Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Coming Down

Posted: June 18th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

This morning we had another amazing experience in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We celebrated Mass on Mt. Calvary at the Latin altar marking the place where Jesus was nailed to the cross. We know that at every Mas the death of Jesus is made present and the sacrifice of Calvary is renewed. To experience the Mass on Calvary is in a sense to experience it in a way even more real than in the upper room. This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you. It all happened one Friday on this spot 2000 years ago.

Mt. Calvary
Mt. Calvary

One of the many places in the Holy Sepulcher that I find some powerful prayer is at the spot marking the place where our Blessed Mother stood watching Jesus on Calvary. It is slightly below the top of the hill and looking directly up to the cross. Mary could see Jesus clearly and he could see her. This was perhaps the one comfort he had on the cross, looking down and knowing his mother was there and then lovingly entrusting her to John. Through John, Jesus has entrusted the Church to Mary and she to us. Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.

Mary's Place at the Foot of Calvary
Mary’s Place at the Foot of Calvary

While the mount of Calvary focuses us on the cross and the pain and suffering of sin, one cannot help but notice how close the tomb is to Calvary and analogously how close Easter is to Good Friday. Coming down from Calvary I went to pray at the tomb and God gave me a big reminder of what John wrote in his Gospel. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As I went to pray at the tomb I beheld a heavenly ray of light pouring down right onto the entrance of the empty tomb. The tomb is empty; the light shines into the darkness; Jesus has been raised. The entire mystery of our faith is all present right here in this church and received today in the Eucharist. This happens at every Mass! May we never underestimate the many graces available to us each day if we ask.

Light Shines on the Empty Tomb
Light Shines Into the Empty Tomb

After an early lunch came the moment to say goodbye to Jerusalem and start to head “down” and toward home. Before heading for Tel Aviv we were treated to two more important sites. First, we went up the Mount of Olives to the town of Bethany. This is the famous home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and the traditional beginning of the annual Palm Sunday procession. One of the sad things about Bethany is that when the Israelis built their separation wall, they literally cut Bethany right in half, including cutting some people’s homes in half. Bethany used to be part of Jerusalem, but now it is cut off and is basically a dump and the procession no longer exists. The one beautiful spot is the church which the Franciscans maintain.

Mary Lazarus Martha
The Famous Residents of Bethany

It was wonderful to have some time for prayer here in this place where Our Lord cautioned Martha about “the one thing necessary” and the need to sit and listen to Jesus. This church is also a witness to the greatest miracle of Jesus, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. There has been a church on this spot since the 4th century and you can still see the remains of the original church. I prayed especially for the victory of life over death. I always have to laugh at the scripture that says that, after Lazarus was raised from the dead, so many people were converting that the Jewish leaders thought about killing Lazarus. Umm…been there done that. See what power there is in the resurrection? When Jesus is Lord even of death, then what have we to be afraid of?

 Jesus Raises Lazarus
Jesus Raises Lazarus

Our final stop was at a town today known as Abu Ghosh. Mike kept it secret what this town was all about until we got there. It turns out that this is firstly the famous Old Testament town of Kiryat Ye’arim where the Ark of the Covenant stayed before there was a temple in Jerusalem. We saw it from the hill in Ein Karen on our first day, so we kind of ended where we started. However, the second famous name for this town in the New Testament is Emmaus. It was here that the disciples were journeying after the resurrection and Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. We got to spend an hour here in prayer in one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen. It was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century and has survived without renovation since. The acoustics were amazing and I enjoyed singing a hymn to Our Lady, the new Ark of the Covenant. It’s amazing to see how nicely things turn out when you build a church out of stone in a traditional manner. I wonder how many of our churches today will be around in 1000 years? The Crusaders really did some amazing things to restore the sacred sites in the Holy Land which were destroyed by the Muslims. May we have the same love in building up the Church and our churches the way they did.

