International Ecumenical Movement of prayer for Healing of Mankind
MARANATHA PILGRIMAGE- USA/Canada (EN) Group
AUGUST 19 – AUGUST 27, 2013
“That the world will be healed and the human heart will finally be at peace.”
ORGANIZER: Lidija Kunza (California)
COORDINATORS: Perla Saenz and Mirla Dissette (Las Vegas, Nevada)
PRIEST: Fr. Michal Pajak, OMI (Toronto, Canada)
GUIDE/ESCORT: Tony Azraq (Jerusalem, Israel)
DRIVER: Emilio (Jerusalem, Israel)
JOURNALIST: Dawn Aceituno
TOUR AGENCY: George’s International Tours
INTERNATIONAL DIRECTORS: (Founder) Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard (Brussels, Belgium), and Sabrina Covic-Radojicic (Wife, Mother/Catholic Journalist/Author) (Paris, France)
A purple tour bus from which emanated prayer and song in many different languages made its way through the land of Israel. The 28 souls in this “prayer capsule” had been called from many countries and walks of life to participate in a historic adventure of grace and support for the Christians of the Holy Land and the healing of mankind. Strangers at first, we came together as a family. We prayed and sang together, sweated and trudged up hills together, shared Advil and Imodium, witnessed wonders, danced on the Sea of Galilee, ate and drank together, and shared our lives and our faith. We had for our spiritual guide a holy priest and for our teacher a lover of history and Biblical archeology. Each soul experienced individual insights and blessings and as a group we were showered with graces until it was truly a “cup overflowing” and it seemed almost impossible to take it all in. This was our journey.
On the steps of the outside of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem
Emilio & Tony
We arrived from our various countries at the Tel Aviv airport, greeted each other and were introduced to our guide, Tony, and our driver, Emilio. As a wonderful surprise and a fitting way to start our journey we traveled to the Stella Maris Monastery on Mt. Carmel overlooking the port at Haifa. In the Chapel, after pilgrims had left to venture after lighting candles for their intentions in the cave of Elijah, thanksgiving and time for short meditation, Fr. Michal and Mirla lingered and were blest in meeting Archbishop Leonard and Charbel (Maranatha Team member). The good Archbishop was astonished when his name was called out, and delighted in greeting the USA Maranatha pilgrims in this prayerful setting. We continued on to our Nazareth hotel, the Rimonim Ha’Maayan. We had a celebratory dinner, meeting each other and enjoying Barbara Sygut’s 33rd birthday.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!
DAY 2 – August 20, 2013
CANA: “Do what He tells
Chapel, Wedding Feast at Cana
Days on the bus started with Maranatha prayer and singing in many languages, and this joyful practice continued throughout the pilgrimage. English, Polish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Latin were employed in the recitation of the rosary. It was a wonderful preparation for the future meeting with the Maranatha pilgrims coming from all over the world.
At Cana, our guide brings to life the Bible story of the wedding feast and explains the culture of the time, putting the Scriptures in a wonderful new context. Four of the couples on our pilgrimage renewed their wedding vows in the grotto:
Richard and Laura Bischof
Marco and Grace Kraft
Harry and Katie Sanford
Maria and Marian Sygut
Franciscan Church at Cana
BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION: “The Word Became Flesh.”
After a short wine-tasting experience we are once again on the bus heading toward the Basilica of the Annunciation for our private Mass. It is almost overwhelming to celebrate the Holy Mass where Our Lady’s fiat welcomed the Incarnate Word. Our first pilgrim Mass with Fr. Michal in the Basilica, where we were sheltered by a gate, was intimate, lovely with songs of praise and reverence. The evening Maranatha Mass was to take place in the same spot. The image of our Blessed Mother, depicting her as a young girl of 14, was to the L of the Altar and where visionary Vicka had her first public apparition.
We then left for our first lunch in Nazareth. We didn’t know what to expect and had to laugh as one course after another appeared at the table.
MOUNT TABOR: “They saw only Jesus.”
The Mount of the Transfiguration was reached up a winding road by means of an adventurous van ride. On arriving we had time to meditate in the beautiful church and wander the gardens and grounds, enjoying the seemingly endless views. There we witnessed over 200 seminarians from Italy who also prayed in choir and the chant was ethereal. We were so blest to have met some of them – we remember especially Benedicto, who will become a deacon soon and spoke English, their directors and we shared with them our happiness with being part of the Maranatha pilgrimage with Archbishop Leonard! Yes, they came that evening.
MARANATHA GROUP/BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION/APPARITION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
We were already filled with wonder with what this first day had held when we headed back to the Basilica of the Annunciation for Mass with the Maranatha group, Christians of the Holy Land, Archbishop Leonard and Vicka from Medjugorje. The Basilica, both upper and lower floors, was packed with pilgrims, overflowing into the courtyard where huge screens and chairs were set up outside - 2500 people estimated in attendance. The enclosed web-site covers the beautiful service: www.medjugorjetoday.tv/9611/mary-was-joyful-in-return-to-nazareth/. We returned to our hotel hoping to hold all the graces of this day in our memory. Our first full day of pilgrimage was almost too much to comprehend.
