excitement when I told them I was coming to the Holy Land. In a way, I have tried to carry them with me and ask for your graces upon them. Those have been important prayers for me. Never let me grow bitter or stubborn, as I have much to be thankful for. Thank you for the reminders of the love and support back home.

Finally, dear Lord, never leave me to my abilities. Keep my heart and soul focused on you as we return from your home. The more I place you at the center, the more I see your blessings. I know you will sustain me throughout my life and ministry. You’ve shown me how you sustained Jesus through his ministry. We walked the same path Jesus did through his life. From Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem, I’ve seen what Jesus did in your name and what impact he had. May I recognize that same Spirit present in my own life. What a blessing this life and vocation truly is and will be. Thank you, Lord, for your grace, the people in my life, and the opportunity to meet you here in the Holy Land.”

God bless you all and see you back in the States.

Nick Zummo
Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau

Holy Land Podcast: Jerusalem, Our Destiny

March 14, 2022

Holy Land podcast hosts Kevin Gregus and Dan Korenchan of the Archdiocese of Chicago welcome special guest Alan Soto Hopkins of the Diocese of Tucson to catch us up on their adventures in Jerusalem as they approach the end of their time in the Holy Land.

You can subscribe to Formation, the podcast from Mundelein Seminary, on your favorite podcast app. Please spread the word to your family, friends, and parish community about this podcast. Please rate and review this podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts so that others can discover it more easily. Thanks for listening!

Watch and Pray

March 14, 2022

Walking around the Pater Noster (Latin for Our Father) Church on the top of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem’s Old City, we looked at countless ceramic plaques of the “Our Father,” all in different languages. Just a few steps away is the traditional place of the Ascension, and here – not far from Bethany – is the traditional site where Jesus taught the disciples to pray the prayer we now call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.” This prayer is many things, and among them it is a revelation of Jesus’s own relationship with His Father. In it, we see Jesus’s total dependence on His Father and His disposition of complete obedience to the Father’s will; this is a relationship that we are invited into. So it is fitting that in roughly the same spot that Jesus teaches us how to relate to His Father as beloved children, He also returns to His Father in the Ascension, inviting us to follow Him soon.

But in order to enjoy that glory revealed at the top of the Mount of Olives, we have to pass through the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the very same hill. Shortly after our visit to the Pater Noster Church, we walked down the hill to Gethsemane and had Mass in the church there, called the Church of All Nations or the Basilica of the Agony. Inside this church, just in front of the altar, is the bedrock where Jesus is believed to have prayed during His agony in the garden. In his homily at that Mass, Fr. John Lodge drew our attention to Jesus’s prayer on that spot: “Father… not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42); “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Doesn’t this remind us of something? What about that prayer that He had taught us on the top of the hill? He fully incorporated the words He said there into every part of His life, to the point that even – or especially – in his most excruciating agony, these words gave voice to the prayer of His heart.

Likewise, the relationship that He lives with His Father in the full glory of His divinity at the top of the Mount of Olives is the same relationship that He lives in the agony of His humanity down below in the garden. The façade of the Church of All Nations bears a Latin inscription that comes from this verse from the Letter to the Hebrews: “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the One Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission” (5:7). Jesus’s prayer is made from His Sacred Heart, and is expressed through His bodily suffering. In a sense, the perfect sacrifice through which we are redeemed is already initiated in this obedient submission of His heart to the Father from the depths of His humanity. So this verse from Hebrews already gives us a hint of the hope of resurrection: “He was heard.”

This Lent, whenever we join ourselves to the prayer of Jesus from our hearts, and from the depths of our human suffering, we too are heard because we give voice to the prayer of God the Father’s beloved Son. We’re drawn into the mystery of our own redemption, won through Jesus’ obedience unto death; and, because the Father hears us, we already partake in a piece of our resurrection with Him. With the Lord’s Prayer on our lips, we ascend the Mount of Olives in our hearts, and we’re moved by grace and the hope of following soon where Christ has gone.

John Paul Tomassi
Archdiocese of Seattle

Night at the Holy Sepulcher

March 12, 2022

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the entire night at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was one of the most meaningful experiences of prayer I have ever had. Often, it is not easy to stay awake all night in prayer and vigilance. Additionally, it is a bit cold inside the church at this time of the year. At some point, I found myself trying to accumulate some warmth by covering myself with my jacket and putting my hands inside my sweater. I spent a considerable amount of time in the tomb of our Lord, the place where the Lord was buried and where He rose from the dead. It was a sacred moment for me to be there.

Inside the tomb of the Lord, I realized that the Lord endured excruciating pain, rejection, betrayal, and finally death on a cross for one primary reason. I also understood that because of that same reason, He brought me to that holy place and allowed me to experience all these years of seminary formation. The reason is that the Lord desires my happiness and your happiness. Why? Because he loves us unconditionally. This means that the Lord loves our whole being. He embraces us with our strengths and limitations and not simply parts of our hearts. Sometimes it is difficult for us to receive this kind of love. We may even become afraid of or amazed by the fact that Someone can love us no matter what we may have experienced in life.

