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Helene in the Holy Land
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Follow Helene Paharik on an amazing trip through the Holy Land with Bishop David A. Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The Associate General Secretary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Paharik will post interviews, photos and videos from her trip. Follower her on Twitter @hpaharik for more updates.


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Top tags: Bishop Zubik  Holy Land  Saint Mary  Galilee  Holy Door  Magdala  Saint Peter  Ascension  Bethlehem  Calvary  Cana  Capernaum  Divine Mercy Sunday  Duc in Altum  fish  Good Friday  His Beatitude Fouad Twal  Holy Sepulchre  Holy Thursday  Jerusalem  Mary Magdelene  mercy  Nativity  Nazareth  pilgirmage  Rosary  St. Peter  Triduum  Via Dolorosa  Yad Yashem 

". . . Sometimes is causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble . . ."

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 7, 2016

Monday, April 4 was the pinnacle of the pilgrimage: Mass at Calvary; the Via Dolorosa; a visit with the Latin Patriarch; a tour of the Israeli Holocaust Museum, Yad Yashem; and Peter in Gallicantu, the site where Jesus was held prisoner and his last night on earth. Isn’t it ironic that Jesus, who would break the chains of sin and death for all humanity, would spend his last night in a cold stone, prison cell, bound and chained? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Bishop Zubik presided at Mass on Calvary, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Because of the shifting of Holy Days due to when Easter fell this year, on the Liturgical calendar, today was the Feast of the Annunciation. The Gospel for the Feast of the Annunciation contains Bishop Zubik’s episcopal motto: Nothing is Impossible with God. This was the response given to Mary by the Angel Gabriel when asked, how is it possible that she would be the Mother of the Messiah? Bishop Zubik proclaimed at this place of Jesus’ crucifixion, where it seemed all was lost that truly—nothing is impossible with God! Every Good Friday is followed by an Easter Sunday. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Mass at Calvary

We were joined at Mass by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. This was totally unexpected for all. He just arrived in the country a few hours before and wished his first stop to be the Holy Sepulchre. He had no idea there would be a Mass in English at that time. It was truly a coincidence. Speaker Ryan also prayed with Bishop Zubik at the door to the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Jesus. It was a providential encounter. Bishop Zubik had met with Speaker Ryan about a month ago in his role as Episcopal Liaison to Catholic Charities USA to discuss how to initiate legislation to address the systemic causes of poverty in the United States. Too many of our sisters and brothers are trapped in a cycle of poverty and cannot seem to break free in a country so rich in resources. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.


Prayer at the Holy Sepulchre

We then visited the Latin Patriarch, who is the local Catholic Bishop. His name is Fouad Twal. It was a great honor to meet with His Beatitude Fouad Twal personally. We wished to demonstrate our solidarity to him and to the Christians of the Holy Land. We sang to him, shared a donation and hugged and encouraged him. He shared with us that the way of the cross for Christians in the Holy Land continues. Many live under military occupation in Israel and in Jordan, many are working hard to support the millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

The group with His Beatitude Fouad Twal, center between Bishop Zubik and Helene

It was then time to walk the Via Dolorosa, Jesus’ way of suffering marked by the 14 Stations of the Cross. We walked with the struggles of the local Christian community fresh in our minds, as well as the sufferings of family and friends back home. Foremost in our minds was the agony our dear Jesus suffered out of love for us. Our guide Jerry explained that so brutal was the scourging by Roman soldiers, not many survived it. To have to carry a cross after so brutal a beating was torture.

Bishop Zubik led our prayer and provided a very poignant meditation on each of the stations. We softly sang and prayerfully made our way through the narrow streets of the Old City, past shops and people going about their business. It must have been like that too for Jesus. I imagined Mary and the women who loved and followed Jesus seeing Him in such pain, knowing He was about to die and not being able to comfort Him. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Procession and prayer on Via Dolorosa

We prayed in silence for a long while. It was a lot to take in—how our inhumanity revealed the fullness of His Divinity: self-emptying love.

More of man’s inhumanity was to be experienced at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. It was hard. It was sobering. One cannot experience Yad Vashem and not be troubled.

