Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Upcoming pilgrimage: in the Footsteps of Mother Mary!

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, 2012

Have you ever dreamt of seeing and walking where Jesus and His Mother lived? Do you want a chance to experience the Gospel stories through your own eyes?

Why don't you join me? 

From November 4 to 16, 2013, my dear friend and Paulist priest Fr. Bruce Nieli and I will be leading a pilgrimage to Israel and Turkey, where we will visit the sites of all major milestones in Mary's life and, therefore, in Jesus' story.

Because of obvious political unrest, the only place we will not be able to visit is Egypt, where the Holy Family migrated during Jesus' early years.

Our journey -- In the Footsteps of Mother Mary-- will begin in Nazareth, celebrating Mass at the site of the Incarnation. Yes, the place where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, saying:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” 
We'll experience the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee, where so many of the Gospel stories take place--including Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Sepphoris, birth site of Mary's parents, Anna and Joachim.

on replica boat, Sea of Galilee, 2012

If that's not enough to get you excited, our pilgrimage will include Bethlehem, Ein Karem (birth place of John the Baptist and site of Mary's visit with Elizabeth), the Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea, and the barren desert, where Jesus went to pray for 40 days before beginning his ministry.

We'll also spend three days experiencing the holy sites of Jerusalem before flying to Izmir, Turkey, through Istanbul. If you're wondering why we've included Turkey, let me explain.

Mary's house, Ephesus

A few years ago I had the blessed opportunity to visit Ephesus, where tradition tells us Mother Mary lived the final years of her life with the Apostle John as her companion. Mary's home is a humble stone house where the presence of God was as tangible as rock. The grave and baptistery of St. John the Evangelist, to whom Jesus entrusted his mother, are on a nearby hill. 

Meryem, as Mother Mary is named in Turkish, is honored as the mother of Jesus and as an example of “purity and beauty, like a beautiful flower.” Her home is considered a holy site for Muslims, who, like Catholics, are encouraged to practice the spiritual practice of making pilgrimages.

I learned that Mary’s House in Ephesus is, therefore, the most important site in the world common to both Christians and Muslims.

When planning this pilgrimage walking In the Footsteps of Mother Mary, I could not ignore this important and holy site. 

Ephesus, city centre, façade of library

Five miles away from Mary's house survives the actual city of Ephesus, where the third ecumenical council of the Church took place in 431. On my visit, I stood in awe at the layers of history and centuries of faith tradition that color that landscape. 

The impressive two story façade of the Library of Celsus, built in 114-117 AD. The remains of a temple built in honor of Hadrian’s visit to the city in 123 AD. And underneath the Roman columns and stone paths that we walked, Greek ruins dating back to 1200 BC—all set on the foothills of Mt. Panayir (Pion) along what once was the shores of the Aegean Sea.

The largest archaeological site in Turkey and one of the most important in the world, Ephesus is one of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. It was also visited by St. Paul on his second and third journeys, and it is there that he wrote his letter to the Galatians. 

From now on, I will be regularly posting here stories from my visits to these amazing sites -- hoping to get you excited and willing to join me in this wonderful upcoming pilgrimage! 

Old city, Jerusalem, 2012

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please leave me a message here -- or contact me directly. And please, join me in praying for this pilgrimage starting now, may all who feel called to join us answer the call, and may God's will be glorified through it.

All I can add is, Y'allcome