July is the traditional time for vacations, holidays, and trips as families and households visit relatives, relax, and take in different parts of our great nation. Normally I am around the whole summer, preferring to take time off in the autumn when temperatures are more moderate, but this year I had an opportunity to travel to the Holy Land with friends. I had never been and so it seemed an opportune moment that might never come around again. And so, on July 6th off I went, landing in Tel Aviv some 26 hours later.
It was a bit of a whirlwind given Israel has lots of holy places. It was also July and the weather was pretty much like a summer day in Tampa. The one exception was Galilee. That seriously was hot. But the upside was that while normally there is a crush of tourists, everywhere we went the crowds were small, there was no waiting, and it was easy to find moments of quiet for prayer at the holy sites.
We spent several days in the Galilee area to the north of Jerusalem. Galilee is the area around the Sea of Galilee that hosts so many places and events from the Gospels: Cana, Capernaum, Sermon on the Mount, the place where Jesus called the disciples. Then we spent two days in Jordan including the place where Jesus was baptized, where the people Israel crossed from Exodus into the Promised Land, and the ruins of Petra. The remaining time was spent in the Bethlehem-Bethany-Jerusalem area — and yes, I have pictures.
It was a wonderful tour that took in so many different places throughout Israel and Jordan. There were 40 other pilgrims on the tour that was organized out of the Franciscan Monastery of Washington DC. The tour leader was Fr. Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Atonement Friar. He and I had served together on the Board of Franciscan Mission Service – and so it was nice to catch up with him. In addition to visiting sites, we celebrated Mass every day in some pretty amazing places: the wedding site in Cana, Mt. Nebo where Moses overlooked the Promised Land, the home of the Holy Family in Nazareth, and on the last day, at the Chapel of the Crucifixion in Jerusalem. Amazing to think we were celebrating the Eucharist in these places so important to our Faith.
When you are a priest on these pilgrimages and plan to celebrate Mass, one always worries a little about the small things: will they have an alb my size? Will there be lectionaries and missals in English? What is the name of the local bishop? And all manner of other details that are part of celebrating Mass that are easy and familiar at Sacred Heart. One will worry, but there is no need in the Holy Land – they were super organized for pilgrims of every place and language. Almost all of the holy sites are staffed and run by the Holy Land Custody of the Franciscan Friars. It was nice to go into the sacristy and find friars from other countries, and yet to instantly be welcomed as a brother friar.
The Holy Land sites have an indult – a technical word for an exception to the rules. At each site there is a special votive Mass with prayers, readings, and propers special to that place – all using the current English translation of the Roman Missal – with one exception. The parts of the mass “proper” to the votive celebration include the word/phrase, “Here in this place…” which is added to the normal translation. It is a moment in the Eucharist when you are struck by the Spirit… “Yes, it was right here that Jesus was born, healed, preached, celebrated, was arrested, was scourged, was crucified, died, was raised from dead, and ascended into heaven — right here.”
It was a great trip. If you have visited, then give thanks to God for the opportunity you have enjoyed. If you have the chance to visit – take it. But in any case, let us all be grateful for the generations of Christians who have maintained the sites and especially the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody.