My dear people of St. Mary’s,
It was just this time last year that my aunt, who is also my godmother, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was her first, and was led by Dr. Scott Hahn, a convert to Catholicism who had previously been a Presbyterian minister. Since 1990, he has taught as a professor of Scripture at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, one of the best Catholic colleges in the United States. He is also a best-selling author of over forty books, and a nationally sought after lecturer. Many of his books and audio talks are available through Lighthouse Media (the kiosks in the Church and at Ryan Hall). Dr. Hahn and his wife Kimberly (also an author) have six children and eight grandchildren.
When my aunt returned from her pilgrimage she was so enthusiastic, and she said to me: “Dr. Hahn mentioned to us that he is going to do another one next year; you should book it right away!” So I did. But less than a month later I was assigned to St. Mary’s. After that, I naturally assumed I would not be able to make the trip. However, Fr. Edsel Delfin, who assisted us here last summer, told me he wanted to visit relatives in the U.S. during his winter break from school. Thanks to Fr. Edsel, I will now be able to make the pilgrimage. In fact, by the time you read this I should be in the Holy Land, and Fr. Edsel will be covering the two weeks that I will be away.
I have never been to the Holy Land before, and I am very much looking forward to seeing with my own eyes the places I have been hearing about since I was a small child, and that I have been preaching about for the last fifteen years. On the pilgrimage, our itinerary includes Nazareth and Cana; the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Beatitudes and Capernaum; the Mount of the Transfiguration, Shechem, Samaria and Shiloh; Qumran, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea; Bethlehem and finally, Jerusalem. And, I hope this trip will result in many new stories for homilies, and perhaps enough for a few more Scripture courses as well!
From my experiences on other pilgrimages, I must say that it does change things when you have actually been to a place; ever after it is alive in your mind in a way that it wasn’t before. A pilgrimage, of course, is not necessary for Faith, but can be a great aid to it, and help to deepen it. The first pilgrims would most likely have been those who, in the first months after the resurrection, began to search out for themselves the places where the great events in their new religion had occurred. That first generation of pilgrims would have also been privileged to meet and speak to people who were witnesses to the events, and who could describe in detail what they had seen and had experienced. One wonders if any of those ancestors of ours in the Faith ever could have imagined that twenty centuries later, their spiritual descendants would still be making pilgrimages to their homeland.
A pilgrimage is not mere religious tourism. A pilgrimage journey is done as a spiritual exercise, much like a retreat. It should always have a spirit of prayer and reflection. Daily Mass at these extraordinary sites, the Holy Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and spiritual conferences are all part of a religious pilgrimage. As a priest, it will be an indescribable privilege to be able to celebrate Mass at sites such as the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I am also very much looking forward to making this journey with Dr. Hahn, who has taught me so much about Sacred Scripture over the years, and to be able to hear him teach us about God’s Word at those places where it was first spoken.
I ask for your prayers for me and the other pilgrims on our journey. And please know that all of you good people of St. Mary’s will travel with me in my prayers, and will be remembered by me at the altar every day at the holy places where our Catholic Faith was born.