“The Holy Land Experience” – a pilgrimage to the sites where Jesus was born, performed miracles, died on the cross and rose from the dead – helped future deacons, their wives and others gain a deeper understanding of Christianity’s origins two millennia ago.
Leading the 11-day trip was Fr. Paul Fitzpatrick, SM, director of Chaminade University’s Master of Pastoral Theology Program, which prepares students for ordination as permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church.
Every place the pilgrims visited this past spring is mentioned in Biblical passages the deacons will eventually preach about, Fr. Paul explained.
“Seeing the Sea of Galilee, knowing the distance between Nazareth and Jerusalem, visiting Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Coast where Paul was judged by Herod Agrippa and sent to Rome, praying on Calvary where Christ died, walking on the Herodian steps coming out of the temple which Jesus would have walked on – all these are indelible memories,” Fr. Paul said. “Every day is filled with experiences like that.”
Deacon candidate Sándor Hernández Morales said traveling with his wife Meali`inani to the Holy Land “forever marked” their lives and faith.
“Never will the Scriptures read the same after experiencing Palestine and Israel in this way,” Morales said. “From the newsletters leading up to the trip, to the daily activities, to the people we have gotten to know, we really felt immersed in the cultures and historical places we visited.”
Deacon-in-training Renier “Rey” Torres said the trip enabled him to “contextualize scripture and the geographical landscape of the Holy Lands.”
“One gets a deeper appreciation and sense of understanding the struggle Christians have in that particular region of the world as they continue to live and promote the faith,” Torres said. “Most amazing was the opportunity to witnesses the universality of our church as faithful members from our global community gathered to participate in the same pilgrimage.”
Fr. Martin Solma, SM, who serves as Chancellor on Chaminade’s Board of Regents, said the pilgrimage exceeded all his expectations.
“The highlight of the trip for me was the three-hour ‘vigil’ some of us kept in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses both the Rock of Calvary and the Tomb of the Lord,” Fr. Martin said. “Spending time alone in both of these very holy places moved me very deeply.
“I was also deeply moved by the faith of so many pilgrims who had come, like we did, to touch the roots of our faith community.”
Tour stops included the Golan Heights, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Jericho, Masada, the Old City of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives.