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Holy Land Pilgrimage

From the City to the Wilderness

December 9, 2022

Dusty Toyota trucks, detailed luxury sedans, and puttering mopeds. Throw these together with countless pedestrians in the winding streets of Bethlehem, and you get a cacophony of sound and activity that would rival even the busiest of days in Time Square. Walking through the streets, one notices that the locals speak Arabic, English, French…and car horn (fluently). What one does not notice is the “little town of Bethlehem” so often sung about at Christmas time. Yet despite all the noise, one gets the sense that there is something about this place that whispers the presence of God. Walking through the narrow streets filled with shopkeepers doing their best to draw your attention, you arrive at the Church of the Nativity feeling finally free of the outside noise only to be confronted with the dull roar of hundreds of people doing their best to speak with each other with their “inside voices.” You shuffle through the crowd of people until you get a solid three seconds to touch the spot where the Savior was born.

Recently, we took a day trip to the monastery of Mar Saba. Established by St. Sabas in 502 AD, the monastery sits in the Kidron valley on the very edge of the Judaean wilderness. St. Sabas, like countless other monks and hermits, left the hustle and bustle of the city for the silence of the wilderness in search of hearing the whisper of God more clearly. The nine monks that inhabit the monastery now are part of the oldest perpetually inhabited monastery of the Christian world. But instead of the silence of the desert, the monks encounter hundreds of pilgrims who come to reverence the relics of St. Sabas and to see the beautiful desert scenery. Truly a beautiful sacrifice of love on the part of these monks – I am sure they would rather sit in silence with the Lord.

The monks offer us a clear imperative: to seek the Lord in silence! I say imperative because our Lord himself tells us to close the door of our rooms and pray to our Father in secret (Matthew 6:6). To seek interior silence is consequently not reserved to monks and “holy people.” It’s for all of us – and all of us can seek after it. Not all of us can retreat to a desert monastery, but all of us are familiar with the noise of daily life. The pilgrimage of the heart is to seek after silence in order to hear God’s voice. This can truly be done. Why? Because in the dark streets of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a man. He was born in a cave and laid in silence in the food trough for animals. In time, his feet became strong, and he walked among us in this land in search of resting places in the homes of men. Now he stands at the door to our hearts and begs us for refuge within. In response to our charity, he will give us his peace as he is laid to rest in the silence of our hearts.

Please be assured of my continued prayers for all who read this blog, and in your charity pray for us as we continue our pilgrimage.

By: Jacob Hugo
Diocese of Saganaw, MI

Do This in Memory of Me

December 4, 2022

One of the things I have learned about my own spiritual life during my time in seminary is that it is very much grounded in memory. In prayer, God will repeatedly draw me back to certain moments from my past to show me how he has always been working, forming me into the man I am today. This movement always initiates the same response: A sense of thanksgiving and a deep awareness that God has placed his fingerprint on every moment of my life.

This theme of memory is something that I continue to sit with as we progress on our pilgrimage through the Holy Land. The past is not a thing to be forgotten here, it is a living reality that shapes the future of all those who visit these sacred sites. Figures like Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, and Elizabeth not only show us where we have been, they show us where we are going, and they inspire us to live the Christian life with more joy and intention.

Recognizing the gifts that God has given us and responding with gratitude is a concrete truth of the spiritual life and a sure-fire way to draw closer to Christ and his Church. The sites of the Holy Land remind us that Jesus was a real person who lived at a particular time and in a particular place. That life is something he asks us to remember every time we go to Mass. The words “do this in memory of me” uttered by Jesus at the last supper and again by the priest at every Mass give meaning to our thanksgiving. We are confident in what God will do for us because we are confident in what he has already done for us.

