There are two places that I always dreamed it would be great to be for Christmas midnight Mass: Bethlehem or Rome. This year my wife and I got the chance to be in Rome, at the Vatican for Christmas, and it was amazing.
As a schola chanted hymns before Mass, the basilica filled up with cardinals, bishops and dignitaries, and people who had waited in St. Peter's Square as early as 2 p.m. to enter the basilica at 8:30 p.m. for the 10 p.m. "midnight" Mass. Those who were in the square early got to hear an hourlong concert around 5 p.m. that accompanied the unveiling of the Vatican's outdoor Nativity scene.
The outdoor crèche features figures that stand about 15 feet tall in a grotto next to a Christmas tree lit with green and blue lights and gold ornaments. Pope Benedict appeared silhouetted at his window toward the end of the concert for less than a minute and held one lit candle. Notable, the manger was empty, since the Christ child has not yet arrived.
Inside the basilica for the Mass, the altar is decorated with thousands of white flowers and assorted greens. A statue of the Madonna and Child against a red velvet background adorned the left side of the altar.
A Nativity scene inside the basilica, smaller than the one outside, also features an empty manger. The pope traditionally blesses the statue of the infant at the end of the midnight Mass.
Though the Mass is in Italian, the first reading, from Isaiah (Is 9, 1-6), was proclaimed in English and the second, from Titus, was in Spanish. Some responses were in Latin. The crowd came from all over the world.
Walking out of the basilica, a young woman cradled her child in her arms, and gently hummed "Silent Night" into her baby's ear. Perhaps, a couple millennia ago, Mary herself would have been humming to the infant Savior on this very night.
It was an incredible privilege to be a part of this international celebration of the birth of Christ at the heart of the heart of the church.
Someday ... Bethlehem.
December 24, 2011 07:03
By Christopher Gunty
The Western Wall had a great impact on several priests on our pilgrimage, as you’ll see in this reflection from Father Steve Hook.
Bishop Denis J. Madden prepares to celerate the fractioning rite during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in a Mass for a pilgrimage of priests from Maryland inside the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem Oct. 15. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
This entire pilgrimage was awe-inspiring, yet overwhelming. It is going to take me years to fully appreciate what I have experienced by my journey to the Holy Land and being able to walk where Jesus walked and pray where Jesus taught.
One of the highlights that comes to mind for me was actually the day we celebrated Mass at the Holy Sepulcher, then walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of the Old City, which ended at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount with the view of the Dome of the Rock. It seemed to be the one place on earth where Christianity, Judaism and Islam converged, and at least while we were there, were living side by side.
As we approached the Western Wall, I was thinking to myself what it was that I wanted to pray for that day. The custom is to either write a prayer and place it in the wall or just touch the wall and voice your prayer in silence.
The Dome of the Rock overlooks Temple Mount and the Western Wall Plaza, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Judaism. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
I was thinking of so many things and people that I should include in my prayers but I couldn't settle on any one person or request. So as I approached the wall, my mind was scattered in all directions. But as soon as my hands touched the wall, a prayer intention miraculously became clear: Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. It is a prayer that is mentioned throughout the Scriptures, which also say that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, which would be destroyed.
As I reflected upon this prayer throughout the rest of the trip, and even still today, I believe that is the, and ought to be, the ongoing and daily prayer of all peoples of faith. It is a prayer not only for the Jerusalem here on earth, but also a prayer of hope for all of us, as we await the coming of the new Jerusalem in the kingdom of God.
Father Stephen Hook
Pastor, St. Augustine Parish, Williamsport, MD
Oct. 30, 2010
See a related entry here.
Pilgrims approach the Western Wall, one of the most sacred sites int he world for Judaism. People of all faiths come from around the world to bring their prayers to this holy place. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
October 30, 2010 09:06
By Christopher Gunty
The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s a different perspective from Father Ty Hullinger.
A memorial monument outside the Yad Vadhem Holocaust History Museum in Israel. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
“For me, one special pilgrimage encounter was our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust (Shoah) History Museum in Jerusalem. I had heard many people talk of its importance and the impact it can have on the one who visits it: from our own Cardinal William H. Keeler to the many rabbis and cantors I have known. I must say that the experience touched me deeply, and has left an indelible impression in my mind and heart (and, dare I say, soul?). I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., numerous times, and it is a powerful place of memory, but Yad Vashem had further layers and depths of meaning for me. One of the first exhibits was on the Church’s influence in inflaming the powers of hate, anti-Semitism, and anti-Judaism by a preaching of contempt for the Jewish People, especially during the Middle Ages. Yad Vashem did not shy away from presenting the disturbing images coming from within the Church of depictions in art, architecture, etc. of the Jewish people as rejected or accursed. And this was easy fuel for Nazis to ignite into flames of contempt, hatred and destruction. I appreciated the fact that Yad Vashem did not chose to ignore this tragic history, but presented it upfront, as one of the first exhibit panels, forcing us to move beyond our complacencies.
