I am writing this newsletter from the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I arrived here after some three weeks in Italy fresh from our Shroud of Turin tour. I have two days in Tabgha before our next group of pilgrims joins Steve Ray and me for our June Holy Land visit. My hotel, is the German run Catholic retreat center of Pilgerhaus. It sits just a short distance from the site of the Tabgha church or better known as the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It is also just a short walk to my favorite site in Israel, the Primacy of Peter. The Primacy marks the spot where where our Lord appears to the apostles after the resurrection and makes them a sea side breakfast over a charcoal fire. As described in Chapter 21 of St. John’s this is also the place where Jesus instructs Peter to feed His Sheep. The small and very picturesque stone church juts out into the Sea of Galilee and is one of the most peaceful and beautiful settings for prayer and reflection.
Strangely even though I am thousands of miles from the United States, I don’t feel out of place. I would say that I feel just as comfortable in Italy and Israel as I do in my native Michigan. The fact that I have travelled overseas many times before certainly helps but it is more than that. I believe it has to do with our Catholic faith. We are a universal Church. We are pilgrims all on a journey and wherever we are, when we attend Mass and can visit holy sites and places of prayer we are not far from home.
In terms of our particular pilgrimage to Italy, we were truly blessed to see the Shroud of Turin in St. John the Baptist Church. There was such a sense of awe and also reverence as Christians approached the altar where the Shroud was exhibited behind glass, draped gracefully in a deep red velvet cloth. While the Church does not definitively declared the Shroud as the burial cloth of Christ, it does refer to it is an icon upon which to meditate the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We celebrated Mass in some of the most amazing places; Lanciano-the site of a Eucharistic miracle, the new crypt of St. Padre Pio in San Giovano Rotundo, and St. Joseph’s Chapel in St. Peter’s Basilicas, close the site of where St. Peter was crucified, just to name a few. We cheered loudly and waved enthusiastically during the Wednesday Papal audience as the Holy Father rolled by in his Pope mobile. We listened intently to Francis Cardinal Arinze as he gave a special talk to our pilgrim group, encouraging us to continue to meditate and reflect upon the places we visited.
And then there is the incredible bonding that takes place among the pilgrims. We all come with our own emotional and spiritual baggage often looking for answers to prayer or just for a change of scenery and the experience of worshiping in some of the most majestic and holy places in the world. We prayed. We sang. We laughed. We cried and we all grew closer to Jesus and close to each other even though most of us had never met before. We were in strange towns with folks you would describe as strangers but there was that comfort level that comes to us through the Holy Spirit. And I know that we as pilgrims are forever bonded in the experiences we shared.
It has yet to all sink in, in terms of what we actually experienced. I am having a hard time comprehending the fact that we actually stood and gazed upon the Shroud of Turin. We were practically able to reach out and touch the Eucharistic miracle exhibited at Lanciano. The timing given that we are now in the month of June is also quite moving. The Church is preparing to celebrate the feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Corpus Christi. I need to ponder and pray about the sites and sounds for some time before putting more of it into words. But as we head into summer and this beautiful month of June I am more conscious than ever about the unity of the Church. We can walk into any parish on the planet as we did across Italy and as we are about to do here in the Holy Land and the Mass is the same. We are, after all, never really far from home.
This June take you own pilgrimage, even though some might not be able to travel abroad. Go to a different church in your area. Take time for Eucharistic adoration at a different chapel in your neighborhood. Remember that we are all pilgrims on this journey together and Jesus is with us every step of the way in His most Sacred Heart and in His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He is the same; yesterday, today, and forever.
Pray for us as these new pilgrims I am about to meet and greet get ready to walk in His footsteps. Happy June.