By Anastacio Ponce
It is hard to believe that our time in the Holy Land has ended. On Feb. 14, we were scheduled to arrive in Chicago. My fellow seminarians and I are very happy to be able to see our families and friends again in the United States and many other countries.
At the same time, we have been tremendously blessed to have had this marvelous experience of 10 weeks in the Holy Land, where we visited and prayed at most of the biblical sites in Israel.
While in the Holy Land we took some Scripture classes with three of our professors from Mundelein University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. We also had lectures on Judaism, Islam and religious dialogue given by teachers from Bethlehem University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was not simply visiting places, admiring the treasures of nature, art or history as some people do. For me it was an opportunity to step out of myself in order to encounter God. This is the place where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor through the mysteries of his birth, passion, crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, I am very grateful for having been in the Holy Land because I have experienced God’s grace, peace, forgiveness and redemption in a very unique way.
At the same time, it has helped me to live this pilgrimage joyfully, grateful to God as well as to all who have supported me, including my diocese and the benefactors of Mundelein Seminary. In addition, the Holy Land was a place that has helped me understand the New Testament and my faith better. While I visited the holy sites, it was like reading the Bible because it was a great way to interpret and experience the places mentioned in sacred Scripture.
While the political situation in Israel and the conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinians was hard to encounter at times, I was surprised by the numerous manifestations of love and care for pilgrims, tourists and everyone else who visited the Holy Land. Therefore, everything went better than I thought. For instance, I was not expecting to receive a warm welcome from most of the people of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. God surprised me many times at the holy sites with his divine presence and grace that helped me to pray for my diocese’s needs and my spiritual growth. These experiences moved me to ask God for help in continuing to be a faithful seminarian and future priest to serve those in the diocese.
I would recommend that all Christians have this unique experience in the Holy Land where they will be able to touch the places Christ lived, and in turn be touched by God’s presence throughout the biblical sites that teach us about our Lord’s salvation and love for everyone.
(Anastacio Ponce is a third-year theology student at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill.)