More than 6,500 miles separate Kansas City from the Holy Land. It’s a trip not many people get to make in their lifetime.
But Catholics in the archdiocese can experience a taste of the holy sites of Israel from the comfort of their own homes thanks to a new book by award-winning author Stephen J. Binz called “Holy Land Pilgrimage.”
Binz, a biblical scholar, speaker and pilgrimage leader, traveled to the Holy Land for the first time 41 years ago. Since then, his love for it has never stopped growing — and he wants to share it with the world.
“Holy Land Pilgrimage” offers photographs of various holy sites accompanied with descriptions and meditations based on Scripture.
The Leaven spoke with Binz about his own experiences in the Holy Land and what he hopes readers will take away from his new book.
Q. Why did you decide to publish a book about the Holy Land?
A. I fell in love with the Holy Land the first time I traveled there in 1980. As a graduate student at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, we had the option of spending two semesters in Jerusalem. During that time, I took on-site courses in biblical geography, archeology, and Jewish history.
Beginning in the 1990s, I began to lead pilgrimages to the Holy Land because I loved experiencing it myself and bringing others there. In the Holy Land, I see so many people experiencing the biblical sites as religious tourists. But true pilgrims are those who come to these holy places with a desire to encounter the Lord there and to be changed by the process.
So, I wanted to write a book that would enable people to learn about those sites in the context of history, spirituality [and] Scripture, with a spirit of expectation, knowing that they will experience God there. I wanted a way to help tourists become pilgrims.
Q. How long did the book take you to compile?
A. I tell people that it took me 40 years to write this book. It is truly the product on all the understanding and experiences I’ve had in the Holy Land over four decades. While I put the book together in about a year, I couldn’t have done it without all the many trips I’ve made there throughout much of my life.
Q. How many times have you traveled to the Holy Land, and what have your experiences there been like?
A. Every time I travel to the Holy Land, which must be a couple of dozen [times] since 1980, I experience something new. Although people expect that it would become routine for me, I truly get excited every time I set foot in the land with a new group of pilgrims. I love talking with pilgrims along the way to gauge their reactions, because everyone has their own personal experiences of traveling in the footsteps of Jesus.
Q. Do you have a favorite site you’ve visited, or a favorite story you’d like to share?
A. I recently discovered a place called the Eremos grotto, a small cave set within the slope leading to the Mount of Beatitudes. It looks out on the Sea of Galilee from above, and here Jesus would go alone to pray. Often, he would spend the night there in prayer, while watching the lantern-lit fishing boats between sunset and dawn. I treasure the opportunity to sit in that cave and look out on the same scene that Jesus saw in a spirit of prayer.
As I said, everyone has their own unique experience of pilgrimage, and usually toward the end of the trip, I invite the travelers to share with the group any ways that the trip has particularly impacted them. A few years ago, a young married couple was with me, and I could tell as the trip began that she was soaking up the experience because of her Catholic faith, but he was a bit more hesitant and skeptical. By the time the pilgrimage was ended, he shared with the group that he was profoundly impacted by the experience, so much so that he had decided to join their parish’s RCIA group in hopes of becoming a Catholic. Pilgrimages always move people’s hearts in ways that are unique to them.
Q. “Holy Land Pilgrimage” is full of photographs, descriptions and meditations. What impact do you hope these offerings have on readers’ faith lives and the way they read the Bible, experience Mass, etc.?
A. The most common comments I hear from people after visiting the Holy Land is: “I will never read the Bible the same again”; and, “When I hear the Scriptures read at Mass, they come alive after visiting those places in the Holy Land.” If this book or a Holy Land pilgrimage helps people experience the Bible as God’s living word, I think that is the best result.
Q. Most people will never be able to make the trip to the Holy Land in their lifetime. Does this book serve as a way for them to make the journey from home?
A. I think the COVID pandemic has helped people understand that virtual experiences are the next best thing to being there. I realize that many people are unable to travel to the Holy Land, so I wrote the book in a way that can serve as an “armchair” pilgrimage. In a spirit of faith, readers may visit these sites in their imaginations, with the help of the photography and descriptions of each place and derive some of the same benefits of pilgrimage. I have provided Scriptures, meditation experiences and prayers for each site to help readers bring their minds and hearts on pilgrimage, while their bodies comfortably rest at home.
Q. Would you recommend the Holy Land as a place to visit physically, if people do get the chance to go?
A. Nothing can substitute for a physical pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Although there are many places where people can travel on pilgrimage, the Holy Land is the original Christian pilgrimage and the one I recommend above all others. The Holy Land doesn’t have the huge scale or grandiosity of places like Rome. The smaller churches try to preserve the scale and the spirit of Jesus the Galilean. It is rich and beautiful in its simplicity and no believer is ever the same after traveling in the footsteps of Jesus.
Q. Where can readers purchase “Holy Land Pilgrimage”?
A. Readers can order the book through their favorite bookstore, or purchase it online from Amazon or other distributors, or order it from the website of its publisher, Liturgical Press.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A. Readers may search my website for information about my pilgrimages and books on other pilgrimage sites at: www.Bridge-B.com.