SEA OF GALILEE: The Jesus Boat
One of the most moving days of the pilgrimage was this beautiful voyage on the Sea of Galilee. The calm sparkling water, the quiet, made it easy to imagine the Lord in this place. The boat crew raised the American and Canadian flags. We sang each national anthem, as well as the Polish national anthem, and then in a beautiful gesture we were allowed to sail quietly while they played “How Great Thou Art.” We prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and then joyful music came on and some of the pilgrims began dancing (quite a bit of talent there).
We then continued to Tabgha, where the Lord multiplied the loaves and fishes. We waded in the Sea of Galilee on the shore of the Church of the Primacy of Peter. We had a beautiful Mass in the gardens of the Mt. of Beatitudes where the Sisters made us a delicious lunch of St. Peter’s fish. In the afternoon we journeyed to Capernaum, the house of Peter, and had a chance to explore the archeological findings while Tony put our surroundings in context.
We then proceeded to a historic event: The Consecration of Galilee to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in the village of My’Lia. Miles before we reached the village we saw pilgrims on foot heading for the hillside. The following article chronicles the event, the numerous dignitaries and the myriad of nationalities and religious affiliations attending: www.medjugorjetoday.tv/9635/apparition-unites-israeli-believers/
Though there was no English translation, Tony translated the message for those of us who had our “whispers” on. It was not difficult to interpret the urgency of the pleadings for peace that came from the prayers of the faithful and from the altar. We sat on the ground as the sun set and darkness gathered over us, among over 13,000 other pilgrims, and at the time of the apparition of Our Lady to Vicka at 6:40 p.m. the miracle of the spinning sun was witnessed by some of those present.
We then made our way back to the bus through the huge crowds in the dark to continue on to Jerusalem.
We arrived in Jerusalem at 1 a.m. and checked into our hotel, The Olive Tree. We groggily found our rooms in this beautiful hotel and were given a blessed, late wake-up call from Tony for the next day.
We awoke in the city of Jerusalem where a splendid breakfast buffet awaited us in the lovely dining hall.
On entering the holy city we proceeded to the Church of the Dormition, a traditional site celebrating where Our Lady “fell asleep.” Tony had explained to us that we would be seeing 3 different kinds of sites: authentic (corroborated by archeological and scientific evidence), semi-authentic (documented, but not confirmed), and traditional (probably not the site of the event, but where it is celebrated as a memorial). The Church of Dormition was of the third kind, as many believe our Lady died in Ephesus at the house of John. But, the church was lovely and the grotto filled with many beautiful mosaics, among which was Our Lady of Czestochowa which brought great joy to the Polish pilgrims in our group.
Our Mass was held at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu where Peter denied Our Lord three times. This was the place of the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and encloses the “pit” where Jesus was imprisoned overnight after the scourging. It was a moving and haunting experience to realize the great suffering of Our Lord even before he began to carry His cross to Calvary.
We had lunch at The Christmas House and ran into Vicka and Fr. Petar as we were leaving. It seemed the holy city was filled to the brim with Maranatha pilgrims.
We then proceeded to the Pool of Bethesda and the Church of St. Anne, the birth grotto of Our Lady.
That evening a beautiful Mass had been arranged at the Garden of Gethsemane for the Maranatha pilgrims. Perla was asked to recite one of the decades of the Holy Rosary, then Archbishop Leonard presided over a lovely, intimate gathering after Vicka received her apparition of Our Lady. After the Mass, with such beautiful singing and celebration, Archbishop Leonard processed with the Blessed Sacrament through the crowds in the garden.
On day 5 we remained in Jerusalem and proceeded to the Mt. of Olives and the several churches there. At the Church of the Pater Noster, where the Our Father is displayed in 170 languages, Tony recited for us the Our Father in Aramaic, as Jesus would have said it, and also in Chaldean, as it would have sounded if Abraham had said it. The rich, ancient languages were a special gift to us.
Our Mass was held at the Church of Dominus Flevit, where Our Lord wept over Jerusalem.
The view of the Old City from the altar was striking.
We then proceeded on a steep trek down the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, the ancient olive trees, and the church which held the huge stone believed to be where Christ experienced his agony. On our way down the hill, we walked by the mammoth, Jewish cemetery on the East slope of Mt. of Olives, to be over 3000 years old. This path is also the way Jesus rode down on Passion Sunday in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Amazing!
After another delicious lunch, we walked the Via Dolorosa, with Tony (leading our group), Fr. Michal and Barbara Sygut leading the prayers. We sang “Jesus Remember Me” (with boldness and conviction) as we made our way through the narrow marketplace to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was brutally hot and humid and the stairs were steep and slippery. The onlookers were indifferent. It only made us more mindful of how great the suffering of Christ must have been on that awful day.
Reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher we reverenced the stone of anointing, the tomb and the site of Calvary.
After our full day of spiritual activities, several of the pilgrims went on to the Church of St. Anne with Tony to pray with the French Maranatha pilgrims. Vicka was with the Holy Land Christians that evening. In the garden, after the Holy Mass (we were late in arrival), they met with Archbishop Leonard who gave a directive to Perla and Mirla for Bishop Pepe, Diocese of Las Vegas.