Many of our pilgrims are educators. We paused and took a photo of an amazing teacher who cared for Jewish orphans. The Korczak Memorial recalls the bravery of Jewish/Polish educator Janusz Korczak. During the Holocaust, Korczak refused to abandon the children of his Warsaw orphanage, perishing alongside them in the Treblinka death camp. He told his students to take a special doll or toy with them to comfort them on the long train ride they were about to take. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Bishop Zubik led us in a prayer for the 13 million holocaust victims.

Memorial at Yad Yesham

Memorial for Janusz Korczak

There was one more place we needed to visit today. Quietly we made our way from Yad Vashem and New Jerusalem, back to the Old City and the Church of Peter in Gallicantu. “Peter in Gallicantu” refers to Saint Peter and the cock crowing. Jesus predicted at the Last Supper that one of his closest followers would deny him three times that very night before the cock crowed. Peter was the one. As Jesus was being interrogated and then held as a prisoner by Caiaphas the High Priest, Peter out in the courtyard, denied knowing Jesus three time.

Non novi illum

How could he?! How could Peter, who said at the Last Supper he would never deny Jesus, deny Him? How could Peter, who was the first to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of the Living God when the disciples were with Jesus in Caesarea Phillipi, deny Him? How could Peter, who witnessed the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, deny Him? How can I? Sometimes it causes me to tremble.

Statue at the Church of Peter in Gallicantu

We prayed in the Church and witnessed our fellow pilgrim, Vie, renew her vows as a lay Vincentian. We then descended down to the crypt, to the prison that held Jesus his last night on earth. It was beyond words. There it was. A prison carved from the rock of the cave with the ropes that would have held a prisoner. There was nothing to comfort the Jesus: no bench, no sink, no toilet and no cot. Just a stone dungeon. Jesus stood, with his arms tied above his head until Caiaphas released him to Pilate in the morning.

I could not help but think of all the prisoners who are being held today unjustly, especially the Christians being persecuted in Syria, Egypt, and across northern Africa by Isis. I thought of those who are in our prisons in the US and the deacons, religious and lay who serve them. To think our Lord and Savior whose first night on earth was spent homeless, in a cave in a feedbox for cows, would spend his last night held and bound in a prison so that we could be free for all eternity. Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble…

Tags:  Bishop Zubik  Calvary  His Beatitude Fouad Twal  Holy Sepulchre  Saint Peter  Via Dolorosa  Yad Yashem 

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Divine Mercy Sunday in Bethlehem: Mercy in a Definitive Way!

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 7, 2016

It is an amazing grace that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Year of Mercy! Pope Francis tells us when we announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Misericordiae Vultus:

“In the fullness of time when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. Jesus of Nazareth by his words, his actions and his entire person reveals the mercy of the God.” (Misericordiae Vultus 1)

Divine Mercy is revealed here in a definitive way. Let me focus on three ways:

FIRST: Mercy was revealed to all humanity: "God entered into our world, not to explain suffering or to take it away, but to fill it with his presence, with his mercy" (Léon Bloy). God came to be with us. That is what Emmanuel means. God is with us. He is not far off, aloof, distant, detached, unconcerned or uninterested. He is present. He is near. He is here!

God came mercifully. He made the first move. He became one of us.

But God invites our response—our mercy to him. He is born vulnerable, totally dependent. He is born fragile, tiny and tender. He reaches up to us from the crib, inviting us to hold him. Why would God come as infant? Because he longs for us to hold him! He does not wish to frighten us. He invites our love, our care, our intimacy and our mercy. By coming as a baby, Jesus experiences the whole of the human experience. He was a baby, a child, a teenager, an adult. There is no point of our development that Jesus did not experience. He can relate to us so that we can relate to him.

He was born to save all of humanity, those born before him and those who would come after. It is my belief God came as soon as he could—as soon as human technology, language, philosophy, transportation was sufficiently developed. Learning about the Roman roads and technology of the first century helped me to appreciate that the incarnation occurred at just the right time. Technology was developed just enough—but not too much—so thankfully there are no Instagram posts of the nativity.  

Jesus came in “the fullness of time,” Paul says in his letter to the Galatians. It was the perfect time for all humanity. 

To remind us Jesus came for all of humanity—in Matthew’s Gospel we read of the three Magi, or wise men. They came from afar. They were not part of the “original chosen people.” But now through Christ, God’s covenant extends to all of humanity from east to west. No one is excluded. The Magi are depicted in a fresco inside the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the oldest church in Christendom. It was commissioned by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, in the 4th century. When the Persians conquered this land in the early 7th century, they did not destroy the Basilica of the Nativity. The Persians saw themselves in the story of the incarnation and this church was the only one spared in their wave of destruction.

