More than 80 people accompanied friars from three parishes on two separate pilgrimages to Italy and Israel last month.
Two parishes from Anderson, S.C., teamed up to go to Italy with Aubrey McNeil, OFM, from St. Mary of the Angels Church, and Henry Fulmer, OFM,from St. Joseph Church. The group of almost 50 people traveled to Rome, Florence, Assisi, Padua, Pompei, and Venice.
From Nov. 5 to 15, the group, including several members of St. Camillus Parish, Silver Spring, Md., where Henry was previously stationed, and his friend Fr. Donald Sterling of New All Saints Church in Baltimore, Md., visited religious and tourist sights. Henry organized the trip and Aubrey served as chaplain.
During the same time period, Julian Jagudilla, OFM, of Assumption Church in Wood-Ridge, N.J., took 32 pilgrims to Israel, leaving the country right before last month’s serious bombing with Gaza escalated.
“The fighting started on Nov. 13,” said Julian, “and we started seeing smoke coming from the Gaza border. But we, fortunately, left the day the bombing started.”
Both pilgrimages were an opportunity for participants to put into context Biblical stories and Catholic history in the locations where events took place. The Israel trip showed people where Jesus spoke on the Mount, along with other sites, while the Italy journey brought people to the towns where St. Francis and St. Anthony were born.
‘A Walk With Jesus’
Julian’s trip, “Pilgrimage: A Walk With Jesus,” focused on the Christian sites in the Holy Land. “People said it was exciting to see where stories from the Bible come alive,” said Julian. “We went to the Jordan River and renewed our baptismal vows at the place where Jesus was baptized. People said that they had only ever seen this in the movies.”
For the group from South Carolina, the journey was an opportunity to spend time with members of another Catholic church. Catholics are in the minority in the Southeastern United States, said Henry, so this allowed them to interact with others in the faith.
“The best thing about the trip,” said Aubrey, “was being together. It was a nice sense of community. The group jelled nicely.”
This trip was a first for both parishes, and it was the second time Henry had been on a pilgrimage. Fifteen months ago, he was a guest on a similar trip and enjoyed it so much that he planned his own. When he invited Aubrey and his church, St. Mary’s was thrilled, he said.
The group celebrated Mass every other day in churches along the way, including the basement of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Anthony of Padua Church in Padua, and St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, according to Henry.
“We had a big group, and a hodgepodge of people, but it went well and was a lot of fun.” He is already being asked about the planning of the next pilgrimage, which he hopes will take place in 2014 to Turkey or Greece. “It takes a lot of planning,” he said.
Aubrey said that pilgrims also enjoyed seeing massively large churches and basilicas. “It was good for people to see the greatness of the Church,” he added. “To see huge churches was wonderful.”
Relationship and Fellowship
Henry said the fellowship of this trip will serve as a foundation for other things. “I see this becoming part of developing both parishes. It builds the relationships.”
The beauty of Julian’s trip, too, was in relationships. “For me, it is making connections,” he said of his third pilgrimage. “It’s one thing to read stories from the Bible, but it’s another thing to be there to walk where Jesus did.”
The trip included visits to shrines and churches, and included the Mount of Beatitudes and Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Mount Tabor, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, Via Doloroso, and much more. The pilgrimage was structured, said Julian, to allow time for Masses, group and individual reflections, and sharing.
Julian also appreciated the opportunity to talk to friars who belong to the Custody of the Holy Land.
For Julian, the trip was rewarding because it enabled him to see people deepen their faith. He said he produced a booklet or a “Pilgrims Guide” to help people reflect on their experiences. “People’s faith was deepened, especially through the evenings of sharing. We gathered on the third or fourth night to discuss what touched you.”
Julian, who was ordained in 2008, added that he would like to make this pilgrimage an annual project, but admits it takes a year to plan, even with the help of a travel company.
Next year, pilgrimages are being offered by HNP ministries to locations including Ireland, a tour organized by St. Bonaventure University, and the Holy Land, a trip sponsored by St. Anthony Shrine.
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.