The most significant thing for me was the blessing of being able to go to the Holy Land. I never thought I would have the opportunity. The significance between a pilgrimage and a tour to me is very important. I’ve been on many tours of Europe and the continent, and realized that a tour is a lot of sight-seeing, a lot of facts. A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey. The preparation for the pilgrimage was significant. I believe that Mary Jane and Tom set us up with all the right information; both prayerful and informative. We did a couple of novenas to prepare, which was significant to us as we were preparing… That was important; not just to get on a plane and go.
The phenomenal experiences for me in the Holy Land… the Garden of Gethsemane was probably the most significant experience. We were given the opportunity for two-and-a-half hours of silent prayer, and that was an overwhelmingly glorious experience. I was able to relate to Jesus in his loneliness when he was there, how lonely he must have felt, and yet the presence of God there; knowing that he wasn’t totally alone. Nor was I totally alone. The olive trees were significant to me because they’re old, and I thought, “Some of them may have been there when Jesus was alive.” That time was beautiful. I was able to identify my loneliness, and that God is with me.
The Gospel comes alive. Now, I prepare every Sunday to teach a Special Needs Faith Formation class. I do a pictorial card for them of the Gospel, and it’s just awesome…I can actually explain to them what happened and where that was, and that I actually walked where Jesus was. Bringing the Gospel alive is a wonderful aspect of the entire pilgrimage. You couldn’t ask for anything more than knowing that, all these years you’ve read the New Testament and tried to picture where it was, and now all of a sudden you didn’t have to try. To stand on the foundation of my Faith was a high point for me; I was there where my Faith began.
When I read Scripture now, I can have a vision of possibly where it happened; that it was a real place and not just written. I’m a lector, and I was able to relate to the New Testament better than I ever was before by having that experience of seeing the Gospel alive.My other highlight was in the Tomb, in the Holy Sepulcher. I was asked to be a lector. We actually were able to get all of our pilgrims into the Tomb, into the very small area where the Tomb is. Another friend of mine and I were both able to read, and to this day, when we see one another, we reflect on what an honor that was, celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection.
The Mass every day was another part distinguishing it as a pilgrimage, versus a tour. Having Mass in sacred places was a wonderful experience, and brought most of those places—We had Christmas Mass in Bethlehem, for example…We were able to bring the liturgy into the spiritual experience.
Mary Jane and Tom also brought us into reality of the people that live there, and who they are, and how they are understood or misunderstood, and their spiritual journey. That was pretty amazing. Mary Jane and Tom brought the situation to light better, probably, than a lot of pilgrimages do, because their heart is there with those people.
A pilgrimage is not impossible. Make it happen. Your first response would be, “It’s too expensive.” A lot of things we do every day are too expensive, and you can cut back. You just have to make a decision that you’re going to go, and maybe make a little sacrifice to save for it. Once you pay for it, it’s all yours.
I was OK with going to the Holy Land and not fearful. I knew I was going in good hands. In the pilgrimage layout and journey, you’re well looked-after, never left alone. Make a decision and go with it. Don’t think it’s something you can’t do.
I took home with me that I walked in the footsteps of Jesus, I met him there, and I brought him home with me. It was glorious.
I don’t think I knew much about the Pilgrim Center of Hope before the pilgrimage. I am overwhelmingly impressed by the ecumenicalness of them, the amazing outreach that they’re doing, the simplicity of the Center, the genuineness of “We’re just here to be for the people.” I continue to be impressed that all of you who work here are not looking for the “big dollars” that your intellect and wisdom may be able to take you to, but that you’re doing God’s work. And that’s the most important thing.
– Mary Jo Quinn