Crusader Church of Kiryat Ye'arim
The Crusader Church of Kiryat Ye’arim

We finished our day with a special farewell dinner for our group. It’s amazing to see how a group of strangers can become family in just 12 days. Sometimes a pilgrimage helps us to realize what was true all along, that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We found these relationships important not just in our group but with our tour guides, bus drivers, and everyone we met. While it’s sad to see all the division in the Holy Land, I think our pilgrimage shows that we’re really not that far apart from anyone. Some day we will all sit down to dinner as family. Insha’Allah, may it be soon.

Farewell Dinner
A Family Farewell

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A Day with Mary

Posted: June 17th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Today began with a bit of disappointment. We arrived at the Temple Mount for our scheduled tour on top, but found out that the Muslims who control the mount on top declared today a feast day and closed the whole place down without warning. We did, however, get to visit the Western Wall and pray there. This is the famous “wailing wall” which is as close to the destroyed temple as the Jews can get. I said a quick prayer for the return of the Messiah and his acceptance by all Israel as the Scriptures foretell. It was nice to see many of the Jews there saying their morning prayers.

Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock

After some rescheduling, today turned into a day devoted to Mary. We began at Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. This church is built over the home of the Virgin Mary. The Church teaches that at the end of her earthly life she was taken body and soul to heaven. There is some debate about whether she actually died or not. The term “dormition” therefore means “falling asleep.” We all gathered in the crypt of the church and sang Immaculate Mary in honor of our Blessed Mother. With the great acoustics of the place, I have to admit that we sounded pretty darn good and I think Our Lady was pleased.

Dormition of Mary
The Dormition of Mary

From Mount Zion we headed over to the Mount of Olives to get a better view of Jerusalem. We gathered at the church Dominus Flevit which means “The Lord Wept.” It was here that Jesus wept over ancient Jerusalem, knowing that it would soon be destroyed. From here we had a beautiful vantage of the whole city and were able to do our teaching on the temple which we missed. Just as Jesus prophesied, everything in the city was destroyed in 70 AD, including the temple. There is no temple on the temple mount today as the Muslims have built their Dome of the Rock right on top of the old temple. Mike pointed out how this is not a problem for us as Christians as Jesus has fulfilled everything that the temple foreshadowed. What we have every day at Mass is more holy than the temple ever was.

Modern Jerusalem
Modern Jerusalem

We had Mass today at the great crusader church of St. Anne. It is built over the home of Sst. Joachim and Anne and marks the spot of the birth of the Virgin Mary. It’s amazing that this church survived the Muslim destruction, partly because they turned it into a Muslim school. The acoustics here are absolutely amazing and it was wonderful to celebrate the Sunday liturgy with song. I preached on the importance of “going” and not just letting this pilgrimage be a fond memory of happy feelings, but really an experience that demands action and a change of life. This is the good fruit that I pray will come from the seeds planted here.

Church of St. Anne
Church of St. Anne

This evening, Mike gave us a presentation on the Arab/Israeli conflict. Having lived over here for 3 months previously and now for another 10 days you definitely get a different perspective. Before  I came to the Holy Land 5 years ago I didn’t even know what a Palestinian was. The big thing that starts to make people think is when you realize all the Christians are Palestinians. If we support the notion of a strictly Jewish state of Israel, we end up supporting the persecuting and ultimate elimination of all the Christians from the Holy Land. In fact, the Christians have always served as a kind of buffer between the Muslims and Jews. Both of these groups want to the completely eliminate the other from the land while only the Christians wish to see everyone peacefully co-exist. The sad truth is that the Christian presence in the Holy Land has greatly diminished in recent years. If something doesn’t change, there will no longer be Christians living in the land of Jesus. Pray for peace here, and really mean it.

 Golden Gate Where the Messiah Will Return
Golden Gate Where the Messiah Will Return

As I right this blog tonight I’m writing for the last time from Jerusalem. I am currently sitting on the beautiful rooftop of the Notre Dame Center with a perfect breeze blowing through. The Dome of the Rock is right in front of me and I can see the shadowy outlines of the domes of the Holy Sepulcher. We’ve got a few more things to do in Jerusalem tomorrow, including Mass on Calvary, but then it will be time to say goodbye. We will be staying in a hotel in Tel Aviv for those not flying home at midnight tomorrow. Hopefully I will find some internet there. Happy Sunday and Happy Fathers’ Day to all those back home.

Holy Sepulcher from Our Roof
Holy Sepulcher from Our Roof

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The Three Days in One

Posted: June 16th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Today we managed to relive all three days of the Sacred Triduum, but not necessarily in order. We began by getting up early to make the Via Crucis or Way of the Cross. The way is also popularly known here as the Via Dolorosa or “Way of Suffering.” From the early days, pilgrims coming to Jerusalem have wanted to retrace the final days of the life of Christ. While it is beautiful to meditate on the Passion, being able to physically walk in the footsteps of Jesus gives added weight to our meditation. We walked the streets from the court of Pilate up to the hill of Calvary now located in the Holy Sepulcher. As we prayed each station you could feel yourself going up the hill, knowing that you’re approaching Calvary. To think that Jesus carried the cross all this way for us. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

The Tomb Where They Laid Jesus
The Tomb Where They Laid Jesus

Normally the Stations of the Cross end with the laying of the body of Jesus in the tomb. Today we got a most special opportunity. Our group was privileged to be chosen to celebrate the Latin Mass today with the Franciscan brothers. I got to consecrate the Eucharist on the very place where the body of Jesus was raised from the dead. All of the priests went into the tomb for the consecration and then beautifully came out again bringing our Risen Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ teaching about how a grain of wheat must be planted and die in order to give new life. We priests took ordinary bread and wine into the tomb of Christ, a place where the dead body of Jesus was “planted.” We came out carrying the Lord of life to nourish his people. The Mass was that of Easter morning and I can attest that it definitely felt like Easter.

New Light on the Empty Tomb
New Light on the Empty Tomb of Christ

Today I was also blessed to discover something I was never able to see before in the Holy Sepulcher. I was in the sacristy before Mass and noticed on the wall a sword hanging in a box. After reading the inscription, I realized that this is the sword of Godfrey of Bouillon. He was the first crusader to breach the walls to reclaim Jerusalem in 1099. In addition to his sword they also have his spur and his famous cross. I was particularly drawn to this cross which has come to be known as the Cross of Jerusalem. Just before I left for the Holy Land, I received official word that I am to become a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher. This is a great honor that some of the current Knights petitioned for me and was then approved in Rome by the Holy See. The order originated with Godfrey and continues today to protect the Holy Land. Normally this means financial help. Priests can’t do much in the way of that, but I’d like to think that my being here and this blog is helping to promote the Holy Land. Hopefully all of you that are reading will realize how important it is to protect and preserve these special places where our Lord lived. Maybe you will be on the next pilgrimage. I pray that I will be a worthy knight with the faith and courage of Godfrey.

Relics of Godfrey of Bouillon
Relics of Godfrey of Bouillon

Just when you think things can’t get any better, Mike pulls another amazing special event. After fighting the zoo of pilgrims all day, tonight we had the opportunity to make a Eucharistic holy hour all by ourselves in the Church of All Nations. You may remember that this is the church in the Garden of Gethsemane. There we prayed and kept watch for an hour just as Jesus had asked the apostles to do. Jesus was right there on the altar, back in the Garden, offering himself for us in all his suffering. I felt I could almost see Jesus there on the rock and wanted to comfort him with my prayer.

The Rock of the Agony
The Rock of Agony

The Church of All Nations
The Church of All Nations

We ended our holy hour and then got a treat I will never forget. The brother that cares for the church allowed us to enter the gate of the actual Garden of Gethsemane and walk around among the olive trees at night. Experts say that at least some of these trees may well be over 2000 years old. I thought looking at them from the outside during the day was amazing. Walking around the garden at night was an unforgettable experience. I almost felt like I was there the night Jesus was arrested. We began our day with the Good Friday procession, celebrated Easter at the empty tomb and then ended up back at Holy Thursday. It might not be the exact order of the Tridumm, but in 1 day today I experienced the 3 days in a powerful way for which I will always be grateful.