And as we journeyed to the Hall of Names, where Yad Vashem has collected more than 3.5 million (of the estimated 6 million) names of Jewish men, women and children who perished in the crimes of the Shoah, I was confronted with the knowledge that of the names already collected at Yad Vashem, there were Hullingers and Hollingers, mostly from Southern Ukraine and Romania, who perished in the death camps. Are these distant relatives? Why does my family have no knowledge of them? The general assumption among the elders of my family is that we are descendants of German and Swiss Protestants. But is there more to my own family tree? Is there another history of my family that has been forgotten (deliberately or not)? The Hall of Names is a circular room, painted black, that is in reality a library of names and memories. About half of the shelves are already filled with huge black books containing the names and information of 3.5 million Jewish victims who are known. The other half is empty. It reminds you that there are still so many lives hidden among the horrors of what happened, waiting to be discovered by relatives and friends. Many may never be remembered because there were no immediate survivors among family and friends. That is a haunting thought. As if the designer knew these emotions would surface, the Hall’s ceiling is a cylinder of portraits of victims, faces that swirl upward to the light. But the middle of the floor is the reverse image of the ceiling. It is a dark abyss, literally a pit that extends down into darkness below. How much has been lost by the cruelty of human persons? This “empty tomb” immediately reminded me of the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So much remains unknown, and unknowable to us.
Father Ty Hullinger prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, and also welcomes those of other faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
This pilgrimage leaves me with new questions to consider. Maybe that is why we make pilgrimages to holy places. Our presumptions and assumptions about our faith will be challenged on a pilgrimage. Dreams and ideas confront reality, geography, and even family history. Pilgrimages pose difficult issues and questions that the pilgrim must wrestle with. So like Jacob who wrestled with God (or his angel) in the night, I too now am confronting the difficult but necessary and life-fulfilling questions God is posing to me.
Father Ty Hullinger
Pastor, St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Most Precious Blood Parish, St. Dominic Parish; Baltimore
Oct. 27, 2010
October 28, 2010 09:19
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Third Order Regular of St. Francis Father Peter Lyons.
Priests from the Baltimore area stop for prayer along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering or Way of Grief) during Stations of the Cross in the streets of Jerusalems Old City. Vendors\
In the narrow, crowded streets of the Old City of Jerusalem the sacred and the secular come face to face. For me it brought home once again the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus really took on our humanity and pitched his tent right here in the messiness of this world of ours and this life of mine. Saints and sinners rub shoulders in these streets. Some are carrying a cross or praying the rosary or singing hymns. Others are selling fruits and vegetables, tacky souvenirs, T-shirts with crude sayings – while cripples and beggars sit by the side of the road and, more than likely, a few thieves and prostitutes ply their trades as well. And slowly the truth sinks in, that God is the God of all of them. All are his children. He loves each of them – each of us – maybe the prostitutes and beggars more than those we might label as righteous. And the Christ who came among us has commissioned us to continue to deliver this message. This is the mystery of faith which we are so privileged to celebrate, and which came alive once more as we walked in his footsteps in the Holy Land.
Fr. Peter Lyons, TOR
Pastor, St. Ann Parish, St. Wenceslaus Parish, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010
Father Peter Lyons (white shirt, at left) participates in the Way of the Cross with the pilgrimage of priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The prayerful procession wended its way through the narrow streets of Jerusalem\
October 28, 2010 08:58
By Christopher Gunty
The priests in the group continue to share some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Missionary of St. Paul Father Augustine Inwang.
Father Augustine Inwang blesses himself with water from the Jordan River during a pilgrimage with priests from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
As far as I am concerned, the pilgrimage that we made to the Holy Land was a trip of a lifetime. I was blessed to be in the company of those who went on the trip. I am blessed and very privileged to have been in the company of Bishop Denis J. Madden. I don’t think my first trip to the Holy Land could have been half as wonderful and spirit-filled as it was if the bishop was not directing the journey.
