“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are happy” – Psalm 125
As part of our formation, seminarians studying theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in New York have the privilege of being taken to the Holy Land each year for the purpose of contemplating the holy places by which our Lord lived, part of an enriched academic and spiritual formation.
This trip was beautiful, and we had the opportunity to visit Israel and celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord in the Basilica of the Transfiguration, and sing “Silent Night” at the Basilica of the Nativity. It was a blessing to visit Jaffa, the citadel of the Crusaders in Akro, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, Haiffa and Mount Carmel, Nazareth, Marsaba, the region of the Sea of Galilee, including Tiberias, Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves, Capernaum, ending of course with our visit to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Of all the places we visited, besides the beautiful churches, one of the things I most liked was to see the natural places, which certainly Jesus saw and walked. The greatest blessing received during this pilgrimage was that I had the opportunity to spend a night vigil at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the central mysteries of our Redemption are venerated and therefore, the foundation of our faith, since here at Calvary and the stone where the body of Jesus was anointed, are silent witness of His Resurrection. That night I could see the interaction of the Latin, Armenian, Coptic and Orthodox rites since they all form a part of the worship and the responsibility of the Sepulchre.
A somewhat sad anecdote for us was to see the imposing wall dividing the Palestinian territory and the Israeli territory. This has divided many families and displaced many people. Christians are a dwindling minority, due to conflicts in the region, with children and youth suffering the most. The Christian presence in the region is very necessary, as they are a sign of peace and mercy in the midst of the Jewish-Palestinian friction. They need our economic support, but mostly secular and religious Christians need to cooperate with their presence.
This pilgrimage has helped me to strengthen my faith and live more intensely the meditation of the Word of God. I thank God for this blessing you have given me and it will surely help in my priestly ministry.