A Pilgrimage, Extended

Me and Fr. Paweł Trzopek, O.P., my pilgrimage’s guide, walking through the Greek Orthodox monastery atop the Mount of Temptation, where Christ spent His forty days fasting in the desert.

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother’s living room was not complete without a television (picture one of those 90s, *really* deep TVs) airing the Holy Land Rosary. If you don’t know what the Holy Land Rosary is, it’s a program on EWTN that follows a Catholic pilgrim group reciting the rosary in different parts of the Holy Land. If you’ve seen it once, maybe even ten, twenty years ago, no need to see it again—it hasn’t changed. Literally. There are only four episodes—one for each set of mysteries of the rosary, which are prayed different days of the week. The same footage from nineteen ninety something shows a priest named Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. giving short reflections on the rosary in crowded Jerusalem streets, cramped Bethlehem grottos, and enormous, echoing churches throughout the land Christ lived in. Having this play on the TV in the background of my childhood was, really, my first experience of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Thank Goodness for the Holy Land Rosary!

           When I got a call from my sister at the end of October of 2017 telling me to go online and apply for a spot on a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land she had applied to, I thought I knew exactly what it would be like—I had seen the Holy Land Rosary after all. Full of Christians—brimming with them, I believed. Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, as well as a host of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic clergy, not to mention the native Palestinian Christians who have kept the faith for two millennia through persecution, hardship, and conquest. But when I arrived in the Holy Land, it was not as I thought. Christians in the Holy Land make up a miniscule, and constantly dwindling, section of the population. Nonetheless, in a very strong sense I immediately felt at home with these souls, brothers and sisters in Christ, doing all they could to keep the Gospel alive in the land of the Gospel. It was these Christians who made the strongest impact on me, and it was their faith that led me forward on this journey.

            Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth; the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Upper Room, the Holy Sepulchre—these places became real to me for a short span of eight days in January of 2018. I saw the places and things described by the four evangelists themselves, and words can hardly describe the feeling that arises in a Christian soul when he sees them. To reflect on the fact that God walked the earth, and he walked it here. It was the most spectacular thing I have ever been blessed to do. Many graces came out of that week: some I have seen, some which are only just bearing fruit.

            And, through the generosity of the Providence College Smith Fellowship and the Providence of Almighty God, I will once again have the opportunity to walk where Christ walked and live the Christian life where Christ lived. This summer, I will be living with the Dominican friars of the Convent of Saint Stephen, mostly composed of French Dominicans who operate the Ècole biblique (French Biblical and Archaeological School). This is where I will be doing research on the works of Flavius Josephus for my undergraduate thesis in History and Classics. I will be living with, praying with, and studying with brilliant Dominicans, witnessing firsthand the charism central to the Dominican life—“To contemplate and give to others the fruits of contemplation,” as one motto of the Dominican order goes. Through it all, I am grateful especially to my supportive family, the friars at St. Stephen, and Fr. Anthony Giambrone, O.P., who helped me organize the fellowship and will be my guide in the Holy Land. I am also grateful to the Providence College Office of Mission and Ministry, especially Fr. James Cuddy, O.P., Heidi Fraitzl, and the selection committee, all the friars at Providence College, Fr. Michael Weibley, O.P., Dr. John Lawless, and my professors and friends who have encouraged me throughout the application process. Please pray for me, and I’ll see you next from Jerusalem!

Saint Christopher, Saint Dominic, and Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!


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