The high point of the pilgrimage for me was our last day in Tiberias. Early that morning I went out to pray behind the hotel looking at the Sea of Galilee. There it was easy to look across the lake to Nazareth on one side and Capernaum on the other, to imagine all the activities that took place there during the time of Jesus: the Sermon on the Mount (the Beatitudes), the feeding of the 5,000, the primacy of Peter, the walking on the sea, and even Jesus sleeping on the boat. It was an experience that will be difficult to describe. The peace that I felt and favors received while there are beyond words.
Father Augustine Inwang, MSP, prays Oct. 15 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the most sacred sites in the world for Jewish people and those of many faiths. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The journey was not just a pilgrimage, it was indeed a retreat. The reflections of Bishop Madden during the Masses celebrated were deep and spirit-filled. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to travel in such a great group of caring and compassionate priests. I have no doubts that the priesthood is the best profession in the world and I am grateful to God be counted as one his priests.
Fr. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP
Pastor, Transfiguration Roman Catholic Congregation, Baltimore
Oct. 26, 2010
October 26, 2010 02:38
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Benedictine Father Paschal Morlino.
It has taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and reflect on them. It was 30 years ago since I was there and so much has changed. The suffering of the Palestinians is so much in evidence now. The Wall [separating Israeli settlements from the Palestinian Territories] is a symbol of so much mistrust and lack of desire to create peace. Bridges build peace and trust and walls only alienate.
First of all, the numbers of people on pilgrimage in every place we visited astounded me – It shows the great thirst to walk where Jesus walked.
Benedictine Father Paschal Morlino, in black habit, carries the cross along the Via Dolorosa during the Stations of the Cross Oct. 15, 2010, in Jerusalem, while on pilgrimage with Bishop Denis J. Madden, right, and a group of priests from the region. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
But it was in the quiet places where I felt the most moved especially by the words spoken to us in the well-prepared homilies given by Bishop Denis Madden. He made the places we visited and where we prayed so often come alive and have such a moving effect on me. When we visited the place of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan amidst all the folks there I had the sense that the same Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus was hovering over us. It was guiding us along the way to see more clearly the true spirit of the place we visited.
It was very evident that we had been called, as the bishop said so often. What was it that we were being called too? The Mount of Beatitudes gave us the answer: Called to holiness of life and a sharing of that life with those to whom we minister. Acknowledging the same Holy Spirit that came over Jesus in the Jordan will guide us as we struggle each day with all our shortcomings to live out that teaching of Jesus to us in the Beatitudes.
Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore, preaches the homily in the chapel of St. Jerome, just a few yards from the site of the Grotto of the Manger. It is believed that St. Jerome worked on his translation of the bible in this cave. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
Another place where I felt so moved was in the cave of St. Jerome in Bethlehem during the Mass I had the distinct feeling that I was in very holy place and needed to just be present to Jesus in a very special way and it brought me to tears. Something about the place and what had taken place there with God's Word just got into me in a way I had not ever felt before. I was truly spiritually moved and it has made me think of how the Holy Spirit moved St. Jerome and is still moving us to spread that Word. That Word that has moved so many over the centuries and the need for that Word to be proclaimed particularly in the Holy Land where so many do not know it, have not heard it and need it so badly.
Finally, it was truly a spiritually moving event in my life. As time passes to go back and reflect, the words spoken to us and the affect they are having on my own spiritual life are a very rewarding experience.
Fr. Paschal Morlino, O.S.B.
Pastor, St. Benedict Parish, Baltimore
Oct. 25, 2010
October 26, 2010 06:32
By Christopher Gunty
I asked the priests in the group to share their some of their reflections on the pilgrimage. Here’s one from Father Martin Burnham.
As I look back at our Holy Land Pilgrimage, I am struck by some of the many words spoken to us by Bishop Kamal Bathish, and it is through the prism of his words that I offer this reflection. Bishop Bathish, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, spoke to us about the idea of Pilgrimage. He reflected that God has called us on this pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and if God has called us to this place, then God will meet us on our journey, each in his own unique place and time. It was after this meeting that I began in earnest to await God’s meeting with me as I journeyed through these holy sites of our faith. Oddly enough, it was not in the “expected places” that I experienced the awesome presence of God on this pilgrimage; the God of surprises met me in some very unexpected ways and in some very unexpected places.
