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.