As my preparation to become a deacon continues, I am deeply grateful for this reassurance of what the Lord desires for me and why He desires it. My prayer for you as you read this reflection is that you grow in an ever-greater receptivity of the reality that God wants your happiness because He loves you unconditionally.

Angel Tarango
Diocese of El Paso, Texas

Domine Venimus

March 11, 2022

As our pilgrimage at the Holy Land is coming to its conclusion, I was thinking how much easier it is to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land now compared to, for example, the pilgrims in the Crusader period. Most pilgrims in that period would only make a single trip to the Holy Land in their lifetime. It was a treacherous journey over both land and turbulent sea that would have required a long time and could even cost them their life. Nowadays, the trip takes less than a day to make! When we were given a tour of the Holy Sepulcher church, the tour guide mentioned that behind one of the locked doors there is a graffiti in Latin on the wall from the Crusader period that reads “Lord, we came.” That short phrase expresses the challenges that the pilgrims experienced just to see a glimpse of the land where Jesus walked, died, and rose for us.

From these thoughts I would like to offer two reflections. The first reflection is the great blessing it has been to be here walking through and seeing many of the biblical passages firsthand. I am thankful for the opportunity to be here and to all who made this trip possible. In a sense it is mind-boggling to look around and say, “Jesus was born here, Jesus wept here, Jesus rose from the dead here.” As I am thankful for this pilgrimage, and how much easier it is to travel now than compared to the Crusader period, I also bring to mind and pray for all those around the world who do have to undergo a treacherous journey to find a better life away from their home country. The second reflection I would like to share is about how perhaps some of you reading this have never gone to the Holy Land. I think that Holy Land, however, is much closer than you might think. Every parish that has the Eucharist in the tabernacle is in a very real sense Holy Land. Our Lord is present there physically, just as how He was here where we are now doing pilgrimage. This is not to undermine the great blessing, as I said, that it is to be here. Being here does inform and nourish the spiritual life.  However, our Lord is still physically present all over the world. I think that every time we pay a visit to our Lord in the tabernacle this can be a ‘mini’ pilgrimage. As we finish our visit to Him in the tabernacle whether we travel halfway across the world, or 10 minutes, we can also say like those pilgrims from centuries ago: “Domine Venimus. Lord we came, we are here,” and you can be certain that our Lord will be very happy to see you and thankful that you went to visit Him.

Alan Soto-Hopkins
Diocese of Tucson

“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”

March 10, 2022

This past Friday my classmates and I had the opportunity to pray the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows) here in Jerusalem, giving us a glimpse of what it would have been like for Jesus Christ. It was amazing to gather with the Franciscans who led the Stations of the Cross throughout the city, along with the many different religious orders and pilgrims that came to pray. Even with the many faithful who gathered to pray along the steps of Jesus, I started to feel alone. Only about 2% of the population in Israel are Christian, and that was even more apparent from the confused stares of the local people trying to walk through the streets. Locals would push through and laugh, and people on tricycles began to honk, unfamiliar with what was going on. I was not sure how I was supposed to not lash out at the people, let alone pray the stations of the cross. “Jesus was laughed at and ignored too.” My classmate who walked alongside me reminded me why I was here in the first place. Christianity was never supposed to be the popular religion; God became incarnate in Jesus Christ to cause a radical shift in the way people were living their lives. The Messiah who was expected to be a warrior king came a man who preached love, mercy, and repentance. Rather than demand the conversion of those around him, Jesus Christ went up to cavalry and died for all of mankind, especially those who were laughing at us now. I was reminded about how little my love for God was during those steps, and how much more I need to grow in order to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ. Just like our faith, the priesthood is not a glamorous job. To this day, the church is trying to repair the wounds committed by those members within it. Many days will be about swallowing my pride and serving the people of Las Vegas in ways I won’t expect. Because of the gift I have received from Jesus Christ, I now have the opportunity to offer up my life and serve the people wholeheartedly. At the end of the Via Dolorosa, we were led to the tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. What felt like an individual journey throughout the city reminded me that I was not in this alone, that there are many others who have fallen in love with Jesus Christ. Please continue to pray for me and my brother seminarians as we prepare for diaconate ordination, and please know I am praying for you all too.

AJ Sales
Diocese of Las Vegas

The Sacred and the Mundane

March 9, 2022

Those who have walked through the hurried streets of Chicago and stepped into Saint Peter’s in the Loop know the feeling of peace that suddenly overtakes you. After adjusting to the silence of the church, you step out only to be immersed back in the river of pedestrians. This same oscillating sense of busyness and peace permeates Jerusalem. In one moment, you are jostling your way through crowded alleys. The next, you are immersed in the mysteries of Jesus’ Passion – the Church of Gethsemane, of Peter’s Denial, of the Condemnation, of Jesus’s Encounter with Mary.