Three experiences stand out for me as places where God came to meet me on pilgrimage. The first experience of God’s abundance happened for me during our meeting with the students at Bethlehem University. I was moved in Spirit as I listened to their descriptions of how they overcame great obstacles to seek a better life for themselves through their university education. As we spoke about the negative effects of media portrayals of life in Palestine, I witnessed my personal biases about Palestinians formed by my media exposure dissolve as our encounter in dialogue continued. The stories of friendship, openness, and desire for peace spoken by both Christian and Muslim students filled me with a sense of hope that peace was truly possible. Closed in by the Israeli border wall that visibly divided communities and disrupted lives, I experienced great heaviness of heart and a sense of despair that questioned whether peace could ever be possible. It was to this darkness that God came, the God of light and hope, speaking words of peace and reconciliation. These words, testaments to God’s presence, are rarely conveyed to us in America when media portrayals of Palestinian people are created.
The second experience of God’s abundance happened for me at the Wailing Wall [the Western Wall]. This site, sacred to those of Jewish faith, provided me with a deep sense of God’s abiding presence. As I approached the wall, I could sense the millions of prayers that have been offered at this very site through the centuries. What was clear to me as I approached the wall was that there was only one prayer that wanted to pray – I asked God to bring peace to the land of His birth. It was a prayer formed from the experiences of a trip that showed firsthand the deep divisions that exist between people of faith. From the Israeli border wall that meanders over, around and through family properties and neighborhoods, to the Holy Sepulcher where people of shared faith try to overwhelm one another with the volume of their liturgical celebrations, it was clear that to me that peace was and is an overwhelming need for this holy land. It was within this prayer with my head resting on the ancient stones of this Temple wall that I experienced God’s presence fully alive to me.
Monsignor Rob Jaskot (from left), Father Martin Burnham and Father Chuck Wible pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem while on pilgrimage Oct. 15, 2010. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The final experience of God’s abundance came to me as we walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee to celebrate our outdoor Mass. Throughout the pilgrimage, our guides continually spoke words of condition as they described the holy places that we visited. For instance, when describing the Church of the Visitation, we heard that “tradition has it” that this could be the place where Mary “may have lived” when the angel of the Lord came to her with his incredible news. These words of condition followed us on a majority of our pilgrimage, but they could not accompany us to the shores of Galilee. This lake was, is, and forever more shall be the Sea of Galilee, the same body of water upon which Jesus walked when he came to the disciples in their boat. Here God’s presence was palpable to me, and the Eucharist we celebrated that evening as a group was memorable.
I have returned from this pilgrimage a changed priest. Having walked in the footsteps of Jesus, my experience of Scripture will never again be the same. My experiences of God’s presence will carry me in the months and years ahead as my journey with God continues in my service to his people.
Father Martin Burnham
Pastor, St. Andrew by the Bay Parish, Annapolis
Oct. 25, 2010
October 25, 2010 04:47
By Christopher Gunty
Our final evening prayer was in the Church of St. Peter in Old Jaffa, where tradition says Peter healed Dorcas.
Finishing with prayer was a fitting way to end this marvelous pilgrimage through the land of Christ and his disciples.
Pray for our safe flight home.
- Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 21, 2010
October 21, 2010 01:04
By Christopher Gunty
By Christopher Gunty
Today’s travels centered around the Holy Family, and places where they might have lived. Many of these locations fall into the “traditional” or “legendary” designation, which means that there either is not much evidence to support the claim, or that more than one place makes a claim for the honor.
For example, last week in Jerusalem we visited a church that was said to be site of the home of St. Joachim and St. Ann, parents of Mary.
Bishop Denis J. Madden and the pilgrim priests gather around the altar in the Chapel of St, Joseph in Nazareth for Mass Oct. 17. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
Today, one of our stops was Sepphoris, traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Mary and therefore the home of Joachim and Ann. It’s not a suburb of Jerusalem. So how can this be? Our guide explained that when the Crusaders came through the Holy Land, they wanted a site that could be considered the home of Mary’s parents, so they “found” one. That may be a simplistic explanation, but as people in the region around our home know, there is no shortage of “George Washington slept here” locations, and many are hard to prove.
At Nazareth, we visited the church above the legendary site of the Annunciation and the nearby Chapel of St. Joseph, built in 1918. The church sits above what is believed to have been the site of the foster father of Jesus carpenter shop.
If Mary was indeed born in Sepphoris, and grew up there in Ann and Joachim’s home, perhaps she first encountered Joseph in the market there. Since Nazareth was a small town, the guide explained, there might have been few opportunities for Joseph to sell his wares in his hometown. But Sepphoris was a fairly wealthy town, evidenced by the mosaic floors found in the homes excavated there, rather than dirt or stone floors. A carpenter would have done well to make the journey to sell tables, chairs and other woodworks.
