Local priests, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, describe pilgrimage to the Holy Land   2008/03/07
Source: St. Louis Review Online

Priests of the archdiocese who went on a Feb. 17-26 pilgrimage to the Holy Land led by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke described the experience as spiritually moving. For some, it was their first visit to the land where Christ lived and died for us.

Msgr. Mark S. Rivituso, judicial vicar of the Tribunal of Second Instance of the Province of St. Louis and pastor of Cure of Ars Parish in Shrewsbury, called his pilgrimage to the Holy Land "a wonderful experience of prayer and priestly renewal."

"It was humbling for me to walk in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord, from the very place of His conception at the Church of the Annunciation, to the site of His Ascension to the right hand of God our Father," Msgr. Rivituso said.

He said "the most powerful experience" was "to be on my knees at the sites where the Son of God humbled Himself to be one with us in His earthly life."

Several people had expressed their concerns for his safety before his departure. "Though I felt safe in my travels, my heart was saddened to see the physical walls of separation, the various security checkpoints and the young men and women of the military ever present," Msgr. Rivituso said.

"All those I encountered requested that I pray for peace. Though there were many banners with the words ‘shalom’ and ‘peace,’ these banners reminded me of the hope and prayers of those living in the Holy Land. In our pilgrimage, we not only experienced the homeland of Jesus but we also embraced this Holy Land as the homeland of all Christians throughout the world," he said.

Father William G. Kempf, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Normandy and director of the Catholic Newman Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said, "If there was one Latin word that summed up the whole trip, it was the word ‘hic’ — here. In this place. At this location. Hic! "To think that Jesus had walked ‘hic,’ in this place, conversed with His disciples on this road, healed a paralytic on this spot, gave His life on this mound of rock, rose from the dead at this place, was a huge gift to my prayer.

"And of all those ‘hic’s — those very concrete places where the events of our salvation were worked out, the two that struck me most profoundly had to do with places where people said ‘yes’ to God’s will," Father Kempf said.

He said the first such place was at the church of the Annunciation. "Below the altar in the excavated room believed to be the spot where the angel appeared to Mary were the Latin words: ‘Verbum caro hic factum est,’ — translated as, ‘The Word became flesh here.’

"In that lower chapel, as we celebrated Mass just feet from that spot where Mary said yes, came the invitation to renew my own ‘yes’ to the unfolding of God’s plan for me," Father Kempf said.

He said the second location was in the church built next to the Garden of Gethsemane. Just in front of the altar the floor gives way and the bedrock shows through — a large rectangle — probably 10 feet deep by 20 feet across, rising about 2-3 feet above the floor, Father Kempf described.

"I watched people going reverently up to that space, kneeling down and putting their hands flat upon that bedrock stone. What I remembered were the words of our guide. He said the stone is believed to be the spot where Jesus went alone to pray in garden, three times asking God to ‘let this cup pass’ — but not my will, but thine be done.

"So as I laid my hands down on that rock, worn smooth from the countless pilgrims before me, it dawned on me, that this was the place where Jesus said his ‘yes.’ This was the place where He chose the cross that would end his life.

"This was the space where He gave His life completely to the Father’s will for Him. And I knew I could do no less in that place. I had to renew my choice to follow Jesus, this time, by my willingness to bear the pain of whatever crosses and sacrifices God would demand of me," Father Kempf said.

Msgr. Vernon E. Gardin, vicar general of the archdiocese, said this, his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, was "memorable and moving."

"Our fellow Catholics and other Christians are a small minority, but they deeply love the land where our Lord and His Blessed Mother walked. The geography is dramatic, from the green mountains around the beautiful Sea of Galilee, to the Judean wilderness, to the ancient city of Jerusalem.

"Each day of the pilgrimage was a blessing, but the highlight for me was concelebrating Mass on the sacred place of the Lord’s tomb," he said.

Msgr. John B. Shamleffer, pastor of St. Joseph, noted that as he nears the 25th anniversary of his ordination. years in May, he’d always wanted to go to the Holy Land.

"The trip turned out to be better than I expected. I really appreciated just the opportunities to walk in the places where Jesus walked, even if they weren’t the same buildings, but to pray where He prayed," Msgr. Shamleffer said.

Msgr. Shamleffer said he also enjoyed Archbishop Burke’s daily homilies in which the archbishop used each of the Holy Land sites visited by the group to help bring the Scripture alive. "I think it helped bring the Gospel to life, and I think it will be a benefit to my preaching, of actually being at these places that you read about in the Scripture."

Father Thomas Keller, director of liturgical formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury, said he was impressed on the pilgrimage with "the strong sense of priestly fraternity as we followed in the footsteps of Christ in both Galilee and in Jerusalem."

Before his departure for the Holy Land, Father C. Eugene Morris talked with some people who had visited there. They described their experience as a trip of a lifetime.

"This seemed overstated to me and I was skeptical that this trip would have that type of impact on me," said Father Morris "Having returned and only now begun to truly process what I experienced, I can agree with those who have gone before me — it was a trip of a lifetime."

Father Morris is an assistant professor of sacramental theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate. "While being in Rome brings you into contact with the patrimony and history of our beloved Church established on the foundation of St. Peter, being in the Holy Land brings you in contact with Christ Himself — walking where He walked, praying where He was born, where He taught, where He died," he said.

The most moving experiences for him were connected to the Holy Sepulchre. "Placing my hands on and touching my lips to the place of our Lord’s burial moved me to tears. Upon entering the Holy Sepulchre you are immediately aware of darkness and light, the sounds of prayer in different languages, the smell of anointing oils and the crush of bodies. The first holy site one encounters is the place of our Lord’s anointing which each day is anointed again by a group of pious ladies who have taken this upon themselves for centuries.

"To your left are the stairs that literally lead to Calvary and the place of our Lord’s Cross and to your right begins the glimpse of the place of our Lord’s burial. While I was only privileged to be in the Church on three occasions, each one was more powerful and intense than the one before," he said.

Father Morris also cited the political situation. "I came away with a more complete awareness of the complexity of the situation and a sadness that the while there is a desire for peace, its realization is a long way off. In the final analysis, the pilgrims who visit, priest and laity alike, have the best chance of bringing about lasting peace, not through diplomatic or political machinations, but through the power of prayer and our faith in the Risen Christ."

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