Several of you have asked that I share a bit about the time spent in the Holy Land with the priests and bishop and so I will relate a bit about the pilgrimage here. The time spent in the Holy Land was broken into two parts, the first half we stayed in Galilee on the Mount of the Beatitudes. The place we stayed was a bit of a monastery and every room had an outside terrace that looked onto the Sea of Galilee. The place is somewhat remote, so there was a silence in the mornings and evenings that was very peaceful. Everyday that we were in Galilee we visited one or two places mentioned in the Gospels. Galilee is particularly important as Jesus spent the vast majority of his time ministering in that area. Due to the pandemic and lack of tourists, we were able to spend time in Capernaum, Korazim, Nazareth, and other places in prayer without the distraction of many groups coming in and out. Having lived in the Holy Land myself, I was amazed at how few people there were. In addition to visiting the Holy Places and celebrating Mass together either there, or at the monastery, we took all our meals together, often at one table. It was a great opportunity for priests who knew each other superficially to spend some time to get to know each other. It also allowed for us to discuss some difficulties we face in ministering in the 21st century and how we might address those difficulties.
We spent the last half of the pilgrimage in Jerusalem and visited the Mount of Olives (and Gethsemane), the Pool of Bethesda, Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the cenacle, where we renewed our priestly vows. It was incredible to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher while it was almost entirely empty. In all the times I have been there, it has never really been a place I could pray. It is usually full of people walking around, or spending an hour or two in lines waiting for the 10 seconds you get to spend in prayer at the place of the crucifixion or the place of the empty tomb. We spent hours in the silent church with the freedom to sit in front of these places and pray, contemplating the events that happened there. It was a real gift from the Lord and an experience I don’t think I will ever have again in my life.
In Jerusalem we took some time to gather in small groups to discuss our own histories and where we each encountered Christ and to again reflect in a more systematic way on where we are as a diocese and how to address the challenges we face. It also allowed the priests the opportunity to share with the bishop any questions or concerns they had regarding administrative or pastoral matters. Listening to each other helped created a sense of fraternity in our common mission in the diocese.
I will obviously not be able to list all the places we visited, or experiences we shared, but suffice it to say that the pilgrimage allowed the priests everything the bishop intended: times of prayer together, times of solitude with the Lord, times to share and build fraternity, and a time of rest. I believe that the time away together will bear fruit for the diocese and in the vocation of each priest. Please know that I prayed for the parish and all of you while in the Holy Land and continue to do so. Don’t forget to pray for me!