Maureen Shepherd, the Pilgrimage Sales Coordinator for the Franciscan Monastery, recently traveled to the Holy Land with the Holy Land Franciscans for the first time. Here, she shares her experience.
Let me begin by saying that my personal experience has affirmed the fact that a pilgrimage with the Holy Land Franciscans is no ordinary pilgrimage. It was a spiritual journey I know that I will never forget.
Right from the beginning, I could tell that this would be an amazing trip. It was amazing how our group was drawn together right from the start as we gathered at JFK for our evening departure. Meeting for the first time, face to face we were anxious but excited for the days ahead.
Waking up in the morning in the beginning of my pilgrimage, I was in awe of the beauty of Netanya, a town located on the shores of the Mediterranean.
We would start our day with a wake up call and a delicious breakfast. We climbed on the bus, so happy and grateful to see our bus driver Lavon. With a to-go cup of coffee in hand we were ready to go! We would always start the trip with a prayer, maybe the Angelus or the Our Father, depending on where we were headed. As we would “sight see” out the window, Father David would introduce our day, explaining the Gospel story, the rich oral tradition, architecture, history and politics, and always made sure to point out the beautiful poppies along the road side.
Being with the Franciscans, especially our Franciscan, we felt welcome, secure and special; in this only land they call holy. Our whisper system allowed us to hear Father’s teaching as we wandered among other pilgrim groups or if we lingered for a moment to embrace the sacred history before us. There was something about traveling with our beloved friar in the brown robe. You could not help but feel the Franciscans are a beacon of peace and a reason for joy; in a place where this story must be told.
On Saturday, we drove to the Sea of Galilee and took a boat ride to Capernaum, the home of our Lord during his ministry. The captain taught us to dance to traditional music and we laughed in the beautiful sunshine of the afternoon. We stopped at so many of the Gospel stories along the way, including The Loaves and the Fishes, Peter Feed my Sheep, and the Mount of the Beatitudes. We paused our whisper systems and roamed the beautiful gardens in solitude, overwhelmed by this place and the story of it, intertwined throughout history.
That night, we joined a candle light procession at the Basilica of the Annunciation. We prayed the rosary in many languages. Ahh the voices, as we sang the Angelus, parading through the streets of Nazareth. Walking home we discovered a 24 hour Adoration chapel behind the casa nova dedicated to Saint Mother Theresa. Mother Theresa, Adoration, in the Holy Land, oh my; it was hard to sleep that night!
At the end of the day I realized, we certainly walk in the Footsteps of Jesus but also in those steps of the twelve, his disciples, Mary his mother and Joseph, a carpenter, Anne and Joachim, the grandparents, Elizabeth, Martha and Mary, the blind, the sick, the lepers, tax collectors, the woman at the well. They were the poor and the mighty, the saints and the sinners, deniers and believers, fishermen, and of course shepherds. Jesus shared this story through love and relationships. As I walked down the road to Emmaus, I realized, I am one of the two. Will I recognize our Lord?
The next day was Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. We walked the path of Jesus’ donkey and had mass at Good Shepherd Church in the Parish Hall while the Good Shepherd Parish Catholics celebrated in the church.
We also had the opportunity to celebrate Mass at St Ann Church. The caretaker shared with us the importance of mothers and grandmothers passing on their faith from generation to generation.
On Holy Thursday night in Jerusalem, I found myself reflecting. Where did Jesus sleep tonight? Did they torment him all night? We went into a cave where they may have kept Him imprisoned that day. Some pilgrims even ventured to the basilica that night and then to Calgary. We had gone to Mass at Our Lady of Peace Chapel. It was beautiful, with a Philippino choir present as well. We processed out the chapel to the 2nd floor and began Adoration , which continued until the next day, Good Friday. Adoration was literally a few doors down from my room. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the middle of the night and jump in my shoes and go back. I said to myself, “Jesus remember me when You go into Your kingdom!”
On the last day of this life changing adventure, I thought about how these people and places had lifted my soul. We were able to celebrate Easter morning Mass in the Holy Land to end our trip. We even got to witness this beautiful view from the Church of Dominus Flevit.
After nearly two weeks of pilgrimage, these people who experienced these holy places by my side, touched my heart and soul. Coming home we were one! It was sad to say good bye as we headed to our home cities across the USA and beyond. We were a family; united by a Franciscan experience, a gospel and walking together in the footsteps of our Dear Lord.
Certainly, each pilgrimage is unique and special in its own way. My fellow pilgrims and Fr. David have certainly have changed my life. It is bringing the gospel to life that makes all the difference. Why travel with anyone else?
Visit @thesefootsteps on Facebook to see more photos of all of the amazing places I visited on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land!