On day 6 we left for Bethlehem, stopping at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem. At this lovely church surrounded by beautiful gardens on a hilltop it was easy to imagine Our Lady and Elizabeth celebrating the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. The Magnificat was displayed in several languages on tiled walls. We had our Mass and lunch at the Church of the Sisters of Zion before proceeding on to the Israel Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls and the detailed 1:50 scale model, which recreates the topography and architecture of ancient Jerusalem at its peak in 66 CE, shortly before its destruction by the Romans.. It was also with a sense of wonder that we entered the Shrine of the Book and witnessed the display of this exact replica of the ancient text of Isaiah. Before leaving Jerusalem we stopped at the Wailing Wall, where we placed our petitions that we carried within our overflowing hearts and in paper, placed them in the wall, women’s side. It was Shabbat, therefore many families with their children actively praying alongside their mothers. Afterwards we were on our way to Bethlehem, where we went on to enjoy a short shopping experience at a cooperative of handcrafts of Christians living in the Holy Land.
On entering Bethlehem we had our first view of “The Wall,” a visible sign of the unrest and the imperative need for prayer to heal the deep wounds existing in our present world.
On checking in to the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem, it was a joy to see the crucifix honored and on display in the lobby.
Sunday in Bethlehem was the beginning of the 3-day Maranatha retreat. We visited the Shepherd’s Field, the Church of the Nativity and had a lovely lunch at Christmas Bells, where some of our pilgrims entertained us with tribal dance. Our Mass was held at the upper chapel of the Milk Grotto after having a chance to meditate in the grotto, itself.
That evening Holy Mass was celebrated at the Terra Sancta School where it was estimated over 7,000 attended; Vicka was present for the apparition of the Blessed Virgin:
“I am overjoyed. I have been in the Holy Land before, but I never could bring Our Lady’s message. I do not know why I could not, only God knows. Obviously it was time for people to hear. But, behold, the time has come. People have heard and will hear the message. But this should not stop here, prayer for the healing of people should continue. More than ever, humanity needs prayer” Vicka tells the Croatian paper.
Before the Holy Mass, Christina was the first chosen for the recitation of the Holy Rosary by Sabrina. She led. Archbishop is coordinating. Bishops and Priests were still streaming in.
On this day some pilgrims took advantage of an optional excursion to the Dead Sea and the house of Lazarus in Bethany and Jericho with Tony and Emilio. Their pictures tell the story of the fun they had and what a joyful mud-bathing/camel-riding experience it was.
Some of the others attended the Maranatha meetings in three rotations to the lectures and heart wrenching visits to the convent (Emmanuel Sisters - Greek Catholic (Melkite) Benedictines), the Holy Family Bethlehem Orphanage (Ages 0 – 6 and where they are taken so lovingly cared of) and midafternoon to the Bethlehem Custos (Franciscan) monastery. They were in Archbishop Leonard’s rotations with the pilgrims from South America and Spain, accompanied by Lazarus as their personal guide (soon to be Armenian Orthodox seminarian).
Lunch was at Christmas Bells restaurant and where we met up with Vicka, danced the “Joyful dance” with the pilgrims and sent Vicka off in jubilation (she was leaving that afternoon). The closing four hour Maranatha Mass at St. Catherine’s Chapel at the Church of the Nativity, started in the late afternoon. Archbishop Leonard was in rare form with his joy and humor, remarking that he had never seen so many bishops sitting on the floor, that it was unusual indeed. Our own lovely Christine Nguyen was chosen to lead the English decade of the Rosary. We sang Christmas carols in August in this church at the place of the birth of Our Savior.
Tired, but contented, we all met for a late dinner at restaurant set up like a Bedouin tent. We had a chance to thank our wonderful priest, Fr. Michal, and also Perla and Mirla for facilitating this unforgettable adventure. It was a bittersweet evening, as most of our Polish pilgrims would be leaving early the next morning.
After hugs, good-byes and blessings to our Polish pilgrims and Maria, Christina we boarded the purple bus one more time and headed to Abu Ghosh (Emmaus) where we had our last Mass and shared a loving sign of peace with each other. We proceeded to Kiryat Yearim, a documented resting site of the Ark of the Covenant at the French Benedictine Monastery, The Church of Notre Dame de lArche de lAlliance. At the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant we rested and said our rosary in the garden overlooking the lands of Israel, where a huge image of Our Blessed Mother carrying Infant Jesus in her arms looms over the valley. We then proceeded to visit the Church, meditating and entering into prayer into the Adoration Chapel. We then had a lovely lunch in the gardens prepared by the Sisters before heading to the Tel Aviv airport, arriving around 3:30 p.m. Part of the pilgrims went into Jerusalem for one last farewell before their late night departure, choosing to come back to the airport, Sherut style. We are all so greatly changed from when we had arrived only eight days earlier.
For more information on the Holy Family Bethlehem Orphanage and astonishing works by Sister Sophia (now retired) and sisters, visit: