Holy Land Pilgrimage


February 15, 2022

HERE. It’s a surprisingly powerful four-letter word. Naturally, it pops up a lot in the Holy Land. Many of the holy sites have little discs of stone with a Latin inscription around them which includes the word “HERE” (HIC in Latin). “The Word was made flesh HERE” (cf. Jn 1:14). “HERE Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary” (cf. the Apostles Creed). Some of the discs commemorate lesser-known events: “HERE the precursor of the Lord was born,” which commemorates the birth of St. John the Baptist. Or, my favorite: “HERE Jesus was made subservient to them” (cf. Lk 2:51). And it’s not just these neat little plaques that say “HERE;” it’s added into the readings and the prayers at Mass, too. For example, “There was a wedding HERE in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was HERE.” “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to THIS town of Galilee called Nazareth.” And yes, HERE (or in THIS place or on THIS high mountain) is always in all caps. It’s just that important.

Adding these four-letter words to familiar Scripture verses and prayers drives the point home: these things happened HERE. And if they happened HERE, that means that they actually happened. Of course, I believe that all of these things actually happened, but there’s a difference between “I understand event x conceptually and attribute the concept of reality to event X, thereby believing that it is a reality which is really real” and the moment of awe when you realize that you’re standing in the cave where Jesus was born or looking at the ruins of Joseph’s house in Nazareth. When we stayed in Nazareth, one of the religious sisters there told us about her experience of living in THIS place for decades, contemplating Jesus and (both literally and figuratively) following in his footsteps. She said that it has taught her two things: one, that Jesus is a person, not an idea, and two, that he is a humble person. It’s true. I relate better to Jesus as a human person now that I’ve been to his hometown. He learned his trade from his father HERE, in a way that isn’t entirely different from the way that I learned to do things with my dad back home. He walked HERE. He played and made friends HERE, not at all unlike I did. Then the town that raised him tried to throw him off a cliff HERE. That’s very different from my experience, but I can imagine it much better now.

It also raises the question: Why was God born HERE? Why did he walk HERE? Why did he die HERE? THIS PLACE is beautiful, but not singularly so. Nazareth is a small town. Judea was a small kingdom, later a small province of the Roman empire. They’re humble places. Aside from their religious significance, the region’s only claims to fame are that it’s a part of the largest rift valley on earth and that it was along a major trade route. The Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea are all below sea level. They are literally the lowliest places on earth. And yet, God chose them. God chose THIS PLACE. The Holy Land is a humble place for a humble God. That says more about who he is than anything I could ever write.

Jeff Frieden
Archdiocese of Dubuque

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