A journey of faith
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2013 - 12:00am

For ten days in October of 2001, a total of 49 pilgrims,  and the then Bishop Chito Tagle, and a Jesuit priest, Fr. Nono Alfonso, were in  the Holy Land to visit places where  Jesus walked and lived His life. They were no ordinary tourists. They were on the Via Lucis pilgrimage for different reasons:  to search for lights to guide them, they were moved to go  by the  Holy Spirit, it was the  hand of God at work, it was the Christ within them. The Holy Land was their “mecca,” its sacred places embedded in their minds and hearts  by priests and catechists since childhood.

They  were an interesting assortment of travellers: doctors, lawyers, accountants, finance and math experts, teachers, couples, retirees, believers, and doubters.  Their journey led them to  the crib baby Jesus had lain in  Bethlehem; to Cana, site of the wedding feast where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water to wine; to the sites in Tabgha, Galilee, where Jesus delivered the Beatitudes, fed 5,000 people with three loaves of bread and two fish, and  where He gave Peter his “second chance”  after denying him three times. They reflected at Gethsemane, where Jesus  spent his last  few hours on earth. They sorrowfully walked the 14 Stations of the Cross (Via Doloroso), up to the hallowed  spots where He was crucified and buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. They stood at the road in Emmaus where the risen Jesus revealed himself to two of his  disciples, Philip and Bartholomew, who had been utterly disheartened by the crucifixion of their master.

What emotions crept into their being  in their pilgrimage?

Their experiences are told in a volume  that  has just come off the press (12 years  after they took the trip) entitled, A Journey of Faith with the Cardinal  (published by the Via Lucis Pilgrims together with Jesus Communications).

Their stories, written from the heart, talk about places visited, graces experienced, and mission. Limited space cites only a few of them.

Agnes Santos writes: “We were like the first disciples. We followed the ‘little voice’ within us that told us, ‘Go!’ We went to the Holy Land, prodded by various motivations. However, one golden thread strongly connected us, and that was the desire to experience Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who desires for each one of us to be fully human and fully alive.”

Lydia Echauz, a university president, recounts, “Wherever we went in Israel, Jesus’ environs quieted one’s soul.  Just the thought that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived, breathed, and walked in the places which we visited was stunning, amazing, and humbling . . . some things are made in heaven, and for me this Holy land pilgrimage was one of them.”

The stop at the Church of the Annunciation (where the angel told  Mary she would conceive and be the mother of Jesus)  was very moving for Yel Diaz  particularly when Bishop Chito said in his homily that “like Mary’s, our prayer should always be ‘Thy will be done!’… The experience has taught me to imitate Mama Mary’s virtue of total obedience.”

There were side events: re-baptismal rites for the pilgrims on the River Jordan, a dip in the Dead Sea, and the renewal of marriage vows for Nina and Mar Aguas. For Sarah and Rocky Lopez,  who celebrated their golden wedding anniversary a month before the tour,  the pilgrimage  was “a taste of heaven.” 

Angie Aguirre writes of the Via Dolorosa as “a dramatic experience, and reaching Mt. Calvary was, for us, climactic. We were deeply moved as we touched the hole where the  Cross (on which  Jesus was nailed) was erected. During the Via Dolorosa, and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre  we silently reflected on His seven last words.”

Jess de la Fuente, “de facto pilgrim leader and chief shepherd,” writes,  â€œThanks to God’s unfathomable ways, this journey of mine had turned from the dark oppression of trials and challenges into a bright celebration of hope and light.”

What set the pilgrimage apart was the presence of Bishop Tagle. He  officiated masses and gave homilies and reflections in churches and stops along the way.  Some  of the pilgrims, in fact,  had taken the tour because the bishop was its spiritual director.

Vi Dominguez and Bishop Chito grew up in Imus, Cavite. Both went to the seminary. Vi decided to live a secular life and live in the United States where he  became a great success, but encountered sad personal experiences. During the Via Lucis pilgrimage, at  the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, also known as Mensa Christi, in Galilee Vi “became a true pilgrim.” He was touched by  the  â€œwisdom” of his childhood friend, who “lit up the fire in our hearts and helped us to see God’s light.”

Fr. Alfonso joined  the pilgrimage to see where Christ was born and raised and suffered and died, and to follow the steps laid out for Jesuits by the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to whom Jerusalem meant being drawn closer to the Lord. His objectives were fulfilled.

Sick for some time, Peachy Bunag, miraculously became well the day before the pilgrimage took off. At the Garden of Gethsemane, she “experienced purification. I felt His presence. I was touched by His love. The prayer of Jesus was indeed redemptive. In the words of our dear Bishop Chito, ‘Jesus turned the night of betrayal into a dawn of hope — by His love.’”

Dolly Malonzo writes that “ each day seemed to be for me a ‘state of grace,’ it seemed that our Lord Jesus was always by my side. There were times that I would just feel my tears falling especially during reflections delivered by Bishop Chito.”

The impact of the pilgrims’ experiences is made clearer with the comments accompanying each story of  Gerry  Divino, the book’s editorial director and lead author. Gerry’s last words: “We pause now (after our pilgrimage) to reflect and  continue our search for the true purpose and meaning of our lives. The difference now is that we are keener on hearing a voice addressing us. It is the  same voice that has time and again addressed our beloved Bishop, a voice that moved him to say in tears during his talk by the Sea of Galilee, ‘It is the Lord.’”    

 Eleven days before the Holy Land tour began, Bishop Chito was appointed Archbishop of Manila. Recently, he was appointed Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. The pilgrims, to this day, feel blessed that he had guided them spiritually and shed light on their purpose in life, during the tour. Prior to his latest appointment, he told Gerry in an interview, “The pilgrimage is ended. We don’t  see anymore those physical settings we visited. But we still continue on our journey.” He talked of  projects to help children and the poor that the pilgrims are working on. “How can we serve the Church? How can we contribute  to the mission of the church as a group of pilgrims? That’s it. That is the Christ in us. So the pilgrimage continues. I’m happy that the pilgrimage continues in our active search to be missionaries in our time.”       

 (The book  will be  available soon  at National Book Store. Proceeds from the sale will be for the TV program “The Word Exposed with Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.”

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com 

 

A JOURNEY OF FAITH BISHOP BISHOP CHITO GERRY HOLY LAND JESUS LUIS ANTONIO CARDINAL TAGLE PILGRIMAGE PILGRIMS
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