by Father Mark Goldasich
I’m reasonably sure that I emptied purgatory at least twice, maybe even three times. But more on that later.
I just returned on April 21 from a Holy Land pilgrimage that began on Easter Monday. As you might imagine, those days were chock-full, and I’ve not really had time to process the experience in any coherent way. This column reflects some early impressions of my journey.
• Was it safe to travel in the Holy Land? Did I feel threatened? Our pilgrimage was organized by Select International, a company out of New Jersey. I felt safe the entire time, knowing if there was any danger, the company would have advised our local guide and the pilgrimage leader ahead of time. Being part of a pilgrimage group ensures that you’ll be transported effortlessly to various sites without having to worry about directions, entrance fees, tips, etc.
The only “threat” I felt was from the relentless hawkers of rosaries, alabaster necklaces, religious images and other gewgaws on the way to the holy sites. Although they spoke some English, apparently the words, “No, thank you” weren’t part of their vocabulary as they’d pursue you for blocks with their wares! Have no fear, though, I held firm.
• Be prepared for a physically demanding adventure. There was a great deal of walking involved, often on uneven surfaces. Although buses get pilgrims close to a destination, they can rarely drop you at the door. Several venues could only be reached by climbing steps — lots and lots of steps. Also, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany, know that there will be bending and even some crawling involved to either touch the site of Jesus’ birth, the rock of Calvary or explore Lazarus’ tomb.
Keeping hydrated is a must, as even in April, days were already toasty. And if you’re not blessed with the gift of hair on top of your head, some covering is a necessity. If you saw any pictures of me on pilgrimage on The Leaven Facebook page, you’ll note that I’m wearing a yellow and red Chiefs boonie hat. Honestly, though I looked like a goofball, the hat: 1) kept my ears, nose and the back of my neck from getting sunburned; and 2) acted as a beacon for the rest of the group when we got separated.
• Pack a whole lot of patience. Especially in Jerusalem, it was crowded. I about reached my breaking point at the Church of the Nativity where we’d been waiting for four hours to venerate the rock where Jesus was born. Concepts like “a line” and “personal space” were meaningless to most of the world smashed together there, especially the Coptic Christians. If I’d been shoved one more time by one of them, I was prepared to personally add some martyrs to their church calendar! (Don’t worry, I didn’t.)
Oh, I almost forgot. Let me explain my “emptying purgatory” comment. One lesson I carry from Catholic grade school is “offering up” some suffering for a particular intention. Well, for the 11-hour flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Tel Aviv, I was squished into the middle seat on the plane. Same story on the 11-hour flight back to Newark. I offered all that up for “the poor souls in purgatory.”
I just hope somewhere down the line, those poor souls will remember who “freed” them!