Ten Days Walking
SJU’s Holy Land pilgrimage is more than a vacation or tourist trip. Travelers encounter a spiritual journey in the Footsteps of Jesus.
Interested in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land?
SJU Holy Land Pilgrimage, June 13-23 2017
By Molly Crossan Harty
Maria Frain dipped her toes in the calm turquoise water of the Sea of Galilee and felt the coolness wash over her feet. Tears streamed down her cheeks as the presence of God overwhelmed her. She imagined Jesus walking on the lake and appearing to the apostles after the resurrection.
At the Church of All Nations near the Garden of Gethsemane, Chris Grodecki, S.J., a Jesuit scholastic who taught philosophy at SJU for two years, kneeled before the Blessed Sacrament at the “rock of agony” where Jesus prayed on the eve of his arrest. Grodecki closed his eyes, rested a hand on the stone and felt he was there with Jesus, keeping watch with him, praying with him.
Louis Horvath climbed the stairs to the second floor of the building on Mount Zion, ducked his head under the doorway and stepped into the “upper room,” unadorned except for a few pillars and a vaulted ceiling. He paused, taking in the power of this historical place, believed to be the site of the Last Supper.
“Something inside me told I had to go on this pilgrimage... It was the trip of a lifetime.”
“Every day was profound,” says Horvath, director of SJU’s graduate health services programs and adjunct professor, of his experience on the University’s 10-day Holy Land Pilgrimage with Frain, Grodecki and 24 others this past June. He says that while he initially had no special desire to go to the Holy Land, the idea of blending an educational tour with a spiritual journey captivated him. “To walk in the footsteps of this historical figure called Jesus is truly remarkable,” he says.
The key, the travelers say, to the perfectly paced, enlightening and enjoyable trip is organizer Brendan Lally, S.J., rector of Saint Joseph’s Jesuit community, who plans every detail, including the well-appointed accommodations. This June, Fr. Lally will lead the pilgrimage for the 25th time. A tall, slender man who speaks softly but with intention, Fr. Lally remembers that he hesitated when first approached about forming a pilgrimage in 1985, when he worked at the University of Scranton. Today, he says he’s “compelled” to guide participants — alumni, faculty, staff, students, Trustees, religious women, families and friends of Saint Joseph’s, along with other Jesuits — through “the footsteps of Jesus in the holy places associated with His earthly presence.” Fr. Lally incorporates Mass, celebrated by one of the Jesuits at each holy site, into the daily itinerary, along with time for reflection and prayer.
“I want them to experience the joy of the gospels in a new way,” he explains.
By all accounts, he’s succeeded.
“Now, when I hear the gospels, I actually visualize myself in those places,” says Frain, who learned about the trip from her brother-in-law, Brian Frain, S.J. ’86 (B.A.), also a pilgrim. “I have a better and closer understanding of what the words of the gospels mean.”
For Fr. Frain, academic director of the SJU Professional and Liberal Studies Program, it was his second trip to the Holy Land with Fr. Lally. “I love going there, because as opposed to listening to gospel stories and using my imagination, I was able to really see the scenes from the gospel and the lived reality of the people around those religious sites today and how they continue to thrive or struggle.”
Just as important to the pilgrimage is the time participants spend with each other to share the impact of the journey. “The experience wasn’t just mine,” Fr. Frain says. “It was ours.”
Together, they renewed their baptismal vows at the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and viewed the tomb of Jesus, the size of a small walk-in closet, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They visited the Mount of Beatitudes, known as the site of the Sermon on the Mount, where they encountered the lovely and feisty Sr. Mary Rose, who acquired the nickname “hawk on the hill” when they discovered she had attended Saint Joseph’s many years before. To honor the University’s patron saint, the foster father of Jesus, Fr. Lally brought the pilgrims to the Church of St. Joseph and the Tomb of the Just Man in Nazareth.
“He’s so important to Jesus and so close to Jesus,” Fr. Frain says. “We need to remember him.”
In the evenings, Fr. Lally scheduled time for relaxation and conversation. “People would sit and talk about the day, their lives and really get to know each other,” says Grodecki, who is in his eighth year of formation, studying theology at Regis College in Toronto. “The way to expand the experience is sharing it with other people.”
Maria Frain agrees. “Something inside me told I had to go on this pilgrimage,” she says. “It was the trip of a lifetime.”