Barbara Ostrin’s Holy Week pilgrimage was so memorable right from the very beginning, with her trip starting with a historic storm. Her large group of 48 pilgrims almost didn’t make it out of New York City’s JFK airport. Winter Storm Toby, the fourth Nor’easter to hit the East Coast in the month of March, stranded flyers from Washington, D.C. to Buffalo, even dumping a record-breaking spring snowfall on the Big Apple.
Ostrin’s March 21 flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30 that night, but the storm grounded their plane. The pilgrims would not be deterred.
A satellite view of Winter Storm Toby.
God Over the Storm?
The airline handed out blankets and pillows so pilgrims could sack out on the floor and wait it out overnight, hoping to leave as soon as the weather let up. Ostrin said the group’s 4:00 a.m. departure was nothing short of miraculous. “We were in one terminal, and the other plane that had most of the pilgrims was in a different terminal. We were on the ground for eight hours, and our plane ended up being the only plane that left that terminal. The other plane was the only one that left from that terminal. What are the chances of that?!”
Touchdown in Tel Aviv
They arrived a bit late in Tel Aviv to begin their journey in the land of the Bible, but Ostrin soon forgot about her travel troubles. “It takes your breath away. I didn’t expect it to be so overwhelming… in a good way,” she said. Ostrin is a seasoned traveler who travels often with her husband. She has taken other pilgrimages but hadn’t yet made it to the Holy Land. She decided to make the trip with a couple of close friends and the Holy Land Franciscans. “I don’t use the word ‘awesome’ much, and I don’t particularly like that word, but I’ve used it when describing this. There really are no other words.”
Barb Ostrin helps carry the cross on the Via Dolorosa during Holy Week.
Holy Week In the Old City
Being in Jerusalem for Holy Week with the Holy Land Franciscans allowed her to see things pilgrims wouldn’t normally get to see, including a local Palm Sunday parade that passed by her hotel. “It was really neat to see, because I know Christians aren’t a huge part of the population there. With as many people as there were, you’d think every Christian child in Jerusalem was in that parade. It was a wonderful way to enter into the city!”
As she walked the Palm Sunday Road with palm branch in hand, she did something many pilgrims don’t do – she didn’t take any pictures. “I wasn’t even wanting to take pictures. I thought, ‘I just want to walk down and just be in the moment.’” Another favorite moment was walking the Via Dolorosa, ending at the church of the Holy Sepulcher during Holy Week.
Easter in Jerusalem
After so many special experiences and Masses at major holy sites, she was surprised that the agenda indicated they’d be celebrating Easter Vigil at the church in the Notre Dame Hotel just outside the Old City. What surprised her even more was arriving to the church to find it was no ordinary hotel chapel. “We got to the hotel, and the hotel was a castle. The church inside the hotel was bigger than the church that I go to, and the Bishop was presiding. At all the services, but especially on Easter Vigil, there were at least 30 priests accompanying the Bishop up the aisle. It was really amazing.”
Barb Ostrin and close friend Barb Eiben on a pilgrim boat in the Sea of Galilee.
Sharing the Journey
Since she’s returned from the Holy Land, Ostrin has been sharing her pilgrimage experience with friends. As a part of the Legion of Mary, she brings Holy Communion to the homebound, and her enthusiasm even impacted one woman she serves. “She said, ‘I want to see the pictures,’ and I had them on my phone. She was so moved by seeing this little building where the Ascension took place that she even said, ‘May I kiss your phone?’ I said, ‘Yes, you may.’”
Another friend with whom she shared her journey has since decided to take a pilgrimage with the Holy Land Franciscans. Ostrin encourages any and every Christian to make the trip if they have the means. She also says people shouldn’t be discouraged from going alone. “Someone we got to know very well went by herself. It would be a very, very easy trip to go on not knowing anyone, because it’s a very friendly group. Everyone does everything together.”