Grant Colborn
Diocese of Rockford

Blessed are the Poor – Journeying With the Shepherds to Bethlehem

November 29, 2022

Greetings from Bethlehem! Over the weekend, we visited Shepherds’ Field in the town of Beit Sahour. This is where the angels announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus. It sits on top of a hill overlooking nearby mountain towns. It is a beautiful and tranquil place with many caves and large stones. These caves serve as a place of refuge for the shepherds and animals in times of inclement weather.

We were given some time to explore the site and pray. As I was reciting the rosary in one of the caves, I couldn’t help but notice the waves of pilgrims joyfully singing Christmas songs such as “Angels we have heard on high.” The place was coming to life with people singing as if the angels had just appeared to them. I was trying to imagine what it would be like when the angels appeared and announced such important, momentous, and significant news to the shepherds. They probably wondered why angels would appear to them, the lowly shepherds. It reminds me of the Beautitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5: 3).

Following in the footsteps of the shepherds, we decided to walk to the Church of Nativity to adore Jesus instead of taking the bus back. It was about a 3-mile uphill walk in the rain. We began the hike by listening to an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke and continued while praying the rosary. We arrived, soaked, at the Church of Nativity, and when I told one of the locals about our journey, he said it would have been easier had we walked there and taken the bus back. We, however, were in the spirit of pilgrimage and didn’t mind the more difficult journey. Then, we lined up with the rest of the pilgrims and visited the manger and the birthplace of Jesus. Afterwards, we gathered to sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in the cloister outside the Church.

Today, we celebrated Mass in the grotto of the Nativity. It was so special and beautiful. This is where the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Out of all the places on earth, he chose to be born among animals in this poor city (Bethlehem is still very poor). God loves us so much that he chose to be like us in our humanity so we can be like him in his divinity. He loves us so much that he chose to be poor so we can be rich in his love, a love beyond our understanding.

It is good that we are here

November 27, 2022


“It is good that we are here.” (Matthew 17:4) These words were spoken by Peter to our Lord at the Transfiguration and they are words that keep running through my head as I reflect on the beginning of our time here in the Holy Land. It seems like it should go without saying, but it is incredible to be able to walk in this place, to be in the place where the Word became flesh, where Jesus was born, to see where the “yes” of Mary culminated in the birth of our savior.

It blows my mind to consider that God, the One who created everything that is, would desire our salvation, the salvation of those beings which He created, so badly that He would become like us so that, through His grace, we might become like Him. In the book, Mary: The Church at the Source, Cardinal Ratzinger talks about how, in order for a seed to bear fruit, it must enter the soil, pulling the nutrients from the soil, and assimilating them to itself in order to bring about something truly new. This is what happened. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary (Luke 1:35), she conceived, and allowed herself to be absorbed by the seed. “God’s Word…assimilated the other — the soil — into itself, became man in the “soil” of his Mother, and then, fused with the soil of the whole of humanity.” (Ratzinger p. 14). The culmination of this process, the birth of our Savior happened here. “It is good that we are here.”
-Reflection by Dane Dickinson Diocese of Davenport

The Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem

November 24, 2022

Merry Christmas from the Holy Land!

     It feels weird to be celebrating Christmas even before Thanksgiving, but throughout our pilgrimage, we will celebrate Mass according to the location rather than according to the date on the calendar. It is said that “in Bethlehem, every day is Christmas.” I have never sung Christmas hymns so early in November, but when you are standing in the grotto of the Nativity, you almost can’t help it. Reading the account of the birth of Jesus from Luke 2:1-20 just feet away from the star that marks the actual spot where it happened reminds us of the reality of our faith and the historical truth of the mystery of the Incarnation.

     In many ways, it feels appropriate to start our pilgrimage in the town where Jesus started His own pilgrimage of life on earth. To literally follow in the footsteps of Jesus is a great blessing which expresses our personal conviction to growing as His disciples. Bethlehem teaches us the importance of humility, the gift of human life, and the beauty of being a Christian. The only words I could utter when touching the spot of His birth were, “Thank you, Jesus.”