A statue of the Holy Family set into a wall near the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
The day’s sites on our pilgrimage also included a stop at Cana, site of Jesus’ first public miracle, and the start of his public ministry. On many pilgrimages, the couples in the group renew their marriage vows at the site. With a group of all priests (save this chronicler of the journey), instead Bishop Denis J. Madden, Baltimore auxiliary and spiritual leader, ended Evening Prayer in an open-air chapel in a courtyard at Cana by asking all the priests to join him the closing blessing. They invoked their blessing on my marriage (to Ann) and by proxy on all the couples they have married during their priesthood.
Mostly, our day gave us a chance to reflect on families, and how to be faithful to the call of God. As Bishop Madden noted at the beginning of the Mass in the morning when he asked the priests to breathe in the spirit of Joseph and Mary, “All they knew was that something would be expected of them. … Their life was constantly being tested in one way or another,” but they answered with fidelity to their call.
We all are called to do the same. We are all members of families, with all their good and bad times. We are all called to help our families holy and healthy. What have you done today to be faithful to that call, as were Joseph and Mary?
– Tiberius, Israel – October 19, 2010
Blogger's Note: The pilgrimage ends tomorrow, and there may not be a way to post on Thursday without internet access en route. Keep us in your prayers as we travel home.
October 20, 2010 01:36
By Christopher Gunty
By Christopher Gunty
As a former seminarian and a “professional Catholic” who has worked for the church for nearly 30 years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of priests – and bishops – personally. This past week is not the even the first time I have traveled with a group of priests and a bishop on pilgrimage. However, this pilgrimage has given me a great opportunity to get to know almost two dozen priests form the Archdiocese of Baltimore, as well as a couple from nearby arch/dioceses. It’s been a great privilege.
One thing I know is that most priests whom I have encountered in my years are genuinely good men who want first and foremost to serve the Lord and his people. Certainly there are some who don’t fulfill that call well. That’s the case in any vocation or avocation. Look around your workplace and you’ll see some people who love their job and do it well, and others who don’t do it well. What I have found is that most priests are happy and fulfilled in their vocations and studies bear that out,
I have been impressed this past week by several things about these men.
• First, they are men of prayer. They take this pilgrimage seriously, listening well to the homilies and reflections of Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary of Baltimore and their “retreat leader.” Often they take time for private prayer, either reading Scripture or the “office,” the Liturgy of the Hours that priests pray each day (a discipline of prayers for morning, midday and evening that lay people are encouraged to adopt as well).
At a Mass Oct. 18 near Tabgha, the site where Jesus fed the multitude with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, Bishop Madden reflected on the reading from the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus appointed 72 disciples to go out ahead of him two by two. He told them they are part of the “band of 72.”
“We have the privilege of sharing the Gospel message,” not necessarily with the intent of converting people, but to have some influence on society and to improve society. “We are the new 72. The Scriptures will come alive for the people we meet” the bishop said.
• Second observation: These priests care for each other. Some of the group are not as young as they used to be and take a little extra time getting around, especially since some of the sites we have visited have a lot of uneven steps. The priests have been kind and helpful in their assistance to their fellow priest, ensuring that he has sure footing. One of the priests took ill on the journey, and all expressed their concern for him, and did all they could to make sure he was comfortable. It seems to be more than common courtesy, but genuine fraternal compassion.
I have three brothers (and six sisters), and though my brothers and I all live in different states, we are still close. What amazes me is that these men are not related by blood, yet by their actions they show they love each other in the same ways that blood brothers do. The “priestly fraternity” is a real thing, and it benefits the physical, mental and spiritual health of our priests.
• Another thing that’s obvious: priests enjoy being together. Sure, they like to “talk shop” about liturgical matters, parish ministry and the issues facing the church. But they also just enjoy being together. They chat, they smile, they sing, they joke, they laugh. Yes, they laugh well, and they laugh often.
Evening Prayer in the church at the site of the Transfiguration. (Catholic Review photo | Christopher Gunty)
And they praise God, often. It’s a part of their conversation, and a regular part of who they are and part of their day.
Joining this pilgrimage has been uplifting for me, too. To receive the Eucharist at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher, to walk the Way of the Cross, to pray Evening Prayer at Mount Tabor, the site of the Transfiguration, have been new experiences for me, and they have touched my heart forever. At Mount Tabor today, I thought, as the disciples did, “It is good for us to be here.”
The journey – in the Holy Land and when we return – continues.
Tiberius, Israel – October 19, 2010
October 19, 2010 01:23
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By Christopher Gunty