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This past spring, Colleen Franks, Assistant Director of the Office of Advancement was able to take her annual vacation in the form of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Egypt, and Turkey, with a group led by Jesuit Father Robert Wong, SJ. The pilgrimage took place from April 23 – May 9. This is a short reflection of her trip.

On April 23, I left Toronto for London, where I would join a group of pilgrims from western Canada, led by Father Robert Wong. I was a little apprehensive about the journey since I knew only one fellow pilgrim. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to feel welcomed by this very kind and curious group.

Their interest in my connection to the Jesuits allowed me to share the wonderful work of the Jesuits of Canada, particularly Fr. Wong. It also gave me the opportunity to speak about the impact of the donations we receive, particularly in the formation/education of Jesuits and the care of our elderly Jesuits.

One of the joys of this pilgrimage was daily Mass where we prayed for our own needs, the intentions of donors, and the Jesuits.  It is moments like these when we are grateful for men like Fr. Wong who are called to work in the Vineyard of the Lord.

While it was an exciting journey filled with historic sites, it was also a deeply moving experience as a Christian. It was a great honour and privilege to be able to pray for the friends and donors of the Jesuits. Below are just a few of the extraordinary places we visited.

In Turkey, some of the interesting places we saw were the House of the Virgin Mary, the ruins of Ephesus, the Great Theatre –  where it is believed that Saint John preached to the Ephesians, and the Basilica of Saint John. It was constructed in the 6th century upon St. John’s burial ground.  A trip to Turkey would not be complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar, the largest and oldest covered bazaar with more than 4,000 shops!

We continued to Cairo, Egypt where we visited the pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum. In Sinai, we passed through the arid desert where Moses roamed then we arrived at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.  This is where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments.  It is also at St. Catherine’s where we saw the Biblical Burning Bush.

Crossing into Israel, we visited the Dead Sea.  In Jericho, we saw the sycamore tree Zacchaeus climbed up to see Jesus.  While there, we also had a view of the Mount of Temptation. Walking along the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus took his final earthly steps before his crucifixion, was an incredibly moving experience. The cobblestone road from the Herodian Period takes pilgrims to the site of the last stations and finally Golgotha.

We had Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the original tomb where Jesus was buried.  We were able to place our hands on the rock where Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb. In the Church of Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, we celebrated Mass, and most of our married pilgrims renewed their wedding vows.  It was a joyous occasion.

At the Sea of Galilee, we had a boat ride in a replica of the fishing boat of Jesus’ time.  We continued to Nazareth to visit the Church of the Annunciation, Mary’s Well, the Church of Saint Joseph, and the Jordan River to see where Jesus was baptized.  One of the last places we stopped at was the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount.

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