 The Garden of Gethsemane at Night
The Garden of Gethsemane at Night

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Holy Thursday Friday

Posted: June 15th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Although today is Friday, we spent the day retracing the footsteps of Jesus on Holy Thursday. We began our day in the Upper Room of the Last Supper known as the Cenacle. It’s amazing to think of the events that took place in this room. We are all familiar with the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus also instituted the priesthood as well as the Sacrament of Penance here, not to mention Pentecost and Confirmation. I found it especially moving as a priest to be in this room where the priesthood was born and where the Sacraments so connected with the priesthood were giving to us.

The Cenacle
The Cenacle

The Scriptures tell us that after finishing the Last Supper in the Cenacle, Jesus and his apostles sang a hymn and then got on a bus and went across the Kidron Valley…no wait…no bus, but they did go across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. We followed this path of Jesus to the Church of All Nations…but we did actually use a bus.

The Church of All Nations
The Church of All Nations

The Church of All Nations (built by donations from all over the world) is built on the site of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. Outside the church is an enclosed area with olive trees, some of which are 2000 years old and would have been there on that fateful night as silent witnesses to the agony. The central focus inside the church is the Rock of Agony. It was here that Jesus prostrated himself and sweat blood as he courageously made the decision to abandon himself to the Father’s will and undergo his passion. Celebrating Mass at this rock was a very moving experience. Praise Jesus for what he did for our salvation.

The Rock of Agony
The Rock of Agony

From the Church of All Nations we withdrew “about a stone’s throw” to the cave where Jesus left the apostles praying. It was here that they fell asleep and failed to pray as Jesus had instructed. Again and again we seem to be hit with the message that we need to pray. How important it is to spend time talking with the Lord to gain strength. This cave marks the spot where Jesus was arrested and taken to the high priest. May we all continue to persevere in prayer so as to avoid falling into the temptation of betraying Jesus as Judas did in this place.

 Sleeping Apostle Cave of Gethsemane Sleeping Apostle
Sleeping Apostles and the Cave of Gethsemane

Following the path Jesus would have taken after his arrest, this time we actually did walk right back to where we were on Mt. Zion to the house of Caiphas, the high priest. The church marking the spot is today called St. Peter in Gallicantu, or St. Peter at the Cock-crow. The courtyard of the high priest is of course where Peter denied Jesus and the cock crowed just as Jesus had foretold.

St. Peter in Gallicantu
St. Peter in Gallicantu

I used the series of icons in the crypt church in my talk on confession that I gave on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The icons show Peter’s denial, his weeping bitterly, but then his reconciliation with Jesus after the resurrection on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The he power of confession is amazing. Peter has an incredible fall in denying Jesus, just as Judas did. The difference is that Peter got to be reconciled and Judas despaired. We ended out time at St. Peter’s by visiting the Sacred Pit in which Jesus was imprisoned on the night before he died. Thank God for his mercy and the chance to begin again.

The Conversion of St. Peter
The Conversion of St. Peter

Returning to Notre Dame we had our afternoon rest and evening meal and then headed down to the Western Wall for a special treat. Since tomorrow is Saturday, sunset today marks the beginning of the Sabbath or Shabbat as it is called here. Many of the Jews gather at the Western Wall to welcome Shabbat with prayers as well as music and dancing. We went down and watched. It was nice to see everyone having a good time as well as honoring God’s command of rest. We could use more of this. We’re getting up early tomorrow to make the Way of the Cross, so until then, Shabbat Shalom and Good Sabbath.

 Beginning Shabbat at the Western Wall
Beginning Shabbat at the Western Wall

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New and Familiar Blessings

Posted: June 14th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

We ended our time in Galilee today by ascending the famous Mount Tabor. It was on this mountain that Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. I was blessed to be able to be the main celebrant this morning at Mass. The beautiful and large Church of the Transfiguration made for some great singing. In my homily I reminded all of us of how the apostles saw the glory of God on this mountain. They fell down in fear. At Mass we not only behold the glory of God but are called to receive him into our very bodies, not in fear but in love. Jesus gave the apostles this vision of his glory to give them strength to endure the tough times that lie ahead. May we continue to be grateful to God for all those “transfiguration moments” in our lives. My thoughts this morning concurred with St. Peter, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

