by Meghan Ascher
Special to The Leaven
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With a little help from the Nativity Pilgrimage company, 50 members of a range of rural parishes in the archdiocese became pilgrims in the Holy Land from June 5 – 13.
With special guests Steve and Jenni Angrisano in attendance providing liturgical enrichment with their music, the pilgrims spent two days in Tiberius around the Sea of Galilee and the rest of their time in Jerusalem, exploring the places where Jesus himself walked.
“It’s hard for me to put into words how this trip affected me. All I can say is that every Christian needs to experience it,” said Shawn Gigstad of St. Joseph Parish in Nortonville.
“We had an 8-month-old and an 81-year-old on the trip,” she continued. “If I could advise one thing, it would be that you should not be afraid to go and not let your age affect your decision.”
Gigstad made the trip with her mother, sister and son.
“I never planned to go,” she added, “other than it maybe being on my bucket list someday. But if my 21-year-old son is getting the chills about going to the Holy Land, then we are going!”
Although there were many highlights to the trip, Gigstad was struck most by the power of the presence of Jesus in these places.
“It is not a place where Jesus walked; it is a place where Jesus walks,” she said.
The pilgrims could not say enough about the knowledge of their tour guide George. He spoke not only with authority on the different holy sites, but also shared insights on the area as it is today with its culture and conflict.
“We never felt unsafe, despite the unrest that is happening in their country,” said Gigstad, “because George knew when and where to be.”
Pilgrim Sonny Gore of St. Bede Church in Kelly found inspiration in both the trip and in what she brought home.
“When you fall in love with someone, you always want to know everything about them,” she said. “I went on this pilgrimage because I was going to get to know more about the one I love: Jesus.”
While the time on her pilgrimage was powerful, especially the moments with her son who recently graduated from K-State, what she found even more powerful was its effect on her daily life after it was all over and she “came back down from the mountaintop experience.”
She found that the Christ she discovered in the Holy Land walks here in Kansas, too.
“You go on a pilgrimage because you’re seeking something. Everyone has a reason to go,” she said. “The hardest part is returning to daily life, the normal.
“Thinking on that, I am very grateful. Our lives don’t need to be busy, complex or adventurous. We can please and give God glory by living simple and holy lives. If we see quiet moments, we will know his heart, his purpose, his good, his plans for each one of us.
“He just needs our yes.”