Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 17, 2007
Sylvan Lake group deepens faith on pilgrimage to Holy Land
- photo supplied
Pilgrims renewed their baptismal vows in the Jordan River.
By ALICIA AMBROSIO
WCR Staff Writer
"Mum, you have to go!" That was all it took for Claudette McGee to start planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Her son, Father Mark McGee of Grande Cache, had been on a Holy Land pilgrimage in 2006 and was so touched by the experience he told his mother she had to go there herself.
Claudette McGee did one better. The Edmonton woman organized a pilgrimage for Catholics from all over Alberta. "We had 43 people plus Father Mark as spiritual director," she said in a phone interview. "Our ages ranged from 21 to 84. It was a phenomenal experience."
Father McGee, pastor at Holy Cross Parish in Grande Cache, said he went to the Holy Land by accident. A friend in Toronto was going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year. That group from Toronto was small and they needed one more person to make the trip happen and McGee was invited to join.
"It was never a place I had thought of going," he said.
Scripture opens up
"I think everyone should at sometime in their life go (to the Holy Land), kind of like the Muslims go to Mecca. It's the kind of experience that stays with you, it opens up the Scripture and lets you get in touch with the life of Jesus."
The pilgrims, who came from Sylvan Lake, Grande Prairie, Grand Cache, and Edmonton, among other places, left Canada Nov. 20. They landed in Tel Aviv and proceeded onward from there.
In nine days they visited Nazareth, Galilee, the Jordan Valley, Capernaum, Mount Taber - the site of the Transfiguration - Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Emmaus, Calvary, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, among other things.
Although their trip coincided with Middle East peace talks in the United States, and the region was on heightened alert, Claudette McGee said she never felt unsafe.
Seeing the Israeli checkpoints did, however, open Mark McGee's eye to the situation for Christians in the Holy Land and the politics in the region.
"You begin to see the poverty of the Palestinian people. Bethlehem is a walled city and you have to go through security checkpoints to get in and out. Some people haven't left Bethlehem for seven years. Because it's a walled city they can barely start an economy.
"Also, because Israel has a right to defend themselves they have been able to oppress the Palestinian people."
The group also visited an orphanage in Bethlehem, run by Catholic sisters, that depends solely on donations to survive because "the Israeli government has no interest in funding that," McGee said.
He also said he started to understand why some parishes hold a collection on Good Friday for the Holy Land and how important it is to have that collection.
Renew wedding vows
For Violet and Joe Soboluski the pilgrimage offered an opportunity to renew their wedding vows under much happier circumstances than their original wedding day and in a unique setting.
"We did our wedding vows at Cana," Violet Soboluski told the WCR. "My wedding day 53 years ago was difficult - my father was dying and I was not coping well. So we got to do our wedding vows in Cana and buy Cana wine." Four other couples renewed their wedding vows at the same time.
After the stop in Cana, the pilgrimage continued on to the site on the Jordan River where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus. There Soboluski renewed her baptismal promises.
Claudette McGee summed up the experience saying, "I left a chunk of myself over there. I have to go back."
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