Bishop Hying

Sacred grounds and sites throughout Holy Land prove to be awe-inspiring for local pilgrims

       As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on March 19, 2017


       With 38 other pilgrims, I was blessed to spend nine days in the Holy Land a couple of weeks ago.  Called the “Fifth Gospel,” Israel is a treasure house of natural beauty, religious faith and holy sites, many related to the life, ministry and presence of Jesus and the Bible as a whole. 

       Although churches are built over these sacred places, such as the Garden of Gethsemane, Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre, which houses both Golgotha and the Lord’s  tomb, visitors still get a deep sense of how things looked and felt during the time of Christ.

       In Galilee, our hotel was situated right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where a good portion of the Gospel story occurred. We were able to go out on our hotel balconys and watch the sunrise over this remarkable lake, imagining the call of the apostles, the storm at sea and Jesus’ preaching from the boat. 

       We had Mass in Magdala in a newly built church which honors the life of St. Mary Magdalene and the other women who followed Jesus. The altar was in the form of a boat with the cross as the mast and the tabernacle on board. The back wall of the sanctuary was all glass, letting in a breathtaking view of the sea along with a blindingly radiant light.  Recent excavations there have uncovered the most intact ancient synagogue ever discovered.

       Later that same day, we journeyed to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked the apostles: Who do you say that I am? At the time of Christ, the large mountain there with its many caves housed altars and shrines dedicated to various gods and religions. In this spiritually varied smorgasbord, the Lord proposes the fundamental question: Who do you think I am?  Do you believe in me as the Messiah and Savior? We are faced with a life-changing choice.  We also went to Chorazim and Bethsaida where Jesus preached and healed.

       Mount Tabor towers high over the surrounding countryside with a beautiful church on top which commemorates the Transfiguration, which the Gospel for Mar. 12. The mosaics in the church, the glorious view and the peace of the place deeply moved me. I have always had a special devotion to the Transfiguration as a pivotal moment in the Gospel when, just for a few moments, James, Peter and John were privileged to see the future glory of the risen Christ. 

       This experience marks a turning point in Christ’s life. When they descend the mountain, they start the journey to Jerusalem, to the place of the death and resurrection. What are the Transfiguration moments in your life, when the clouds part for a few moments and you enjoy a foretaste of resurrected glory?

       We celebrated a beautiful outdoor Mass on the Galilee shore, close to the spot where the risen Jesus appeared to the apostles, feeding them breakfast and leading Peter in the moving three-fold question: Simon, son of John, do you love me?  Before receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles are not clear on what to do next, so Peter goes back to fishing.  Jesus reveals his presence to them by repeating the miracle of fish that triggered Peter’s original decision to follow the Lord. 

       Christ invites his followers into the vast beautiful world of the resurrection, calling them to imitate his heroic, sacrificial love by feeding the flock. When Peter was being crucified on Vatican hill, was he thinking of that encounter with Christ? That haunting question - “Do you love me?” - echoes in our own ears and hearts, inviting us to a deeper discipleship and love relationship with the Lord.

       I will always cherish the Mass we had in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in a stone chapel which is immediately adjacent to the traditional place honored as the location of the birth of Christ. To ponder the humble birth of Jesus in a cave filled with animals, and later shepherds, leads us to the unfathomable depths of God’s self-emptying love for us. Born on the fringes of the Roman Empire to itinerant parents of poor circumstances, the Lord sneaks quietly into the back door of the world to identify completely with the fullness of our humanity. 

       To celebrate the Eucharist on the spot where God entered the world was moving, to say the least. 

       The highlight of the pilgrimage was praying the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa, visiting the inner chapel which houses Jesus’ tomb and celebrating Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  To physically be immersed in the geography of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection is profound beyond words. I felt like I was standing at the center of the world. Jesus rose from the dead here! The overwhelming peace, sense of the Divine Presence and the love of the Lord were palpable there. 

       During Mass, I anointed our pilgrims in the Sacrament of the Sick with olive oil blessed and placed on Jesus’ tomb. Our group experienced deep healing and forgiveness in this holy place. Birds sang outside the window while we prayed in a stone chapel built by Crusaders.

       We also did some unique and fun things: riding a camel, floating on the Dead Sea, eating a delicious Arabic meal in a restaurant built to resemble a tent and climbing a rocky hill in Tiberias to marvel at the sunrise. We laughed a lot, ate a healthy Mediterranean diet, reflected in the evening on our experiences and encountered the Lord. 

       Know that I prayed for all of you, your intentions, our diocese, the synod, our priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful in all of these holy places. It was the best pilgrimage of my life, but I am glad to be home with all of you! I hope your Lent is going well.


       + Donald J. Hying

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