Roughing-It, Young Adult Pilgrimage
"I loved that we touched the raw reality of the Holy Land--meeting real people, getting real dirt on our feet. We spent so much time in prayer together--real prayer"
--Sr. Mary Gemma, TOR
Day 1 we joined Jewish friends for their Shabbat prayer, Blessing Cups, and meals. These zealous young couples were so easy to relate to, and yet had such odd and interesting ways that they live out their faith. They shared their deep affection for the little acts of keeping the law, the way they eat, dress, wash, etc. The synagogue prayer was moving – prayerful and yet so joyful, especially as they danced in circles at the conclusion. Walking back to the old city, we passed a man playing a sax in the plaza and the Immersion youth led us in the first of many spontaneous Jewish-style dances!
Day 2 was Christmas in Bethlehem. This through the wall into the West Bank was a step deeper into Middle-Eastern culture. Hummus was a staple of our daily meals, but here we discovered falafel, shawarma, Taybeh beer, and the fried cheese with pistachios dessert called knafeh. After braving the crowds to venerate the Grotto of the Nativity, our fearless guide, Fr. Anthony of the Transfiguration, led us past the Shepherds' Field holy site down into a dusty hermit's cave for a quiet Mass and Adoration.
Day 3 our Christian path in Jerusalem began with worship in Syrian Upper Room, passed over glorious Mt. of Olives, and eventually led up to a long, meditative way of the cross, wondering through narrow, busy market Street’s and into so many ancient underground chapels. Although it was the high season for Christian pilgrimages, Fr. Anthony knew where to find quiet crypts for our meditations. The most holiest of sights, the Holy Sepulchre, was packed wall-to-wall, and with a murmur of chanting. We did our best to stay focused on the cross and the silent mystery of the resurrection. We then had a talk and Mass with Beatitudes priest and author, Fr. Jacques Philippe, in the Melkite (Arabic Byzantine) cathedral.
Day 4 began with a twilight farewell to Jerusalem. We drove down to Sea Level, then cut across some hills on a rocky path to a lookout upon the Jordan Valley. "Jordan" means "descent," we learned, looking down another 1000 feet of elevation. A purple haze hovering over the dramatic slopes disappeared in an instant as the sun peeked over the horizon, revealing the contours of hundreds of barren dunes.
As we sang our morning praises, Bedouin (desert nomad) boys and their donkey politely set up their mobile jewelry shop on the rocks before us. We traveled further down to the Jordan, and during the Penitential Rite of the Mass, we renewed our Baptism promises and each of us plunged into the Jordan River for a blessing. Following Jesus‘s baptism, He went into the wilderness and was tempted. We followed His path up to the next holy site: Temptation Monastery, perched on the side of a cliff. Orthodox monks escorted us into hermit caves and up to the rock where Satan tempted Jesus with the power of the cities below.
After a dip in the salty grime and the therapeutic mud of the Dead Sea, we headed to Galilee. Our accommodations in Jerusalem were bunk beds, a decent kitchen, and beautiful terraces at the site of Peter's triple denial. On the shores of Galilee, we slept at the site of his triple promise of love to the Risen Lord. From now on, it was time to take out the hammocks and sleeping bags.
Day 5 was a quiet morning, meditating on site and then reading Matthew 5-7 together just up the slope of the Mount of the Beatitudes. We then bathed in the waterfall of Job's Spring before lunch. In the afternoon, we hiked along the shores to Jesus' home base, Capernaum. In small groups, we had Bible study time, reading John 6 in the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus proclaimed himself the Bread of Life.
Day 6, we meditated on the Loaves and Fishes before heading for Mount Tabor. With everything on our backs, we headed up the steep incline of the round forested mountain. On top, below the holy site and the enormous crusader fortress ruins, we hung our hammocks and made dinner. The Immersion youth, who are spending 3 months in the Holy Land based at Emmaus, grocery-shopped and prepared our simple meals and picnics each day. The hummus and pita never got old, and each meal seemed to feature a different local fruit, grain, spice, or even wine! Each pilgrim was able to pitch in for table-setting, dish-washing, and other chores.
Most nights, we ended with a time of silence to reflect on the day, then a blessing and song to the Virgin Mary. But this night, we erected an altar of stones for night adoration before heading to sleep beneath the pines and stars.
Day 7 we visited Nazareth where we venerated Mary's home and celebrated Byzantine Divine Liturgy. We shopped for falafel in small groups, then rode to the aqueduct beach of Caesarea, the home of Pilate, St. Cornelius, as well as where Paul was imprisoned for two years. We camped at Mary Ark of the Covenant convent, where the Ark was kept for 20 years before David took it up to Jerusalem.
Day 8, our final day, was our walk to Emmaus! We reflected on Scriptures and the mystery of the Resurrection as we trekked 5 hours over nature trails to arrive for Mass with the Community of the Beatitudes in the ruins of a 5th-century house of Cleopas. In the evening, Byzantine vespers began a festive evening, with dinner in the courtyard with several Jewish friends who shared songs and words of wisdom.
The Beatitudes religious and lay members have resided in the Holy Land since '75, and at Emmaus since '93. Here is a link for retreats in Colorado and for pilgrimages, even with Fr. Jacques Philippe!
Beatitudes Missions has opened the door to young American Catholics to have formation, service, and "roughing-it," prayerful pilgrimages. Hit the buttons at the top of the page for opportunities. Browse or subscribe to the blog for bi-monthly stories and snapshots of our religious, young people, and friends in the Holy Land!
"Pilgrimage is praying with your feet."
-YOUCAT, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn