by Macky Madlangbayan
Going on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was a dream come true for me. I’m sure most of us have bucket lists or to-do lists and most Catholics have “Go on a Pilgrimage to Israel” on it.
During our orientation, we were told that God will truly talk to us throughout this pilgrimage. And that it doesn’t begin when we land in Israel, in fact, it had started even before the Pilgrimage orientation. I felt God’s presence during the Holy Mass in honor of St. Blaise with our co-pilgrims and our chaplains Fr. Dex and Fr. Bhing. For some strange reason I found myself in tears during the communion while everyone was singing Anima Christi. I admit, I have never been a very strong Catholic, I’d even consider myself a Christmas/Easter Catholic when I would only pray or practice during these periods in the Church. But all that changed when something very personal happened to me and I learned about The Feast with LOJ which I have attended since 2012.
“I am a pilgrim, not a tourist”. This is our mantra. Which is true since a tourist comes to see while a pilgrim comes to be. As a pilgrim, it’s not so much about the destination but the journey. I have shared with my family, friends and colleagues that during the pilgrimage, most of the events that had a big impact or had left a mark on me was not “just” the Holy Sites. For me, the Stone of Anointing, the Star of Bethlehem, the Wailing Wall among others, are sites you can see on the internet. What was more powerful are the daily masses, the reflections with Bro. Bo after communion, the insightful explanation of our local guide and the constant interaction with our fellow pilgrims. I was fortunate enough that I have met and have made very good friends in this trip. I travelled alone, hoping to see and meet God on a personal and intimate level, but I also prayed for angels to guide me as I journey towards Him, and He gave me my yellow “sub-mates”, co-pilgrims and of course my 5 angels! Sha, Jeng, Rose (all 3 of whom I’ve met during the orientation), Kevin and Net.
The 10-day pilgrimage was very powerful and that to say it was “life-changing” is an understatement. In fact, it is transformational. I honestly went on this trip with very selfish reasons: take a break from work, go overseas, try different cuisines, and obviously, take selfies… lots of it. But as I am writing this article, I feel emotional because I realized God has truly worked on me. There are times during the pilgrimage when I found myself staring into space and wonder “Who am I that God had to suffer so much for?”
I was fortunate that I was able to serve during the first pilgrims’ mass in the Basilica of Annunciation the place where ‘verbum caro hic factum est’, “the word became flesh”. A very symbolic site of saying “YES” to God, where a 14-year old girl said yes to a divine plan so profound that changed the world forever.
We encounter God in our daily lives and may not be in the same unfathomable way He appeared to Mother Mary, but are we ready to say “yes” to Him? Are we willing to receive His great love and become a vessel of that love as we share it to other people?
The next powerful moment was when we had the “Preach where Jesus preached” event at the Mount of Beatitudes. I have always been saying selfish prayers. “Lord, grant ME this, give ME that, guide Me”… and the list of MEs go on. But that day, when a co-pilgrim and one of my yellow sub-mates, Bro. Ronnie said, that “Praying for someone else is the most powerful way of showing your love”. That is because when you pray for other people, intercede on their behalf, you forget yourself when you talk to God and ask the Lord for someone else’s happiness. As Richard Foster said “If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this leads us to prayer”. It changed the way I pray and from then on, I never ceased to pray for my friends, my family and the friends of my family. I was thankful to have God-fearing prayer partners. Kuya Bodgie whom I prayed for, whose petitions were things that are very dear to me, family; and Pennie who was praying for me and my petitions.
Another moment that I will never forget was when we were on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was where, aside from feeding seagulls, we reflected on how Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23-27). The apostles’ lack of faith reminds us that even those who lived and walked with Jesus, saw His miracles, and heard His message still had times when they were in doubt. The disciples were a lot like us. All of us have turbulences in our life, struggles in our career and weaknesses in our relationships, but when will we realize that God is by our side and that there is no storm that we cannot conquer with God by our side. By the way, it is that day when I found my new life anthem “Still” by Hillsong, which was played while all of our eyes were closed as we were reflecting on the love of God. That no matter the difficulties in life, “I will be still and know you are God”.
There are other moments (a lot, in fact) when I found myself crying because I couldn’t contain how happy I was as I realized how blessed I am.
I pray that you too would be able to embark on a pilgrimage and discover God’s immense love for all of us. A pilgrimage that doesn’t need you to be in transit for over a day, where even in your own backyard, you would feel the Holy Spirit transform your life. (Although I also pray that you and your family can also visit Israel and come to see and walk where Jesus walked). Always know, that I, will be praying for you.