Pilgrimage Follow-Up

Here are my “top ten” moments from the OLA Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome. Tomorrow (Saturday) evening, the pilgrims are gathering for a potluck to OLA followed by an Open Forum Presentation at 7:30 for all parishioners and anyone else who wishes to come. We will share photos and stories.

Top Ten Moments – OLA Pilgrimage
Fr. Tom Welbers

In no particular order

(You can see the text with pictures, here.)

  1. Windmill in Jerusalem.

Was anyone struck, as I was, by the sight of a turning Dutch-style windmill the day we first drove into Jerusalem? We took the same road several times, and I noticed it each time, sometimes turning, sometimes not. How odd, I thought. It just didn’t seem to fit.

It was built in 1857 by British Jewish banker and philanthropist Moses Montefiore to help provide sustenance for then-oppressed Palestinian Jews, and has had quite a history since. You can read the whole story on Wikipedia (Montefiore Windmill). Coincidentally, on the pilgrimage I started reading Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, his great-nephew.

Jerusalem Windmill.jpg

  1. Jericho and the Mount of Temptation

Now almost suburban Jericho, the traditional site of the Mount of Temptation, with the ancient monastery on the slope, and a new construction (hotel? Hilton?) on the same slope, this site impressed me as how “far from the city” then is “close to the city” now. All the caves and barrenness. Great place to face the demons.

Jericho, the oldest known continuously inhabited city in the world, dates back to at least 11,000 years ago. Those who have gone to Turkey with me have visited Çatalhöyük, a settlement in central Anatolia dating from the same Neolithic era, shortly after the last ice age, when farming and domesticating animals began to replace hunting-gathering. For me, one of the interesting indications of ancient trade and travel is that volcanic flint, used to make knives, choppers, and other tools, from Çatalhöyük in the same era, has been found in Jericho.

Jericho Temptation Mount


I was prepared for the wall that Israel built, but was not prepared to come upon it so in-your-face-unexpectedly. I had quickly tired of the olive wood shop, so wandered outside. And only then noticed that the wall jutted up against the store’s property, and was right down the middle of the street it was on. There are legitimate security needs, and there are ways to achieve them . .  but this is not one of them. Especially poignant were the posters, obviously in English for the tourists, but carrying a deeply universal message.

Bethehem THE WALL 1

(See the rest of the pictures here.)

  1. Pope Francis

Concelebrated; saw him pretty close; touched, but did not shake, his hand, nor made eye contact; got a couple of OK but not great pix. But that was enough.

  1. St. Tarcisius

At the Catacombs of St. Callistus, I got reacquainted with my childhood altar-boy hero, St. Tarcisius, who, it turns out, was probably not the kid-martyr of fable and fiction ( a la Cardinal Wiseman’s romantic novel, Fabiola), but most likely a deacon, carrying the Eucharist to the sick.

  1. Maria, Salus Populi Romani at St. Mary Major

This icon, favorite of Pope Francis, was visited and venerated by him early in the morning immediately following his election, and he continues to come here frequently for prayer, especially before and after major trips and events.

SMMag Salus Populi

  1. Cana Renewal of Vows

I felt very privileged to participate in the renewal of vows of the married couples at the site of the Wedding Feast at Cana.

  1. Mass at Vivaldi’s Church in Venice

What a surprise to find that our last Mass would be at San Giovanni Battista in Bragora, the old (originally 8th century, reconstructed in the 15th century) church where beloved Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi was baptized.

Venice Vivaldi Church

Venice Mass

Here’s a selection of Vivaldi’s best knows music in stunning performances.

  1. Final Dinner at Hotel Crystal.

This dinner was the perfect conclusion of a wonderful pilgrimage.

Hotel Crystal Final Dinner

  1. Sant’ Anselmo

Not earth-shaking, but a nice surprise to have a great view from the end of the hotel corridor of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’Anselmo, across the Tiber on the Aventine Hill. This is the home of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute where I studied Liturgical Theology in the early 1970s with some of the great theologians and historians who contributed to the reform of Vatican II.

Rome SantAnselmo

P.S. As I write this, the sun is setting on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Earlier today, Deacon Bob Steighner sent us a reminder that we celebrated Mass at Ein Karem, near Jerusalem, the birthplace of John the Baptist. This moment was truly a privilege for me.



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