By Guillermo Treviño
One of the blessings for seminarians preparing for the diaconate in the spring semester of third-year theology at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill., is the opportunity to go to the Holy Land for nine weeks.
Thirty-two seminarians were given the experience of a lifetime to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and ending in Jerusalem.
I have been touched by pilgrims from all over the world bringing their traditions and customs. At the grotto of the Church of the Nativity, traditionally, groups of people sing a Christmas carol in their native language. I was most touched by being able to go and kiss the place where Christ was born. One time, I met a group of Methodists from Iowa and a student at Bethlehem University who worked in an internship for the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa. The world is so small.
In Nazareth, one could see where Jesus stayed for most of his life. In Galilee, besides the beautiful view of the sea, I could see where Christ started his ministry. We’ve also stopped at many national parks where bedrock and crusader ruins were commonplace. I even did something I never do: got into the water, and went swimming in the Dead Sea. In the sea, one floats because of all the salt.
With nine weeks of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we have been given an opportunity that few receive. Pope Francis will be here for three days in May (23-25) and thus, I’ve become truly grateful for this experience.
In Jerusalem, it seems every corner has a major historical site. I have become more aware of Judaism and Islam by visiting the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. At the Dome of the Rock I met a Jewish woman born in Moline, Ill., saw a John Deere tractor and a group of pilgrims from the Quad-Cities area, where I am from.
Though the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock is located is such a point of contention, it was relatively peaceful on my trip. I appreciated the silence and peacefulness once inside.
Jerusalem offers many things to do and I’ve taken full advantage of visiting a lot of places. Going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, brought to reality the suffering of the Jewish people. As a former political science major, I went to the Supreme Court building and the Knesset where the Parliament meets. I was amazed at the open access to the government where the people are allowed to attend committee meetings.
What has struck me the most are the Via Dolorosa (the road on which people retrace Jesus’ death walk to his crucifixion) and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I have been fortunate to go three times with the Franciscans at 3 p.m. on Fridays to follow the Stations of the Cross. Though many people are here, I see that as a blessing because it shows that Christ still does matter to people. It seemed to me that the world stops while we walk past each station of the cross. Shopkeepers look at us in awe and silence.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is special for what it represents – the mysteries of our faith. In this place is Calvary, where Christ died on the cross and where he was buried. On Calvary, I met an orthodox priest who (if I had a beard and ponytail) looked like me. He even had my smile!
The culmination of the pilgrimage was when, along with 10 other classmates, I spent the night at the Holy Sepulcher. We pretty much had the church to ourselves and I was able to pray in silence for everyone, including all of us in the Diocese of Davenport. The only rule was to stay awake, which surprisingly I was able to do, easily.
I spent my birthday here (March 7), on a Friday in Lent. The date was special because three months from now, June 7, is my ordination as a deacon, God willing.