by Father Mark Goldasich
Honestly, it took some time after returning from the Holy Land to get used to the quiet in Tonganoxie.
That last five days of my recent pilgrimage were spent at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, right next to one of the walls of the Old City. Around four each morning, I was startled away by cannon fire followed by what appeared to be wailing.
I quickly found out I was in no danger. Since it was the month of Ramadan, the cannon alerted the Muslim population in Jerusalem that it was time to begin their daily fast. The “wailing” was merely a call to prayer amplified by several speakers in a nearby minaret.
The other noise that sounded seemingly nonstop was the blaring of car horns. I chuckled the whole time because it reminded me of a story about a man’s car that stalled in heavy traffic as the light turned green. All his efforts to start the engine failed, and a chorus of honking behind him only made matters worse.
Eventually, the guy got out of his car and walked back to the driver behind him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to get my car started. If you’ll go up there and give it a try, I’ll stay here and blow your horn for you!” (Found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
I can’t tell you how many times I was tempted to offer my horn-honking services to the irritated drivers. It looked like fun!
Seriously, though, I continue to ponder my pilgrimage experience. There were 35 of us in our group from several different states: Kansas, Connecticut, Ohio, Iowa, Arkansas and Florida. Most of us were strangers when we first gathered in the Tel Aviv airport but, over the course of our time together, we became not only friends but family. Since coming back to the States, a slew of emails and plenty of photos have been shared already.
In addition to seeing so many of the physical sites mentioned in the Bible, we were privileged to experience the “living stones” of the Holy Land as well: the Christians who live there.
One stop was at the Hogar “Niño Dios” (Home “Divine Child”), a facility in Bethlehem administered by the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word, that houses some 36 adults and children with physical and mental disabilities. Since special services are almost nonexistent in the area, these people often have nowhere to go. I had tears in my eyes the entire time. The dedicated staff there, through their compassion and joyfulness, works hard to develop each resident’s potential.
Our group was also blessed — in groups of five or six — to share a meal at the homes of some Bethlehem Christian families and hear their stories. The delicious meal was only outdone by the warm welcome we received. The injustices these people endure every day could not smother the deep faith and hopefulness they exude.
Because making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land might not be possible for most people, I’d recommend an excellent substitute: a book, written by Stephen J. Binz (our pilgrimage leader and a longtime friend of mine), titled “Holy Land Pilgrimage.” It features scads of beautiful photos, informative descriptions, meditations, Scripture suggestions and prayers. It’s published by the Liturgical Press and sells for $24.95.
Writing about the Holy Land has made me nostalgic. I think I’ll head to my driveway now and honk my horn!
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