When reading the Gospel or listening to a homily in church, it can be difficult at times to visualize the stories and teachings of Jesus in all their glory.

But for Corpus Christi parish in Round Lake, the Word of God came to life with the parish’s first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

“We all know the stories [of Jesus], we hear [them] all the time,” said Rev. Rick Lesser, pastor. They’re important stories, he said, but the wonder of attending a pilgrimage is “to witness the stories and come home as a witness.”

“It just brought so many things to life,” said Judy Mullins, pilgrim. After years of hearing the Gospel stories and messages, visiting the site of where they took place “made it real,” she said. 

The eight-day pilgrimage, which was taken through Educational Opportunities Tours, was customized to visit sites most historically relevant to the Catholic faith. 

Some of those stops included: Qasr el Yahud (a baptism site in the Jordan River Valley), Ein Karem (the birth of John the Baptist), a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the Western Wall, and Mass in the garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion.

“It was a lifelong dream of ours to do this someday,” said Shirley Pilch, parishioner, who attended the trip with her husband, Rob. “We had an amazing guide, and the friendships we had at Corpus Christi grew even bigger.”

Father Lesser began looking into doing a pilgrimage with his parish after having such a positive experience with his own trip to the Holy Land. He gave a presentation about his trip to gauge the level of interest in organizing something with Corpus Christi; the response was overwhelming.

Fifty two pilgrims signed up to attend the trip, including parishioners from neighboring churches around the Diocese who caught wind of the pilgrimage.

What might be a shock to most parishes, Father Lesser said he wasn’t surprised with the immense response: “These are just some of the most loving folks on the face of the earth,” he said of his parishioners. “And we had a wonderful pilgrimage.” 

The group departed from New York on Jan. 29, and landed in Tel-Aviv. The pilgrims stayed over in the town of Bethlehem for the first two nights, then migrated to Tiberias and later Jerusalem for the last leg of the trip.

A great deal of walking was required to visit the pilgrimages sites, something that proved to be a challenge for some of the older attendees. Some pilgrims needed walking canes, while others had mobility issues and needed to take a slower pace. 

Everybody on the trip helped out their fellow pilgrims, said Father Lesser, noting that there was “no complaining” the entire trip, just “people making sure everybody got to experience the Holy Land. It was incredible generous.” 

“It was almost too miraculous to put into words,” said Mrs. Mullins. While visiting the Jordan River, Mrs. Mullins’ husband, Bill, who struggled with walking on the trip, wanted to stick his feet in the river. Dipping his feet in the water gave him the stability he needed to continue walking on the pilgrimage, she said.

Karen Stockton parishioner, said getting to visit the Sea of Galilee and imagining Jesus calling out to his apostles, as he does in Luke 5:1-11, was the highlight of the her trip. 

In addition to the sites, the pilgrims attended Mass each day in the Holy Land. “Every homily, people were in tears,” said Bill Stockton. “It was a beautiful experience.”

Father Lesser hopes that the parish will be able to plan another pilgrimage to the Holy Land sometime in future. 

The trip “was like an unexpected gift,” said Mrs. Pilch. “Like when an old friend comes and you didn’t expect it...If you ever have the opportunity [to go], take advantage of it.”