During the past week Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has joined nearly 80 others on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They have been walking in the footsteps of Our Lord Jesus, from the place of His birth, to the sites where he preached and ministered, to the most sacred places of His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
In the coming days, The Bishop has shared some of the following pictures and reflections so that others may share in this remarkable journey of faith. He is remembering the intention of all pilgrims in the Masses he has said in the Holy Land.
“Let us pray for peace in that troubled land, for the renewal of our Church, especially in the United States and for a deepening personal relationship with the Lord and His Church for ourselves and all Christians,” he said. For more on the Bishop’s pilgrimage, visit him on Facebook: Bishop Frank J. Caggiano.
Arriving in the Holyland
After nearly 17 hours of travel, our pilgrimage finally arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. All 76 pilgrims are grateful that we arrived safely in the Holy Land. We immediately traveled to the Shrine of Saint Peter in Jaffa. This is the site where Saint Peter received his vision at the hand of an angel, showing him foods that were considered at the time unclean and being invited to partake of them. It is also the city where Peter baptized Cornelius and his family into the Church- the first non-Jews to become disciples of the Lord Jesus.
In my homily, I asked my fellow pilgrims to consider the first words that Jesus spoke in the Gospel of Saint John: “What are you looking for?” Our homework for this first night is to reflect upon that question and express to ourselves what it is that we are looking for from the Lord.
Even more importantly, following what happened to Saint Peter in this city, I also asked each pilgrim to ask another question: what is it that the Lord Jesus may wish to do for each of us? Perhaps something unforeseen or beyond what makes us comfortable?
If that which the Lord wishes to do in our own lives is anything like the events that Peter faced in this city, it will surprise us all. I am continuing to pray for all the intentions you have shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
City of Caesarea
We began our day visiting the city of Caesarea, built by King Herod to be a sea port in an area where there was no natural port. By its sheer size and scope, it was truly an engineering marvel, even though it was a city that was considered pagan by the Jews of his time.
Our second site was a visit to the top of Mount Carmel and the Shrine to Our Lady under the title of Stella Maris, the “Star of the Sea”. Mount Carmel begins its long history dating back to the ministry of Elijah the prophet. The current church is built over the cave where Elijah prayed for an end to the long drought that afflicted Israel because of its sinfulness. We were privileged to enter into the cave and pray. Elijah was also the prophet who killed the false prophets of Baal, displayed an authentic zeal of faith and inspired Christians who came to that mountain to seek an authentic life of contemplation and communion with Our Lord through the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Carmelite order’s spiritual home in on this mountain.
Our last visit was to the Church constructed in Cana to commemorate the first great sign (miracle) that Jesus performed at the bequest of his mother, turning water into wine at the local wedding feast. We were even privileged to see the only remaining water jar that once held the transformed wine. It was a powerful moment of grace, reminding ourselves of Christ’s promise that we will be invited into the messianic banquet of heaven, if we remain faithful to Him. I was also privileged to bless all the married couples who were in attendance at Mass, given the special place that a wedding feast had in Jesus’ ministry in Cana.
We are ending our day overlooking Nazareth, with the sun setting over the mountain, as a quite reminder of the graces that await us all tomorrow.
Basilica of the Nativity
We spent our morning at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, celebrating Mass, sharing a lunch at the Franciscan Casa Nostra Hospitality Center and venerating the grotto in which the Lord was born. The grotto is actually part of what was once a larger cave that is located directly below the main sanctuary of the Basilica. Adjacent to that sacred spot, now marked with a star, is also the place where tradition holds Mary placed the infant Jesus in the manger. In our modern world where human life is not respected in so many ways, especially with the scourge and sin of abortion, the Basilica of the Nativity is a powerful reminder of the power that one life had on the entire human race-the life of the Son of God born into the world through the Virgin Mary. Every human life matters! Every human life must be respected and accorded its proper dignity and protection!
After a brief car ride, we visited the birth place of Saint John the Baptist and the traditional home of Saint Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s life and the life of our Lady were intimately connected, no solely because they were related by family. More importantly, the lives of their respective sons, who first met at the moment of the Visitation when they were still being carried in their respective mother’s wombs, were intimately linked. John was the last and greatest prophet of the Old Covenant, serving as the Messiah’s precursor. His ministry was to point to Jesus as the Messiah, God made man and Savior of the world.
As I departed from the Church of the Visitation, the words that kept echoing in my mind and heart were those spoken by John at the end of his ministry. As John pointed to Jesus, he said “I must decrease and He must increase.” I pray that this pilgrimage will help me to live those words more authentically each day.
Sea of Galilee
Today we began our pilgrimage around the Sea of Galilee- the place where Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry of teaching and preaching. What a wonderful experience of grace for each of us! We began the day traveling by boat over the Sea of Galilee, spending time in its center in quiet prayer and reflection. With its surrounding hills that are filled with villages bustling with activity and fishermen in the distance, our quiet time reminded me of the powerful need to find a “spiritual still point” in each of our lives, where we can step away from the activities around us and sit with the Lord in quiet. To think that the Lord Jesus walked upon those waters and stilled the storm in a boat very similar to the one that we were sitting within provided an awesome experience of the Lord’s closeness to each of us, in both good and bad times in life.
We moved on to the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves which houses the very rock upon which the Lord blessed and shared the five loaves and two fish that fed 5,000 men! The rock sits in quiet testimony to the power of the Savior whose love meets us in our hunger and thirst for both the food of this world and the food of everlasting life.
Our pilgrimage next took us to the Church of the Primacy of Peter by the Sea of Galilee. Many of the pilgrims took the opportunity to walk into the waters of the Sea, following in the footsteps of the Risen Lord who appeared at that same site to the apostles, inviting them to share breakfast with Him. The rock that the Lord used as his “table” sits in the very center of that church. This is also the site where the Lord asked Peter three times whether he loved the Lord. Peter’s threefold answer untied the knots of his threefold betrayal of the Lord on the night before He died.
It is said that the Holy Land is the “Fifth Gospel” that brings the pages of Scripture to life. Today I experienced this with awe and gratitude.