From May 17–28, the USA Northeast Province led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with 15 Jesuits and friends of the Society. The trip was coordinated by Joe Naylor, assistant for advancement and communications at the USA Northeast Province, and included Provincial, Fr. John Cecero, SJ, Fr. David Marcotte, SJ, and Dan Corrou, SJ, a Jesuit scholastic, who guided participants through reflections and provided Ignatian insights along the journey. The trip spanned Petra, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho and Nazareth, and also included a visit to the Jesuit Center in Amman, Jordan, a work of the USA Northeast Province that serves refugees.
Trip participant Edrie Royals shares a spiritual reflection:
I am a recent Catholic in the linear scheme of life. In 2011, I embraced the Mother Church at Easter in my twilight years, a decision that has given new meaning to my life and a new understanding of commitment and obedience.
The Holy Land is a long way, geographically and culturally, from the Deep South, the land of my birth and where I have spent my life. During the pilgrimage, I kept wondering, “How could I, an outsider with two degrees from the University of Mississippi and one from the University of Colorado, be so blessed to travel with Jesuit scholars, learn from them, eat and drink with them, and partake of the Holy Eucharist with them at every holy site? And to do so in the company of fellow pilgrims who showed me the love of Jesus?”
The answer would become clear with the passage of time.
A group photo of the pilgrimage participants taken from atop Mt. Nebo.
We travelled from Amman, Jordan, to Jerusalem with stops all along the way. We even had time to spend a day at Petra and go for a float in the Dead Sea. Our singular focus, however, was ever present: we were there to experience Jesus. We walked the streets and dusty paths, related to the people, ate the food; and I often wondered if Jesus’s genetic heritage in his humanness from his mother’s side still flowed through any of those I saw. We went to Mount Nebo, where God allowed Moses to view the Promised Land, and visited a baptismal site on the Jordan River, where John the Baptist may have preached and baptized Jesus.
We went to Nazareth and visited three churches dedicated to times and events in the lives of the Holy Family. At Cana, we remembered Christ’s first miracle at the wedding feast, and our married couples renewed their wedding vows. In Capernaum, we relived the three-year ministry of Jesus that spanned a mere seven to eight miles on and near the Sea of Galilee. We sailed on that sea and envisioned the disciples with nets full of fish. From nearby Mount Tabor, we went to a church dedicated to the transfiguration. From atop that mount, we looked down on the Valley of Armageddon, and I thought of the face of God looking down on the valley of evil.
Our last days were in Jerusalem. We experienced Shepherd’s Field, Church of the Nativity, Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Kidron Valley, Mount Zion, the Upper Room commemorating the Last Supper, and the courtyard that could have been the place where the high priest interrogated Jesus, and another where the Roman governor Pilate agreed to his crucifixion. All of the places led to the Way of the Cross and Calvary.
Fr. Cecero during Mass in the Shepherds’ Field Cave, east of Bethlehem.
It matters not that the exact locations, for most of the sites are not known precisely. Legend and oral history, often supported by archeological findings, give credibility to the general locale of the places visited and, in many instances, the evidence is so compelling that it serves to deepen and strengthen faith.
It also matters not that the experiences occurred in a fast-moving, multi-tasking environment. It will take time and reflection to process the people we met and places we experienced as well as those we studied in Biblical and historical context. The essence will sift through the haze, and the memorable lessons will surface.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, at the site of the enclosure of the tomb of Jesus.
Moses said yes, but ever so reluctantly. He asked God questions and expressed doubts that he was the right person to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. He was looking at the situation with human eyes and not the eyes of faith. Nevertheless, he obeyed God.
Mary said yes, but asked how it could be that she was with child. She, with childlike faith, wanted to please her Heavenly Father; and, with her faith as her guidepost, she gave no resistance. She merely could not understand.
Jesus said yes to the cross with full knowledge and understanding of what his answer meant: the suffering he would endure to bear our sins. In his humanity, he asked that the cup be removed if it be the Father’s will; but, above all, he wanted his Father’s will and not his own.
In these three lives, it seems there was a developmental evolution of “yes,” from a reluctant obedience to a selfless embrace of God’s will. The lesson for me is to try to do God’s will with the “yes” of Jesus.
I do not doubt that more lessons will surface. Until then, I will treasure every blessing I received from this pilgrimage and bask in the memories of the people and places.
By the end of the trip, the answer to my question, “How could I be so blessed?” was evident. It was part of God’s providential plan. Because he allowed me to go, I will never experience my faith as before. The words of the Bible, the sites, and the lives of those depicted in sacred scripture have taken form and become real. They are now a deep and meaningful part of who I am.
Come join the USA Northeast Province on an 11-day Ignatian Pilgrimage in Oct. 2017 to visit the birthplaces of Loyola and Xavier, and the historic sites in Manresa, Montserrat and Barcelona, Spain, with an additional two days in Lourdes. This once-in-a-lifetime trip will be under the spiritual supervision of Fr. George Witt, SJ, assistant for spirituality ministries for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces. For more information, please contact Joe Naylor at email@example.com or 212-774-5529.