SECOND: God’s mercy was revealed in a particular way to Mary and Joseph, to the shepherds and even to the animals! Mary and Joseph were provided a place, even though there was no room in the inn. Theirs were the first eyes to behold the son of God. They were the first to adore him. But they were not alone. Who came next? The poor, outcasts, those who were thought of as stinky and unfit: the shepherds.

THIRD: God’s mercy is revealed to you and to me. God came to share in our humanity so that we might share in His divinity. Adam and Eve were impatient. God is not holding anything back from us. In the fullness of time God become human so humans could become divine eternally. Now that’s mercy.  

Our first action in Bethlehem was an act of mercy. Although shopping is not a corporal work of mercy, our purchases were supporting the local Christian community.

We started our official Bethlehem tour at Shepherd’s Field. We could imagine how they watched their flocks by night in the valley. Bishop Zubik led us in a rousing version of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the cave chapel of Shepherd’s Field.

Cave Chapel at Shepherd's Field

Next our Palestinian guide, Ramsey, took us to the Church of the Nativity. We celebrated the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday using the prayers for Christmas. Bishop Zubik reminded us in the homily that when we judge others, we build walls. As followers of Christ, we are not to build walls. Rather we are to build bridges. This was a poignant comment, especially since a very large, concrete security wall surrounds Bethlehem, limited to freedom of movement of its residents.

We stood in line along the right side of the nave the Basilica in the Church of the Nativity to take our turn reverence the star where Jesus was born, located in the Greek Orthodox crypt. The Basilica is undergoing significant and much needed renovation. The scaffolding and drapes enfolded us as we stood in a long line for more than an hour. It really was the first time on the pilgrimage that we had a significant wait. Our waiting reminded us that humanity had been waiting for the Messiah for two millennia. This put our 75 minutes in to perspective. We prayed the joyful mysteries of the rosary silently and prepared spiritually to touch the place of Jesus’ birth, where God’s mercy was made manifest.

Waiting in line

Appropriately, there is a Mercy Door in the Church of the Nativity. This door was dedicated as a Jubilee Door by Saint John Paul in the year 2000. How special this was to go through a Mercy Door on Divine Mercy Sunday blessed by John Paul II when he was in Bethlehem in the year 2000. Prayerfully, each pilgrim crossed this threshold of mercy, seeking to draw nearer to God in the place where God drew near to humanity.

Bishop Zubik walks through Holy Door in Church of the Nativity

Birthplace of the Messiah

In Bethlehem a door was opened to the Holy Family, a door was open to provide a place for Jesus to be born. His death would open the door to heaven for all believers. This is mercy: mercy for the homeless Mary and Joseph and mercy for every soul that longs to find a home with God. What does it mean for us to cross the threshold of mercy to experience the Father’s embrace here? Maybe it is baby Jesus who beckons us come, come to my Father and to your Father. He loves us!

It was at the Mercy Door we were met by our lunchtime lecturer: Mr. Zoughbi Zoughbi of Wi’am Peace Center.

Bishop Zubik with Zoughbi Zoughbi

Lunch was a special treat from Bishop Zubik. He provided us a lovely meal at the Three Arches Restaurant in Bethlehem. Falafel (fried chickpea balls), and chicken were the main course. Dessert was a cake Belinda Lewis of Unitours ordered as a surprise for Bishop Zubik’s 19th anniversary of his Episcopal Ordination on April 6. What was truly a surprise was the huge flaming candle a top the cake that lit up the room!

Celebrating the anniversary of Bishop Zubik's ordination

I spied the car Pope Francis used when he was in Bethlehem on display in Manger Square. His visit really gave the residents of Bethlehem hope. Mercy brings hope. Christmas and Easter are our great festivals of hope. It was overwhelming to celebrate them both at the same Mass today on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Mass in Bethlehem

Tags:  Bethlehem  Bishop Zubik  Divine Mercy Sunday  Holy Door  mercy  Nativity  Saint Mary  Year of Mercy 

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A Pilgrimage with the Rosary

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, April 5, 2016

"Why are you looking up?" 

