“Embrace the unexpected.”
These were simple words of advice offered by Bishop Emeritus Gerald Barnes to the 45 pilgrims he led on a two-week journey to the Holy Land Oct.18 through Nov. 1.
The tour of holy sites in and around Jerusalem brought to life many moments from the scriptures, pilgrims said.
“We were humbled as we stood in the Church of the Annunciation and saw what is little more than a cave where Mary said ‘yes’ and changed the world forever,” shared pilgrim Marty Swanson, who was joined by his wife, Mary. “We prayed at the cave where Elijah hid his face at the Lord’s presence in the whisper of the wind.
“These are all experiences that touched us.”
Father Andres Rivera, who was ordained to the priesthood in May, said the journey intensified his calling from God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
“This pilgrimage is almost a sacramental experience, for the journey points you to a larger reality, connecting you to Jesus through contact with his surroundings,” he said.
The pilgrims celebrated Mass daily at such landmark churches as the Basilica of the Annunciation, St. Peter’s Memorial Church in Capernaum, the Church of the Nativity, the Church of the Visitation, the Grotto of the Apostles at Gethsemane and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Ancient churches weren’t the only places that brought the bible to life. The pilgrims took a boat out on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had calmed the storm and walked upon the waters. Bishop Barnes addressed the pilgrims as they sailed, comparing the tranquility of the Galilee area with the busyness and chaos of Jerusalem. “While it may be preferable to remain in the tranquility, we must go to Jerusalem, just as Jesus followed his mission,” he said.
On Oct. 21 Bishop Barnes gave married couples in attendance an opportunity to renew their wedding vows (with his blessing) at St. John the Evangelist Chapel in Cana, the place where Jesus performed his first miracle. It was an especially meaningful moment for pilgrims Jose Jacuinde and Ma Guadalupe Izquierdo Ayala, who had their marriage convalidated with Bishop Barnes officiating.
Another highlight of the pilgrimage was the ceremony to inaugurate the Bishop Barnes Reception Room at Bethlehem University. Pilgrims Greg and Densy Chandra, members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ), had spearheaded efforts of the organization to honor Bishop Barnes at his retirement in 2020. The EOHSJ contributed funding to the construction of Cardinal Foley Hall at the university and made the naming of the reception area after Bishop Barnes possible. Oct. 24 marked the moment to celebrate the effort.
“Seeing that the university strives to provide hope and peace to the people through education is empowering for everyone,” said pilgrim Yolanda Madrid, Administrative Assistant in the Department of Ethnic Affairs at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. “I could sense the joy, and participate in that joy of the Equestrian Order, knowing that they were able to contribute to the university’s good mission in the name of Bishop Barnes.”
Of the overall experience of visiting the Holy Land, some pilgrims admitted that nothing in their entire life of faith could have prepared them for what they saw and how they felt. After receiving communion during Mass at the Church of the Annunciation the Swansons were struck, as they bowed their heads and opened their ears, by the universal presence of the faithful in the Holy Land.
“We heard the sound of footsteps, some shuffling, some confident and quiet, journeying towards Eucharist, passing in front of us, in sandals, tennis shoes, all types of footwear, young, old, male and female and we were struck by the fact that we are pilgrims together throughout the history of our faith as we walked in the footsteps of those that came before us in faith and make footprints in the sand, ourselves, for those who walk after us,” Marty Swanson said.
Ivonne Ramirez, who led the pilgrims in praying the Rosary at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Oct. 24, said it will take some time to process the trip.
“I will never forget this moment,” she said. “Being here helped me realize that I had waited all my life for it.”