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Pilgrimage, Day 10: A companion for the journey

Beginning with a hearty “Happy Easter!,” Fr. Ricardo da Silva, SJ, offered the final morning talk of the pilgrimage as retreat.  Having focused on the events leading up to Christ’s Passion, today we pilgrims were to focus on the news of His resurrection.  Today, we were to visit the environs of ancient Emmaus.  Da Silva reminded pilgrims of the familiar story of two disciples of Jesus traveling away from Jerusalem, sad and dejected, who encounter an unrecognized fellow traveler who seems oblivious to recent events in the city.  As he walks beside them listening intently, the stranger then brings the fulfillment of prophesy in the scriptures to life.  They are obviously moved, so much so that they ask the traveler to join them for the night.  In sharing a meal, the two instantly recognize the risen Jesus “in the breaking of the bread.”  The Savior departs from their sight, but not without leaving an indelible impression:  “Were not our hearts burning (within us) as while he spoke to us on the way …”

Like the two travelers, Da Silva said that we pilgrims are also discussing recent events of our experience.  Another commonality is that just as the two did not recognize Jesus as he accompanied them, we, in our day, do not always recognize that He is with us, and fail to see the divinity of Jesus in the people, situations, and places around us.  His comments resonated with me in that they echoed the Jesuit paradigm of “God in all things.”  It is a part of Ignatian spirituality that was already established as part of my being. 

Da Silva read a letter from Fr. James Martin, SJ, whom you will recall had to step back from the pilgrimage to assist in his mother’s care.  Da Silva, a most fitting and appropriate understudy, delivered the message, “Your pilgrimage, whatever it was, was what God had in store for you … keep allowing God to unfold God’s graces in your life … [and regarding transformation] it will come slowly and gradually … take the time [to] allow God to remind you what is important.”  These snippets of advice from a veteran pilgrim were welcomed and heeded.

Emmaus is a mere seven miles on foot from Old Jerusalem, so the travelers would certainly not have exhausted their conversation about Christ’s suffering, His death, and their second-hand knowledge of His resurrection.   We pilgrims in the comfort of our motor coaches still had the fresh memory of yesterday’s Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.

We celebrated our final pilgrim’s mass at a beautifully preserved crusader’s era church at the Benedictine Monastery of Abu Gosh.  The towering vaulted ceilings offered beautiful acoustics for our cantor, the organ accompaniment, and our company of 100 pilgrims.  It should be noted that we pilgrims sang, if not universally, nearly so.  The swell of our combined voices was evident from our first shared liturgy through this, the final one. Our voices filled vast worship spaces, such as the contemporary Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and smaller spaces such as the intimacy of the Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  If singing is indeed “praying twice,” our prayers were routinely doubled-down.

We had some time after mass to explore the gardens and the gift shop of the monastery before boarding the busses for the short drive back to Jerusalem and the stunning Cheese and Wine Rooftop Restaurant of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.

Before lunch, a brief prayer service in the contemporary chapel of the Notre Dame Center allowed each pilgrim to voice a one-to-two-word grace found while on pilgrimage.  There was variety in the 100+ graces, yet all combined to recount our shared experiences, their profundity, and their significance.  My voiced grace was companionship, for like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we pilgrims were, to a one, cordial, supportive, and caring fellow travelers on a shared-in-common, but uniquely-experienced spiritual journey.

There was a festive joyfulness abounding as we enjoyed cheese, wine, and sumptuous and savory foods while taking in the panoramic view of the East Jerusalem landscape.  Now familiar landmarks were recognizable from the inspiring height:  the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and, of course, the castellated limestone walls of Old Jerusalem.  Faith-Sharing Group pictures were taken with the inspiring backdrop.  A sense of completion and well-being pervaded the group of pilgrims joined through mutual experience coupled with an abounding sense of gratitude and solidarity.

While the formal pilgrimage has come to an end, I do take heart in Fr. George Williams’ words from Day 8: “This pilgrimage will play out in your lives for days, months, years.”  May this be so for me, for you, and for each of my fellow pilgrims.


John Stradley