One way to do a pilgrimage in the Holy Land is to follow along on your rosary. In fact, there is a very popular EWTN series hosted by Fr. Mitch Pacwa called "The Holy Land Rosary." Today, we visited three sites representing three mysteries of the rosary.

The Ascension of Jesus Into Heaven: The Second of The Glorious Mysteries

Our feet stood on the ground on the Mount of Olives where tradition reveals Jesus’ last footprints (Luke 24:44-53). Bishop Zubik led us in praying this mystery of the rosary as we pondered how the disciples might feel as Jesus took leave of them in so dramatic a fashion. We know that they expected him to return soon, but nonetheless, it must have been an awesome, frightening and mystifying experience.

Stones that Jesus last stood on before Ascension

Prayer at site of Ascension

Our next stop on the Mount of Olives was to the Pater Noster Church that recalls Jesus’ teaching the disciples how to pray. Bishop Zubik gave us a beautiful meditation on the Lord’s Prayer: “Jesus invited us into His intimacy with the Father, Jesus didn’t say MY Father who art in heaven, but OUR Father, OUR Daddy.” Bishop Zubik threw a zinger at us: “Ya know, God is going to forgive us as we forgive other people, so, we better be forgiving lavishly. You and I need to think about whether or not we are radically forgiving all of those who wrong us, especially in this year of mercy because every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, we pray that we are forgiven to the extent that we forgive others.”

Jesus’ Agony in the Garden: The First Sorrowful Mystery

We transitioned into the sorrowful mysteries and prepared to descend the Mount of Olives by foot to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. Bishop Zubik led us in the first sorrowful mystery: Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. We entered through the mercy door in the Church of All Nations and spent considerable time in quiet meditation. I found it fascinating that this mercy door in the front of the Church of All Nations was directly across from the Golden Gates of the City of Jerusalem through which the Messiah is to come. “Mercy” in Greek has the same root as the word oil. One way to understand Mercy is to recall the functions of oil in the ancient world. Mercy, like oil, heals us. Mercy, like oil burned in lamps, illuminates us. Mercy, like oil, nourishes us—in fact, is necessary sustenance. Once again, we pilgrims were overwhelmed by the bounty of God’s mercy in allowing us to come to the Holy Land in this Year of Mercy, to come to the place where the mercy of God was fully revealed, to pray in this spot, where literally Jesus’ mercy was poured out for us in profound love.

Next, it was time for lunch. Our guide Jerry arranged a Bedouin feast in a restaurant overlooking the shepherd’s field. The menu included roasted lamb that had cooked overnight that literally fell off the bone. Some of our pilgrims “went native”.

The group at lunch

Mary Visits Her Kinswoman Elizabeth: The Second Joyful Mystery

Our final destination was Ein Karem, the village of John the Baptist and his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. Here we recall the second joyful mystery of the rosary, the visit by Mary to Elizabeth. There are two churches in Ein Karem. The church in the valley is the birthplace of John the Baptist. In the courtyard of the church, large ceramic tiles with the Canticle of Zechariah displayed in every language line the walls. We pondered this prayer that has become more familiar to us as we have prayed it every morning of our journey. The second church commemorates the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth and the sons within their wombs. Ceramic tiles with Mary’s Magnificat are displayed in the courtyard.

We are invited here to ponder the prayer of Mary, the Magnificat. The whole prayer is summed up in the first line. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Not my head, or my heart—but my soul. That spark of divine life within Mary calls the shots—focuses her attention. This is important. It is her soul and our souls—the space where God speaks to us—that is the place we need to go to find our response to God’s invitation. You might call this the in the deepest part of our heart. This is a part of ourselves we need to pay attention to, to get in touch with and to heed!

The greatness of the Lord! Mary’s prayer tells the story of God’s greatness from Abraham to all eternity.

This prayer is referred to as the Magnificat because Mary is magnifying the Lord. She is making Him bigger, amplifying him to Elizabeth and to us. She chose to magnify God, not herself, not Elizabeth, not the angel, not Joseph.

What do we magnify? What do we make a big deal out of? Do we magnify our faults? Do we magnify the faults of others? Do we magnify our problems?

Mary surely had problems. How would she explain the Conception to Joseph? Her parents? The neighbors? What did it mean that she would be the mother of God? That thought alone could cause one to obsess and navel gaze. Why me? How me?

Not Mary. Once she said yes, she chose to magnify the Lord.

