Review: Encountering Jesus – A Holy Land Experience by Vincenzo Peroni

Well COVID-19 restrictions have loosened up a bit throughout the world but international travel, unless essential, is not on the radar for a lot of people now I would think – at least for me. I do not picture myself travelling anywhere internationally in the next year two and unfortunately, pilgrimages fall in the same category, being a Canadian and Rome or Jerusalem is not a couple walks away.

However, no fear! While you can do virtual pilgrimages, Msgr. Vincenzo Peroni, a Papal Master of Ceremonies since 2012 and leader of “numerous pilgrimages in the Holy Land seems to understand this very well. In his book, Encountering Jesus: A Holy Land Experience, with its English translation by Marsha Daigle-Williamson, published by Franciscan Media, one can become a pilgrim, walking along the roads that Jesus once walked.

The book is fairly simple – only 150 pages but upon reading it, really leads you to the Holy Land. It is an ideal tool to use while in the Holy Land, but for those who like myself, never stepped foot their, the reflections in here will allow you to close your eyes and “teleport” you, giving you and new perspective on what may seem to be a common Gospel story that you may know by heart.

There are 18 chapters in the book that leads the pilgrim through Nazareth, Ein Karem, Bethelehem, Capernaum, Mount of the Beatitudes, the Lake of Tiberias, The Church of St. Anne, Mount Tabor, Jericho, Bethany, Dominus Flevit, the Cenacle, Gethsemane, the Grotto of the Arrest, St. Peter in Gallicantu, the Holy Sepulchre, Tabgah and finally Emmaus.

While Franciscan Media books often consisted of a coloured cover and black and white printed textblock, I was amazed to find beautiful watercolour art marking the beginning of each chapter. The watercolour sketches are those of Alessandro Alghisi. While I think photographs could have been used for this book, there is something about watercolour art thatr really brings the book together – probably the simplicity of the text and the art brings Encountering Jesus into harmony.

Each chapter bears the same outline: The Gospel story of the place in which the Biblical event occurred, a meditation, personal reflection questions and a prayer. Now don’t be tricked thinking that this book is a guide book – no it is not. It is rather, perhaps, a spiritual guide book. You will not be told any of the historical facts of the places, nor the histories of the churches which are located on these holy grounds. However, this book call one to be in the moment and disregard all of that and instead, encounter the person of Jesus.

I think the purpose of a pilgrimage is defeated if one merely sees it as a vacation opportunity, a historical research opportunity. I remember how since I was only a couple months old, our family, along with thousands of other Vietnamese people in the Archdiocese of Toronto made a pilgrimage to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario and every year, our family made that pilgrimage (unfortunately not this year). There was something about making a pilgrimage which I loved. Maybe a part of it might be the beautiful scenery which people like to pull out their phones to take a picture of. However, for me, the moments that really stuck with me were the ones when I put my camera aside and be absorbed in the moment. I remember vividly a pilgrimage I made to the Shrine, the only time I’ve stepped foot there on a weekday without pilgrims. It was raining but I disregarded it and too a walk on the grounds where the Canadian Jesuit Martyrs once walked – this time, with nature all around and all the outdoor statuary and statues enveloping me as I walked in silence.

Another moment I remember was last March, when I went in St. Peter’s Basilica. I remember standing near the Papal High Altar, the Baldachino and made my Profession of Faith by the stairs leading to the Confessio – as close as I could to the tomb of St. Peter… again no camera but simply immersing myself in the moment and have an encounter with St. Peter and eventually, I realized, an encounter with Christ.

That is what Msgr. Peroni does so well with his book. Though I have never stepped foot to the Holy Land before, I can imagine grand and beautiful churches and we might find ourselves in awe of the beauty… but to dive deep into that moment from Biblical times from 2000 years ago, that is something we must strive to do. Msgr. Peroni presents this simple book to pilgrims and virtual pilgrims from the comfort of home with the goal that pilgrims will be “Encountering Jesus” who continues to journey with us as a pilgrimage companion every moment throughout history.

Book Review: Let Go – Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Fr. Casey Cole, O.F.M.

I began Lent reading Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship written by Catholic YouTuber Evangelist, Fr. Casey Cole, O.F.M. and published by Franciscan Media. (If you are not yet familiar with Fr. Casey’s work, I suggest you visit Breaking in the Habit YouTube Channel.)

Fr. Casey previously wrote a book, Called: What Happens After Saying Yes to God published in 2018. With Let Go and Called, Fr. Casey wants to convey to people the steps it takes to truly become a follower of Jesus.

Let Go was personally for me a book that I needed. As someone involved in youth ministry at my parish, and other parish ministries, it is easy for me to get caught up with things but fail to spend time to receive spiritual nourishment. This book was one that came to me at the right place, at the right time and I just simply could not put it down since I began reading.

There was something about Let Go that spoke to me that I kept wanting to read on and on and on, even late into the night. While I have read interesting novels or biographical Catholic titles, this book was different. The book spoke to me because honestly, I have a lot of flaws. Sometimes, I fail to “let go” of the things that Fr. Casey laid out in his book. I felt a personal connection with every chapter… it was sort of like an Examination of Conscience or rather, an “Examination of my Ministry Life”.

While reading Let Go, one may be tempted to think of others within the parish or even in your own family who fail to “let go” and stumble upon the seven blocks explained in the book. However, the point of Let Go is not for you to (mentally) point fingers at people. It is a call for each Christian to look at oneself, and determine, “What do I need to ‘let go’ of in order to live up to my vocation as a follower of Jesus?” That is what Let Go was effective at – it prompted me to think about my spiritual life, my relationship with Jesus. Sometimes one may think, “I am pious and have a strong relationship with Jesus.” But when we think that, that is when we fail to grow in our relationship and strengthen our vocation as Jesus’ followers.

Let Go was a nudge for me, or rather a “wake-up” call for my spiritual life. Sometimes, especially those in ministry are constantly on the go, go, go, and busy serving others but fail to reassess ourselves. For some, this can go to the point where we are completely depleted of spiritual resources, or worse, we abandon our vocation to follow Jesus. That is why I find it important to read books like Let Go that allows us for a reassessment of our spiritual lives so to better serve the People of God.

On a personal level, as a Youth-Leader candidate in the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement, Let Go was and still continues to be a helpful tool in my discernment as I asked myself questions, “Am I serving because I want X, Y, Z,? Do I want to serve to please a friend? Or do I serve for the greater glory of God?” The reflection questions Fr. Casey poses at the end of each chapter are very helpful in any process of vocational discernment. It would even be more effective if you were to reflect on the questions and record your answers in your Spiritual Journal.

Are you a youth minister? Are you discerning a vocation? Are you someone the Church and need some time of retreat? Are you a Christian who wants to reassess your spiritual life? Then Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship is the book for you.

Purchase a paperback hard copy here from Franciscan Media.

During this COVID-19 Pandemic, and need a spiritual read to end off this Lent on a strong note, but worried your book will take forever to arrive? Franciscan Media got your back with e-copies and even audiobook copies of Fr. Casey Cole’s Let Go.

Note: Disclaimer here.