Catholic News Herald

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Holy Land pilgrims gain deeper understanding of faith

Pictured: Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. A group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Charlotte are on a week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Join the virtual pilgrimage with us at http://lentholyland.tumblr.com.

As the pilgrims from the Diocese of Charlotte walked through the Old City of Jerusalem after praying the Way of the Cross and touring the Holy Sepulchre on March 10, Lia Beard proclaimed: "I’ve gone full circle: From Jesus’ birth to death."

The last full day of the nine-day pilgrimage in Jerusalem was the most intense, both physically and spiritually. The pilgrims had already visited Bethlehem, Jesus' birthplace; Nazareth, where He grew up; the Jordan River, where He was baptized; and Capernaum and Galilee, where He spent much of the three years of His earthly ministry. On Sunday, it was time for the pilgrims to trace the Way of the Cross to its end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- the site of Jesus' crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.

It is the holiest site in all of Christianity, and touching and seeing the spot where Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried was a moment that really hit home for all of the pilgrims.

The day started with Mass at the Grotto of Gethsemane, where Father Adrian Porras meditated on Jesus’ sacrifice. His sacrifice was accomplished for each one of us, Father Porras said, because God loves us and wants us to be with Him in heaven. (Watch a video of part of his homily here.)

"As we prepare to go to the Way of the Cross," Father Porras told the pilgrims, think of Jesus' sacrifice "for humanity – think that He also came here for you. Individually. He was God. He had every soul in mind when He came to do this.

"Just reflect on it as we go through the Stations of the Cross."

Beard, of St. Barnabas Church in Arden, said she found Father Porras’ homily very moving.

"It’s pretty rough to go to the place where Jesus was betrayed. I feel we often betray God when we choose our own path," she said.

The pilgrims then visited Ein Karem, the birthplace of St. John the Baptist, where there are two beautiful churches: the Church of the Visitation and the Church of John the Baptist.

After seeing the Church of the Nativity, where the birthplace of Jesus is represented by a star set into the floor of the cave in Bethlehem, Beard said it was interesting to contrast that holy site with the birthplace for St. John the Baptist, which is marked with a representation of a sun. She also talked about how before they were born, Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant around the same time and the connections she thinks of between the Holy Family members and the places the pilgrims have visited this week in the Holy Land.

"The stories we know well have real people, and they come to life here," she said. "I believed them before. It’s really real for me, now. It’s no longer just a story. I have a greater understanding."

Beard explained that this pilgrimage has helped her gain something she feels a lot of Catholics who fall away from the Church may be lacking: this deeper understanding.

Taking a few minutes to reflect on the pilgrimage after an exhausting, but most rewarding day, the pilgrims talked about how their outlook has changed since visiting the Holy Land.

"You have a different outlook on your faith after you come to Jerusalem," said Anne Rega, pilgrim from Holy Family Church in Clemmons. "You appreciate it more when you say the rosary. You feel it stronger."

Beard said the whole trip has been "eye-opening" for her.

"It’s not that I haven’t thought this way before, it’s just hitting me on a different level," Beard said. "At an unexpected level."

— Kimberly Bender, online reporter

Follow along with the pilgrims

See lots of photos, quotes, reflections, faith facts and videos from the Holy Land as the pilgrims walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Join the virtual pilgrimage: http://lentholyland.tumblr.com