Transfiguration Sanctuary Mount Tabor Church of the Transfiguration
Mt. Tabor and the Church of the Transfiguration 

Despite having lived here for 3 months previously, there are still many places that I haven’t been. Today was a day I was really looking forward to because we were going to some new places for me, most importantly the site of the burial of St. John the Baptist. We don’t know for sure where John was buried, but tradition has long identified the place as Samaria, Herod’s capital of Israel. We visited the ruins of the church containing the original tomb of St. John. His body has since been moved and lost, but being at this spot was a very moving connection with my patron. I got to give a little talk about John and it was amazing to be some of the only pilgrims that ever come to this site. St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

The Tomb of John the Baptist
 The Tomb of John the Baptist

The next site we visited was also new for me. In the city of Nablus one will find Jacob’s well. This is the famous well where Jesus had his encounter with the Samaritan woman. There is one priest who lives there who has taken care of the church for decades. He has personally painted all the icons on the walls of the church and it is truly magnificent. Check out all the pictures below.

Church of Jacob's Well
Church of Jacob’s Well

Of course the highlight of the church of Jacob’s well is…well…the well. This site is actually fairly certain as wells tend not to get destroyed. We got to lower the bucket down and I can attest that the woman in the Scripture was correct; the well is indeed deep. We all got to drink from the well and pray that the life-giving water of God’s grace might increase in us.

Jacob's Well
Jacob’s Well

Finally it was time to make our ascent up to Jerusalem. Obviously this is a moment that most of us have been waiting for. We arrived in time for dinner at the Notre Dame center for Catholic pilgrims. I lived here for 5 weeks while in seminary and it was a little like coming home. The head waiter even remembered me from seminary. Wow! Unlike my previous visit during the winter, this evening is absolutely beautiful and I am currently sitting outside on the roof looking at the Dome of the Rock as I write these words. We made a quick trip to the Holy Sepulcher right before it closed just to show people the way. Tomorrow many of us will be heading down early to pray. Tonight we sleep in Jerusalem. Praise God, it is good to be back!

Dome of the Rock at Night
Dome of the Rock at Night

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Following Jesus Through Galilee

Posted: June 13th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

From our vantage point on top of the Mount of Beatitudes we have a beautiful view of the entire Sea of Galilee. As I look out over the area it struck me that Jesus spent most of his public ministry right here in this relatively small area. While Jesus and the apostles walked many places, we also know that they went by boat as well. They were fishermen and obviously enjoyed the sea. To honor this maritime spirit of the apostles we began our day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Our little wooden boat took off from the spot where a museum has the remains of a 1st century fishing boat on display. I imagined us being out on the sea in much same way as the apostles.

1st Century Fishing Boat
1st Century Fishing Boat

While out on the sea we could get a better vantage point of all the cities that Jesus visited during his public ministry. We began from near Tabgah where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. We then passed the Church of the Primacy of Peter and then stopped to park ourselves opposite the Mount of the Beatitudes.

From the Sea of Galilee
From the Sea of Galilee 

While stopped, Mike gave us some great teaching on the public ministry of Jesus and helped to point out where all the cities were located. It was so nice to be able to put into perspective where Jesus would have walked and prayed. Basic things like how far it is between places became much more concrete. I especially enjoyed turning off the boat engine and just having some quiet time to pray and take it all in. Jesus would have no doubt taken time on the many boat rides with the apostles to teach them just the way we did.

Mount of Beatitudes from the Sea
Mount of Beatitudes from the Sea

The destination of our boat ride was the town in which Jesus made his home during his public ministry, the little town of Capernaum. St. Peter’s house was located in this town and it is likely that Jesus also made this his home in Capernaum. We had Mass right on the site where they lowered the paralytic through the roof into Peter’s house. The remains of the 4th century Byzantine church are clearly visible through the floor of the modern church.