Could it have been that God chose Mary for that particular quality, that attribute of her personality? Was this ability to see the Divine, to perceive and illuminate the good, the beautiful, the true—what the Father was looking for in the Mother of the Son?

Even though he was God, Jesus always referred to the Father, magnifying the love of the Father through parables, magnifying the power of the Father through miracles, magnifying the Father’s will through his own humble obedience, magnifying the Father in his prayer.

Let’s you and I pick up a magnifying glass and looking through it see the wonders our God is doing through with and in us and all of creation! Let us see as Mary sees and as her Son sees. Let us see the goodness of God all around us and point it out to one another! Let us look for God here and now!

Tags:  Ascension  Bishop Zubik  Holy Land  Rosary  Saint Mary 

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Jericho and Qumran

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Updated: Monday, April 4, 2016

We traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. The routes have not altered much since the time of Jesus. One can either take the high road along the mountains through ancient Samaria, which is present-day Nablus, or the low road through the Jordan River Valley to Jericho. We took the low road.

Our first stop in Jericho was Saint Maria Catholic school. Sister Eugenia met us and kindly let us to the school chapel where Bishop Zubik presided at Mass. We learned that of the 430 students enrolled in St Maria School, only five were Catholic.

Saint Maria's School in Gerico 

Helene with Sister Eugenia of St. Maria Catholic School

Bishop Zubik presides over Mass

We read in Luke's Gospel chapter 8 verse 35-43 about Jesus' healing the blind beggar Bartimaeus in Jericho who called out to him, "son of David have pity on me."

We also read the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19.

While Jericho we also were able to see the ancient ruins and encounter local livestock:

Posing with a local camel

Further south from Jericho we explored Qumran, where The dead sea scrolls were found in the cave by a shepherd boy. Doing the first century, Qumran was the home of a Jewish sect called the Essenes.

Ancient ruins of Jericho 

Cave in Qunram where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered 

Group shot at Qunram

We meditated on the parable of the Good Samaritan as we made our way past Bedouin encampments. Who is my neighbor and how do I love them? Jesus teaches us that it is through costly demonstrations of unexpected love.

Stay tuned: Tomorrow, we like Mary, set out in haste and boldly go. Ein Karem is on the itinerary.

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Holy Door at Church of All Nations, Jerusalem

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 4, 2016
Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, Israel by Berthold Werner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Church of All Nations in the garden of Gethsemane is one of the three Holy Doors in the Holy Land. Bishop Zubik leads the Pittsburgh pilgrims through the Holy Door a portal of love.

Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy.

Tags:  Holy Door  Holy Land  Jerusalem 

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"Happy are they . . ."

Posted By Administration, Friday, April 1, 2016

Today’s blog entry could easily become a novel, for it is hard to capture in a few lines the many wonderful things we pilgrims saw and heard in our travels in the Galilee. Today, we entered into the love story of God for humanity as we journeyed on land and sea to the places that are most central to Jesus’ ministry.

At dinner this evening, I asked a few members of our group to discuss what the high point of the day was for each of them. For some it was our visit to the Mount of Beatitudes, with its panoramic view of the sea of Galilee, its serene gardens and blessed silence. On the mount, Bishop Zubik meditatively read Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). We basked in the beauty of creation and of Jesus teaching. I was reminded that in some translations of the Bible the phrase “Blessed are they” is rendered “Happy are they.” Teilhard de Chardin has declared that “Happiness is the only infallible sign of the presence of God.” Indeed, happy are we pilgrims.

Happy and blessed are they who are able to ride on a boat on the Galilee. Being on the water was for many of us the pinnacle moment of the day. It was in these waters that Jesus fished and swam, and where he walked upon the water and calmed the storm. It is from these waters that he called forth his disciples, men and women, to follow him. Happy are they who find models in the men and women of Galilee.

Bishop Zubik gives Easter proclamation on Sea of Galilee

Visiting the newly built shrine at Magdala, along with the recent archaeological excavations there, brought great joy to many as well. Several women were particularly moved to visit the hometown of Mary, who was such a loyal and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. In the vestibule of the beautiful chapel called Duc in Altum is an atrium featuring eight pillars. Seven of the pillars represent women who are named in scripture as followers of our Lord, while the eighth pillar honors women of faith across all time. It was ennobling and inspiring for many to see women like themselves commemorated there. And we were happy to know that men and women collaborated there with Jesus, just as they do today, to bring forth the Kingdom of God.