Like closed doors that separate busy streets from peaceful churches, I can keep daily life separate from prayer. It is safer to keep doors closed than leave them open for strangers. Yet, when I pass by the Holy Sepulcher, its doors are always open. From sunrise to sunset, hundreds of pilgrims, tourists, monks, and sisters make their way into and out of the holiest site in the world. The peace of this church penetrates the people that visit it. Rather than keeping my doors closed, I am invited to allow the sacred to penetrate the mundane. Fr. George Aschenbrenner calls this the “monasticism of the heart.” There, in the quiet of our hearts, we can carry Christ with us through the streets of Jerusalem, Chicago, or wherever we find ourselves. We might even be surprised to find Him already present in the co-worker, the cashier, and the stranger on the street.

Jared Rutnicki
Diocese of Joliet

Tel-me about it!

March 6, 2022

The geographical landscape of the Holy Land is very diverse, from valleys and plains to mountains and hills—something I did not expect when I arrived here. There are many hills, and some of these hills are actually human-made! In this pilgrimage, we have visited not only holy sites, but also archaeological ruins. Many of these ruins have the prefix “tel,” which means hill or mount in Arabic. These mounts are layers of human civilization built upon one another. When one civilization was established and flourished and was subsequently conquered or abandoned, another one came and built on top of it; this cycle was repeated several times. Most of these hills offer beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and are great places for reflection.

Among the tels we have visited is Tel Arad, located south of Jerusalem in the Arad Valley. This archaeological site finds a sophisticated Canaanite city dating back from the Bronze age and a fortress from the kings of Biblical Judah.

According to the biblical tradition, Joshua defeated an Arad Canaanite king in this site as recorded in the book of Joshua (21:1). There is a fortress that contained a temple, and excavations even indicate a place for the holy of holies. Another important site we visited was Tel Megiddo. Archaeologists have uncovered 26 layers of civilizations in this place. Again, there are remains of Canaanite and Israeli settlements indicated by the type of walls built and the location for worship that included sacrificial altars.

 

A third example of a tel we have visited is in Jericho. The city of Jericho has been given the title of the oldest city in the world. Near the present day-city of Jericho, there is a Tel that dates back from about 10,000 BC, making it one of the earliest known civilizations in the world. This is also the biblical site where the Israelites defeated the Canaanites and entered the promised land. Archaeological findings have not conferred this event in historical terms. It remains, however, an important site in biblical tradition. 

The artifacts unearthed at a tel us about the people, their worship, their customs, and other important details. For us Christians, we learn about biblical times and the practices and architectural framework of Byzantine Christians and Crusaders in more recent times. Going through these archaeological sites has made me more aware of the diversity in civilizations and their complex systems to maintain cities. Tels are another way to help bring the Bible alive and give it a historical context.

Jesus Raya
Archdiocese of Chicago

The II Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

March 3, 2022

The late novelist Anne Rice called herself a “Christmas Christian,” a Christian who is drawn to the mystery of the Incarnation. In the years since I first read that, I found myself identifying with it more and more to the point where “Christmas Christian” meant that I was not a “Good Friday Christian.” As a result, I have loved our pilgrimage so far. How could I add to what my classmates have said about the privilege of coming to adore at the Church of the Nativity every day in Bethlehem, or praying in the childhood home of Jesus, or finding myself before the intriguing words, Verbum caro hic factum est (the Word was made flesh here), at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth?

So, when we got to Jerusalem, I was a little apprehensive. Yes, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was here, but that same church contained Calvary, not to mention the Via Dolorosa leading to it, and the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. Don’t get me wrong. As a seminarian and as a Catholic, of course, I know the value of all these places. But I wondered if it would become wearing being so immersed in this sorrow every day. Christmas every day in Bethlehem I could handle, Good Friday every day—maybe not.

One church, in particular, has begun to change my mind about that. The Church of the Flagellation sits right next to the First Station on the Way of the Cross. As I sat in the chapel, I looked up at the dome and noticed that the gold background was interrupted by white in the center of the crown of thorns. “Was the gold wearing off the ceiling?” I wondered. Then I realized that the crown of thorns was bursting into bloom. As I stared at the tabernacle, which showed Jesus’s face, bruised and bloody and crowned with thorns and a bejeweled crown above it, I reflected that His suffering was over and He has risen. Yet I was still gazing at His blood-stained face. Above me, although covered with flowers, was undeniably still a crown of thorns. “What kind of God comes to me like this?” I asked myself.

Then I realized that the tomb is empty, but we still suffer here on earth. Jesus still comes to us crowned with thorns not because He is still suffering but coming to be with us in our suffering and to transform that suffering from the inside out: “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). That is what it means to be a Good Friday Christian and ultimately to be a Christmas Christian, to allow Jesus to become incarnate in our lives and to live His mysteries in us, including His sufferings, so that we can rise to new life with Him.

Frank Pusateri
Diocese of Joliet

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