Inside the Church of St. Peter
Inside the Church of St. Peter

The Mass that we celebrated today was in honor of the Most Holy Eucharist because it was here in Capernaum that Jesus gave his famous discourse on the Bread of Life detailed in John chapter 6. I read the Gospel at the Mass and I was very moved by the last line. “This teaching Jesus gave while in the synagogue at Capernaum.” Some of the best kept remains in all Israel are the remains of the synagogue in Capernaum which was clearly visible through the window of the church. As I read the last line of the Gospel I almost wanted to change the words and point out the window, “This teaching Jesus gave…right over there!” I resisted, but it was a great moment. I prayed for a great increase in faith in the Eucharist, that we would be believing and not reject this teaching as many apparently did on that day 2000 years ago.

The Synagogue
The Synagogue

We left Capernaum by bus, but I’ll never forget our beautiful boat ride. It’s easy to feel close to Jesus and the apostles traveling the same waters they did and hearing and smelling the same things. It also reminded me just how close together all these places are and what a small part of the world Jesus spent his life in. What a beautiful experience this morning.

Capernaum, The Home of Jesus
Capernaum, The Home of Jesus

We interrupt this pilgrimage day for lunch…

St. Peter's Fish - Before  St. Peter's Fish - After
St. Peter’s Fish – Before and…after 

After our afternoon rest and evening meal we headed back down to the sea for a very special event. One of the churches on the shore is known as the church of the Primacy of Peter. It is built on the spot where Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection and had breakfast with them. Most famously, it is here where Jesus reconciled Peter after his three denials, allowing him three times to say how much he loved Jesus. Just as Peter was reconciled to Jesus on this spot, so we took the opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation here.

Church of the Primacy of Peter
Church of the Primacy of Peter 

I love to tell people about this spot because it was here that Peter got to hear personally from Jesus that he was forgiven. What if Peter never had this encounter with Jesus on the seashore? He might have gone the rest of his life embarrassed and doubting his relationship with Jesus. Instead, Jesus quickly heals him and prepares him to carry on his mission as “the Rock.” Confession is meant to do the same thing for us, to set us free from past guilt and fear and allow us to carry on our mission with new boldness and conviction. It was a moment in my priesthood tonight that I will never forget as I heard confessions right on this spot that I have so often talked about. Praise God for his beautiful mercy and the gift of the priesthood that allows us to hear his voice offering us his forgiveness.

Priests in Capernaum
Priests in Capernaum
Notice Father Tom Anxious to Grab the Power of the Keys from Peter

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A Day of Faithfulness

Posted: June 12th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus had the custom of rising early each morning to pray. Today I enjoyed rising early and going out to look over the sea of Galilee as I made my morning prayers. It’s amazing to realize that I’m looking at the very same sight that inspired the daily prayer of Jesus. If Jesus, who is God, needed routine regular prayer every day, imagine how much more important this daily prayer is to us!

Morning Prayer at the Sea of Galilee
Morning Prayer at the Sea of Galilee

After breakfast we boarded the buses and headed for Nazareth. On the way we stopped at the site of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana. It was here that Jesus was invited to a wedding along with Mary and the apostles. The main site in Cana is what is known as “The Wedding Church.” This special church marks the spot where Jesus changed the water into wine at that famous wedding 2000 years ago.

The Wedding Church at Cana
The Wedding Church at Cana

While at the Wedding Church I had the great blessing of helping many of the married couples with us renew their wedding vows. It was so beautiful to  see the faithfulness of these couples. Marriage and family is very much under attack in our culture and we need strong witnesses like this. Married couples are called to be a sacred sign to the world of the way that God loves us. It’s no surprise that such an important sacrament is under fire from the evil one. I pray that God may continue to bless all those called to the vocation of marriage. We prayed today especially for all those spouses at home that could not join on our pilgrimage.

Stone Water Jar Found at Cana
Stone Water Jar Found at Cana
Now That’s a Lot of Wine

Leaving Cana we finally arrived in Nazareth, the town where Jesus lived for the first 30 years of his life. In the first century, Nazareth contained only about 150-200 people. We saw the excavations of many of these first century homes, most nothing more than caves for protection. Two of these houses have great significance for us. The first was the home of St. Joseph and eventually the home of the Holy Family. Here we heard a beautiful reflection on the life of St. Jospeh given by Troy followed by Holy Mass. Just as in Bethlehem where every day is Christmas, we celebrated today the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the very place where event happened.

