Holy Land experience ‘brought Bible to life’ for priestand diocesan travelers

HOLY LAND – Pilgrims listen to a tour guide in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. (Photos courtesy of Father Mark Shoffner)

By Bryce Newsom
OXFORD – The Holy Land. Though the locations in which our Lord made the greatest sacrifice are a world away, this didn’t prevent Father Mark Shoffner and several members of our diocese from journeying that distance. Traveling by plane, these pilgrims visited stunning locations such as the former home of our Mother Mary, the workshop of her husband, Joseph, and the Sea of Galilee. Many miracles, and similarly many tragedies, happened in and around these areas. Upon their return, Father Mark shared their story.

The holy sites that were visited left a deep impression on many of the pilgrims, as could be gathered by their reactions to the meaning of the grounds as well as the architecture of the buildings themselves. For example, when asked what his favorite stop of their itinerary happened to be, Father Shoffner replied, “Definitely the Holy Sepulchre, it’s always been my favorite place to visit in the Holy Land.”

Father Mark Shoffner celebrated Mass on Mount Tabor on July 4 during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Father Mark also specified a particular experience which he and his fellow pilgrims were involved in at The Basilica of the Annunciation: “When we were there, by the ruins of Mary’s house, above us Mass was happening. And as the bells were ringing for the consecration, we realized that we were in the place where the Word became flesh … as the Word was becoming flesh in the Eucharist above us. It was a surreal experience.”

Continuing about their venture to the Holy Sepulchre, Father Mark spoke about his feeling that he had “completed his mission” as a Knight Chaplain of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He saw the reaction of many to the holy site, with awestruck wonder and adoration, and it warmed his soul. For not only was he himself able to observe and appreciate these passages he had read, made real in front of him, but he was able to help bring others to this realization as well.
Father Mark was able to go up Mount Tabor, often called the Mount of Transfiguration, and look out on the Sea of Galilee. When doing this in reflection, a thought dawned on him: “When you’re up there, you’re seeing the exact same locations that Jesus saw.” This revelation put the trip in perspective for Father Shoffner. The trip brought the Bible to life for many people, with other locations such as Capernaum, Nazareth, and the site of the Wedding at Cana, where Christ performed His first miracle.

For many, this was a trip which changed the way they viewed their faith. It became tangible, physical and more impactful. And in this process, grew that faith in Christ. Which, of course, was one of the primary goals of the pilgrimage. Another, however, was to observe the current state of Catholics in the Holy Land. Many are struggling to support their families, and often ask St. George, a former Roman soldier whose icon many place above their doorways, to pray for them. Let us, as their brothers and sisters, continue to pray fervently for them throughout this trying time.

Father Mark Shoffner and his pilgrims sailing on the Sea of Galilee.