Pilgrims pose in front of newly constructed Duc in Altum in Magdala

We lunched on fresh tilapia caught this morning in the Sea of Galilee. The fish is called St. Peter's fish because it was this type of fish in which St. Peter found the coin to pay Jesus' taxes. We heard from our knowledgeable and personable guide, Jerry, that there was heavy taxation on the people of Galilee by the Romans and by the Temple. Capernaum was a border town between Herod Antipas and Herod Philip; hence it had a big checkpoint from which to collect taxes. Recall Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector—perhaps not one of the most popular men in Capernaum—to be his disciple. Happy are they whose righteousness is affirmed by God especially when others may not yet recognize it.

Next it was to "Jesus' Galilee Base of Operations," Capernaum. Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee in the first century, was the hometown of Saint Peter and it is here where Jesus based his ministry. We stood in the ruins of the Byzantine era synagogue in Capernaum. It is built on the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus taught and cured a man. We saw the actual ruins of St. Peter's house! Yes you know the place. It is where Jesus healed Peter's mother in law and where the roof was raised so a paralytic could be lowered down for Jesus to heal. We prayed for Pope Francis, the 266th successor of Saint Peter and for Bishop Zubik in his Apostolic ministry. Happy are those who serve the Lord, leading the Church in truth and in love!

Group shot with statue of St. Peter in Capernaum

We ended where we started—in the water. We walked down to the shore and several pilgrims took of their shoes to put there feet in the water. We read John 21:15-19 and heard Peter's answer to Jesus' questions. Three times Jesus asked Peter "do you love me?". Yes. Yes. Yes. Was the response. Happy are those who know they are loved by Jesus and love Him in return!

Stay tuned. The love story continues! Tomorrow, Jerusalem our destiny!

Tags:  Capernaum  Duc in Altum  Galilee  Magdala  St. Peter 

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Posted By Administration, Thursday, March 31, 2016

Yes. Yes. Yes. Day two of the pilgrimage could be captured in a word: Yes. The yes of Mary. The yes of our Baptismal and the yes of Marriage vows. We began where it all began - at the Annunciation in Mary's house in Nazareth. Mary said yes and the word was made flesh. The plaque marking the spot reminded us it happened right here: The word was made flesh HERE. Nowhere else in the world.

The second yes today was a renewal of marriage vows at Cana where all the married pilgrims said yes again to their beloved spouses. For one couple it was their actual 20th wedding anniversary. What a way to celebrate!

The third yes was a renewal of baptismal promises. Using water from the Jordan River, Bishop Zubik sprinkled the pilgrims after we said yes to learn Jesus, to love Jesus and to live Jesus.

Today we will meditate on Peter's answer to Jesus who asked him three times "Do you love me?" Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes. Yes. Was Peter's reply.

Stay tuned for photos of our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Mt of Beattitudes, Peter's Primacy and Mary Magdalene's home town!

Group shot in Cana

Tags:  Bishop Zubik  Cana  Nazareth  Saint Mary  Saint Peter  yes 

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Humble Beginnings

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land had a humble yet profound beginning. Our first action was a simple, beautiful Mass. It was not in a magnificent cathedral. It was not in a place even mentioned in Scripture. There was no choir, just we travel-weary pilgrims in a small meeting room in the lower level of our hotel. Some of us were a little rough around the edges. I was struggling with motion sickness from the bus ride from the airport to Tiberias. The twenty hours of travel showed on more than of few of us. Others however were elated at being in the Land of Jesus. Bishop Zubik was among them for sure. He tenderly led us in the great mystery of our faith – Jesus fully present in the Eucharist: body, soul and divinity. Jesus is here and he is waiting to meet us at every shrine we will visiting, helping us to come to know him better.

Yes it was a humble beginning, but so too was the Easter story. Jesus did not appear in the grand temple or in the precincts of Pontius Pilate. He appeared in a garden to a woman. This was the Gospel Bishop Zubik proclaimed to us at our first Mass in the holy land, beginning of the good news.

It is a humble story. It hinges on five small words. These single syllable five words changed her life. Changed the apostles’ lives. Changes our lives. Five simple yet profound words: “I have seen the Lord!”