St. Joseph and Jesus
St. Joseph and Jesus

After celebrating the Mass of the Annunciation, we when to visit the Church of the Annunciation. This large modern church is built right over the site of Mary’s original house in Nazareth. Upon entering we were all drawn to the little cave in the crypt where our Blessed Mother grew up and had the amazing encounter with the angle Gabriel. I prayed the first mystery of the Rosary in surrounded by the very stones which first heard these words from the mouth of Gabriel.

Mary's House
Mary’s House 

In yet another incredible gift of providence, we arrived at Mary’s house just as the Angelus bells were ringing at noon. For those unfamiliar, the Angelus is a prayer that recalls the encounter between Mary and Gabriel. It is normally prayed three times a day at 6, noon, and 6. To pray the Angelus right in the place where it all happened was beyond description. The thing that most struck me was when we came to the verse that reminds us that because of Mary’s yes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We say this prayer three times a day, but it really happened right here. In this little cave God became man. I couldn’t help but notice the inscription under the altar which reads simply, “The Word became flesh HERE.” What an amazing site this little cave is.

The Word Became Flesh Here
The Word Became Flesh Here

After lunch in Nazareth we headed back home for some much needed rest. I must say that it is quite a bit different being here in the summer heat verses the winter coolness of my last trip. After dinner, Mike had an adventure in store for us. We hiked down the Mount of Beatitudes where we are staying to a special cave built into the side of the mountain where tradition indicates that Jesus spent his time alone praying. This is the view that Jesus would have seen (I think I could pray better with a view like this too!)

View from the Cave of Jesus
View from the Cave of Jesus

One nice thing about the weather is that it gets much cooler in the evening. It was a nice hike down to the cave followed by a visit to the seashore. We visited the site where a waterfall enters the Sea of Galilee. It was here that the apostles would wash their nets after fishing and is also the place where Jesus called the first apostles. I prayed that many more people would say yes to God’s call the way Mary, St. Joseph and the Apostles did. Today was an amazing witness to the power of saying yes and remaining faithfully committed. If today had a theme, I would call it a day of faithfulness.

The City of Tiberias
The City of Tiberias

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Note: Please notice that any of the pictures in my blog may be enlarged by clicking on them. Each post also contains a link at the bottom entitled “See More Pictures” that contains more of my pictures from the day hosted on a separate photo site. Be sure the check them out.

Down to the River to Pray

Posted: June 11th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

This morning we left the little town of Bethlehem and headed down to the Jordan River to the site where John was baptizing. I must say that this was quite a highlight for me as this spot has only recently been opened to pilgrims. Since the Jordan River is also the international boundary between Jordan and the West Bank it is a very controlled military area. I was not allowed to go to this most special site 5 years ago. I felt very close to my patron at this site that is truly “in the wilderness.”

Shawn the Baptist at the Jordan River
Shawn the Baptist at the Jordan River 

While at the baptism site, we recalled how this was also the place where the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. What an important boundary this little bit of water is. It marks the crossing from the wilderness to the land of promise as well as the crossing from death to life in baptism. Just as the Israelites had to renew their covenant with God after crossing the river, so we too renewed our baptismal promises. It was a very special moment that gave us all a new sense of purpose and commitment.

Renewal of Baptismal Promises
Fr. Brian Helps Us Renew Our Baptismal Promises
Note His Fancy Apergillium

Leaving the Jordan River we entered the oldest city in the world, Jericho. It has been continuously inhabited for at least 10,000 years. It is also the lowest city on earth by elevation. The main highlight of our visit here was to make the climb up to the Temptation Monastery. It is built right into the side of the cliff overlooking Jericho. It marks the spot where Jesus spent his 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil. It was very hot and we all certainly got our exercise. Even though you ride a cable car most of the way up, there are still 200 stairs to climb. While there, Mike reminded us that the key to overcoming temptation is to be committed to meditation. We cannot overcome temptation on our own, but by remaining in union with God, he will deliver us from the test.