I particularly like the last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

O Holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell.
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

 

     While we are physically visiting all the holy sites here, we are seeking to grow interiorly in our relationship with Christ. Seeing where He was born, we pray that He may be born in our own hearts. Witnessing the spot where the “light came into the world” (John 3:19), we pray that He may shine through us to be a light for others. Walking in the town where He came to be with us, we pray that we may always be with Him. Simply staying in the place where He came to be like us, we pray that we may grow to be more like Him.

By Jared Kleinwachter
Archdiocese of Atlanta

We’ve Arrived! The Land of the HOLY ONE

November 21, 2022

 

Saturday evening, we left the bitter cold of Chicago. Sixteen hours later and fifty degrees warmer, we arrived in the “Land of the HOLY ONE!” This was the way our first tour guide referred to our new environment. In a place considered sacred to all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions, I wondered Who she meant by “HOLY ONE.” As we got to know her, we discovered that she was part of the 1% Christian minority that live in Israel. 80% of this God-fearing population are Jewish, and 20% are Arab Palestinians – who predominately follow Islam. Our guide was part of the minority of the minority – a Christian Arab.

For her and many other Christians here, faith in Jesus Christ is not something to be taken for granted. Nor does she consider her job as merely a convenient way to pocket cash. She joked with us how she had to study more in preparation for these tours than when she was studying for her undergrad degree in chemical engineering. For our guide, leading pilgrimages is a calling to help folks like us encounter the HOLY ONE: Jesus Christ.

By the way this woman spoke and carried herself, I had a sense that this “Jesus person” is someone very real. Not that I doubted this before, but I state it here to make this point: there is something special about this place, which brings the reality of Jesus Christ to life. It is truly the land of the HOLY ONE. This I could sense in what was merely a short bus ride from the airport terminal to our first place of lodging. If the sacredness of this country can be felt from the busy, modern streets above, I can only imagine what it will be like when we finally visit the ancient sites below…

We arrived at our lodging, joyful, yet exhausted from travel. Before eating a delicious Mediterranean supper, our group celebrated Holy Mass in the chapel of what will serve as our “homebase” for the next few days. It just so happened that the first Mass we celebrated on our pilgrimage to Israel coincided with the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. A perfect name through which to render thanks to Him who has bestowed this great gift of pilgrimage to us. A perfect title for Him who has brought us safely across the world to enter the ancient city of David, a city built for a King!  To Jesus Christ the King, the HOLY ONE of Israel, the HOLY ONE of the Universe, be all glory and honor and praise!

By Colin Patrick

Archdiocese of Atlanta

Gearing Up for Pilgrimage, 2022!

November 16, 2022

“At the beginning, Oh Lord, you established the earth,

and the heavens are the works of your hands…

Well, it’s been another beautiful semester here at Mundelein Seminary, featuring fall foliage, football, and other fun seminary events interspersed between worship, coursework, and prayer.

By this midpoint of November, the leaves have all withered, and as of yesterday the sacred grounds of Mundelein welcomed it’s first snow of the season!

They will perish, but you remain: and they will grow old like a garment. 

You will roll them up like a cloak, and like a garment they will be changed.

This abrupt change in the season coincides with another drastic change for one blessed class of Mundelein seminarians…

Just as the weather descends, the Class of 2024 Third Theologians (3T) will soon ascend to the sky and fly to Holy Land. This year’s annual pilgrimage will span mid November to early January. Please keep us in your prayers as our class rolls up its fall academic semester, and makes final preparations for the upcoming trip! We look forward to journeying with our Blessed Lord and with YOU on our 2022 Holy Land Pilgrimage.

But you are the same, and your years will have no end

We close this chapter in confidence, trusting that the same Lord Jesus who has called us from the beginning will be with us during these lifechanging months of Pilgrimage.

But to which of the angels has he ever said:

Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool?

Are you not all ministering spirits sent to serve, 

for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? ” 

Hebrews 1: 10-14

By: Colin Patrick

Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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!

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