In 1993 I had the chance to visit the Holy Land. It was one of those large tour groups that load you on buses and motor you to all the significant sacred sites in a week. It was crowded and tiring and hot and unfamiliar, and I loved every minute of it!
I loved the idea of going to visit the places where Jesus lived, but I didn’t expect the spiritual impact it would have on me. Today, 21 years later, I still see various sites in my mind’s eye when I read the Scriptures. I picture myself there, and the scene comes to life for me. I connect to Jesus, to his humanity, to his actual presence walking this earth, to the events of his life, to his actions and words.
Before I went, I had certain expectations. I was excited to see certain sites. I imagined myself standing in the field at Calvary and standing on the very earth where Jesus’s blood was shed for me. Imagine my surprise when I got to Calvary and found a church built there—ornate, old, smoky, and packed to the gills with other pilgrims. Not my idealized picture, but my spirit knew I was standing on holy ground in spite of the less than ideal surroundings.
When I went to the Garden of Olives, I was surprised to find the church built around the rock where Jesus prayed before his betrayal. That is one of my favorite scenes in the Gospel because I see Jesus’s all-too-human fear. I can relate! I also see his heart-felt surrender to his Father’s will. I find such courage in his response. To be able to pray at this very rock moved me in a way I cannot describe.
Every Christmas when I hear the story of Jesus’s birth, I picture myself in the shepherd’s field and can almost see the choir of angels coming to announce the great news to humble shepherds. Again, I was surprised by the impact of that field. We didn’t even stop there—just drove across it on our bus. But this nearness of God come to earth struck me there and has stayed with me all these years.
Why am I thinking about my Holy Land trip from so long ago? Servant Books has just published a book by Fr. Mitch Pacwa—The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage. Fr. Mitch has led many pilgrimages to the Holy Land and he leads the reader on the same journey he takes on his pilgrimages. He sets the scene at the various sites and includes many color pictures to bring the places to life for the reader. But better still, he explores the Scripture passages that relate to each spot. With deep understanding, he applies those verses and those places to the life of the reader.
I had the privilege of selecting the photos for this book. I spent many hours reviewing Fr. Mitch’s pictures of these holy spots and reliving my own experience of being there. If you have been to the Holy Land, you will love this book because it brings back to vivid life the experience of being there.
If you have never been to the Holy Land, this book is your ticket. You can experience the grace of being there through the Scriptures, the descriptive words, the spiritual insight, the prayers, and the photos throughout the book. I hope you join this pilgrimage from the comfort of your home.
If you have been to the Holy Land, what scenes touched you?
Image: The Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee; photo by John King