Temptation Monastery Cable Car Up From Jericho Monastery Chapel
Mt. of the Temptation Monastery

Our final trek was north to the Galilee where will be spending the next three days. It was so wonderful to see the Sea of Galilee again. We are actually staying inside the walls at the Church of the Beatitudes on top of the mountain overlooking the sea. You might doubt the location of some places in the Holy Land, but there is no doubt that the Sea of Galilee is still right where it was 2000 years ago.

The Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee 

We ended our day by celebrating Mass outside the front of the church as it was much too warm inside. I got to give the homily and it just so happened that today’s Gospel from Mass was on the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. You can’t ask for a more obvious blessing of Divine Providence. It was wonderful to read and preach on these 9 keys to be blessed right in the place where Jesus spoke these words. We are truly blessed. We don’t have to wait for heaven to be blessed, but we are blessed right here and now, even if our circumstances might seem otherwise. I pray all of you at home enjoy a blessed day.

Our Mass at Church of the Beatitudes
Our Mass at the Church of the Beatitudes

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Starting at the Beginning

Posted: June 10th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Today was our first full day in the Holy Land and it has indeed been “full.” We began by traveling to the hill country of Judah, just as Mary did to visit her cousin Elizabeth. How appropriate that we as pilgrims begin at the same spot to which Mary went as a pilgrim 2000 years ago. Mary brought Jesus to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and John the Baptist leaped for joy. I pray that Mary will also help us encounter Jesus over the next days.

 Church of the Visitation
Church of the Visitation

After visiting the Church of the Visitation which contains the well where Mary and Elizabeth met, we went across the street to the Birthplace of John the Baptist. I got the opportunity to lead a reflection on the life of this great saint. I focused particularly on the prayer of Zechariah and how we was able to place the birth of John in the perfect context of salvation history. I pray that the Holy Land will help us all to experience the great physical context in which the stories of the Bible take place. It is so important that we know our story.

Birthplace of John the Baptist
Birthplace of John the Baptist 

We then moved on to one of the highlights of any pilgrimage to the Holy Land; we visited the Church of the Nativity and reverenced the birthplace of Jesus. I was wonderful to be able to celebrate Mass in St. Catherine’s Church on the site and then to visit the cave where Jesus was born. For Mass we celebrated the Mass of Christmas as every day is Christmas here in Bethlehem. I was particularly moved by the places in the Missal where the texts had been slightly changed, often adding the word “HERE” in many places to emphasize that the events spoken of at that first Christmas are all true and they took place right “HERE.”

Birthplace of Jesus
Birthplace of Jesus 

After all the busyness of Manger Square and the rest of the city of Bethlehem, we headed slightly outside of town to one of my favorite places in Bethlehem, the Shepherd’s Fields. These are the same fields where the shepherds first received the news of our Savior’s birth. Unlike when I was here previously in the winter, today there were many sheep out in the fields. It was very peaceful and wonderful to imagine the multitude of angels that would have filled the sky one special night 2000 years ago.

The Shepherds' Fields
The Shepherds’ Fields 

As the star marking the place of the Savior’s birth reminds us, “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ Was Born.” What a blessing to be present “here” for this special time. Tomorrow we’re off to Galilee.

Star Marking Birthplace of Jesus
Star Marking Birthplace of Jesus 

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Up to Jerusalem

Posted: June 9th, 2012, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Welcome to Israel

We made it! The rest of the group arrived earlier and are waiting for us at the hotel in Bethlehem. We are currently on the bus from the airport going “Up to Jerusalem.” The Scriptures always speak of going “up” to Jerusalem because it is located on top of a mountain.

Bethlehem is only about 4 miles to the south of Jerusalem, so we are going “up” just as Jesus and the apostles did. Of course Jesus never had a nice air conditioned bus, but other than that we’re just like Jesus.

Now, we’re looking forward to dinner and some rest. Tomorrow we set out for the site of the Visitation. Thanks for all the prayers. Praise God, we are here.