Holy Land Pilgrimage

Following Jesus

February 26, 2022

On January 9th, Israel re-opened its borders for tourists and pilgrims. This came as most welcome news as it was just in time for our January 15th departure date for our 9-week pilgrimage. We found ourselves flying overseas on a mostly empty jumbo jet.

Being on pilgrimage in these present circumstances has been interesting to say the least. As such, we’ve been given a unique atmosphere for praying in the Holy Land, which I’d like to try to convey to you, dear reader, with a few words and pictures.

We were one of the first large pilgrimage groups to arrive in Israel for a while, and it was apparent as we arrived in Bethlehem. How does the song go?

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Besides the small group here and there, we had the Church of the Nativity and other holy sites to ourselves. We were able to truly enter into the silence without distractions, a unique experience for the pilgrim in the Holy Land.

What a tremendous peace must have been Mary and Joseph’s on those special weeks after the birth of Jesus.

“They returned to . . . their own town of Nazareth” (Lk 2:39).

Following alongside the Holy Family, we went to Nazareth. Here, not much had changed. We remained some of the only pilgrims to be visiting the country, which allowed us to continue our mostly quiet contemplation. Here we moved on from the peaceful silence that the gift of a child brings to the humble obedience of Jesus’ hidden life.

“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Lk 2:40).

It was here that Jesus spent 30 years working, learning, and growing as a man; God Himself, waiting to begin His mission.

When we finally arrived at the sea of Galilee some four weeks after Israel had reopened its borders, the crowds had begun to start growing. How fitting!

“He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. And great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him” (Mt 4:23).

As our pilgrimage began to focus on the public ministry and life of Jesus, we were no longer alone, but we were often surrounded by many other groups. The crowds had begun to form.

And now, we have finally reached the end of the road. Jerusalem. Each day the crowds will continue to grow as we begin to ponder on the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord.

“A crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him” (Lk 22:47).

While we have only just arrived in Jerusalem, I think the presence of the crowds will remind us of two things. First, of the crowds seeking to put Jesus to death. “Crucify him!” And indeed, we all have in our own ways contributed to His crucifixion through our sins. Yet, there will also be a great Christian joy in the crowds of people who have arrived from all over the world to worship the one true God. It is with that joy that we hope to return to our respective dioceses, ready to share what Jesus has shared in these grace-filled moments.

Michael Mehringer
Archdiocese of Chicago

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