Bishop Zubik shared with us it was Mary Magdalene who announced to Peter, to John and the other disciples the good news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. She was the first one to know! She was the first to see! She was the first to hear his voice! The first to touch his wounds! She was the first evangelist! She was first and that is why she is called the Apostle to the Apostles.

Bishop Zubik reminded us Mary was not the only one to encounter our Risen Lord. We know what happened next. John and Peter ran to the tomb and found it empty. Jesus then appeared to the disciples in the upper room greeting them with PEACE. Shalom. We too like Mary Magdalene are to share with others our encounters with Jesus.

Mary of Magdala was from a village just up the road from where we are now. Magdala was a village here on the Sea of Galilee. The Via Maris, that great Roman road connecting three continents – Asia, Africa and Europe – went right by Magdala.

The best fishing on the Sea of Galilee was up near Capernaum and Bethsaida. In Magdala the fish that was caught was salted and preserved. There wasn’t refrigeration back then and we all know how rotten fish can smell. The fishermen, including Peter, Andrew, James and John, would sell their fish immediately. Most of it wound up in Magdala to be salted so that it would last more than a few hours in the heat of Galilee. The five fish Jesus blessed to feed the multitude was surely salted in Magdala.

From Magdala, Galilee fish was carted down to Jerusalem and up to Damascus. The fish may have been sent down to the huge port in Caesarea and shipped to Rome.

The point is – the fish had to be preserved and the place where it was preserved was Magdala. To us Magdala is just the village where Mary was from. Like I am from Ambridge and you are from Castle Shannon or McKees Port. But to the early Church the name Magdala may have meant more. It may have conjured up notions of keeping things fresh. Mary of Magdala preserved the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, she kept it fresh in her heart.

Here we are – in the Holy Land on the Second Day of Easter. Easter like Christmas is so great a feast it lasts eight days! How good it is for us to be here during Easter! To see with our own eyes, to hear with our own ears, to touch with our own hands the places of Jesus life, death and resurrection! Let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to preserve all our memories of this pilgrimage so that others too can come to believe that He is alive and He loves them. May we like Mary of Magdala proclaim: “I have seen the Lord!” May our Easter faith stay fresh!

May our humble beginning end in a glorious future – eternal life with the Father for us and for all with whom we share the good news!

Stayed tuned. Tomorrow is Nazareth. Another place of humble beginnings.

Tags:  Bishop Zubik  fish  Galilee  Holy Land  Magdala  Mary Magdelene  pilgirmage 

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Departing Pittsburgh

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pilgrims still wet with Easter water depart Pittsburgh with Bishop Zubik to Holy Land! Jerusalem our destiny!

Tags:  Bishop Zubik  Holy Land 

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Table, Cross and Tomb

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 28, 2016

Table, cross and tomb. This is where the disciples of Jesus gather during the Triduum, a Latin word that literally means “three days.” On Holy Thursday we are at the Table of the Last Supper in the Upper Room. On Good Friday we are at the Cross on Golgotha. On Holy Saturday we are at the Tomb in the garden.

As our family experiences the Table, the Cross and the Tomb at our local parish, I am overwhelmed by the reality that in 72 hours, our daughter Bayley and I along with Bishop Zubik and 35 fellow pilgrims, will be in the Holy Land. We will be in the very places where Jesus and his first disciples were at the table, cross and tomb.

We will go to Upper Room, where reclining at table, Jesus shared His Body and Blood. We will climb up to Golgotha where Bishop Zubik will lead us in Mass at the very place where Jesus died on the cross. We will go in to the tomb of the Holy Sepulcher.

Today during the Veneration of the Cross liturgy, we heard about the last movements of Jesus, how he got up from the table and walked across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane where he was arrested and then was taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. We listened as the narrator read from John’s Gospel how Jesus died on the cross and was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  It was powerful today to prayerfully recall Jesus’ final footsteps.  How amazing it will be to literally follow Jesus’ path from the table, to the cross and the tomb just a few days after the Triduum.

During the Way of Cross today Pope Francis prayed: “O Cross of Christ, teach us that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb and before the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God which nothing can defeat, obscure or weaken.” May we be nourished at the table to help others carry their cross mindful of Jesus’ victory over death in the tomb.


Next Blog:

Year of Mercy in the Land of Mercy

Tags:  Bishop Zubik  Good Friday  Holy Land  Holy Thursday  Triduum 

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