If you are discerning your vocation, have energy to hike, camp and pray, or are a college student or recent college grad, you can immerse yourself in a pilgrimage to the holy site of Emmaus and the Holy Land that the Community of the Beatitudes hosts several times a year.
The Church gives us 50 days of Easter joy to encounter Jesus resurrected. Just as the two disciples encountered the Risen Christ on their way to Emmaus, recognized him in the breaking of the bread and walked all the way back to Jerusalem to proclaim him (Lk 24:13-35), this pilgrimage is meant to help young men and women do exactly that. It’s a way to “pray with your feet” and radiate the light and joy of the Resurrection.
“Emmaus is the proclamation of how we listen to the Word of Christ… I don’t receive it until my heart begins to burn and desire,” said Father Anthony Ariniello, member of the Community of the Beatitudes and leader of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land from America.
When the Community of the Beatitudes – founded in France and present here in Denver at St. Catherine of Siena Parish – set foot on the Holy Site of Emmaus in 1993 upon the request of the Holy See, they knew they had received an important mission – a mission they needed to share with fellow Catholics from the U.S. and around the world. They did so by advancing the archeological investigations of the site and bringing a presence of the Christian life and spirituality to the Holy Land.
“A lot of my mission is to support the church with celebration of the sacraments but also to integrate young Americans into this mission, so that through prayer and hospitality, we shine Christ’s light in the Holy Land,” Father Ariniello said. “Everyone who comes is touched and wishes they would have had more time, not only to benefit, but also to encounter more of the joy [that is found here].”
The community’s presence and their relationship with the Christians and Jews in the Holy Land makes this journey richer than the average pilgrimage to Israel.
Opening to God’s call
Walking the road to Emmaus, hiking up Mount Tabor, camping along the Sea of Galilee, attending Mass at the Holy Sepulcher and Bethlehem, and eating a meal with a Jewish family are just some of the activities and destinations that can allow any Christian to understand the Bible and the person of Jesus in such away that truly impacts their journey and vocation.
“Vocation is big. Several young people [who have come on pilgrimage] have entered the religious life, become missionaries or taken steps toward marriage,” Father Ariniello said.
Such was the case of Craig Nelson, a parishioner of St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton, who grew closer to the community and went on pilgrimage to further discern his vocation.
“It was great to see the community at Emmaus. Being on that trip brought a lot of peace to my thoughts of becoming a candidate [with the Community of the Beatitudes],” he said.
Now, happily married, he treasures that experience and the time he spent discerning with the religious community, saying it prepared him for his vocation.
“The trip and the community gave me a lot of formation. There are still times when the Gospel reading comes out and takes me right back to the site we visited, and I can put myself there,” he said.
Going to the Holy Land was a wake-up call to take a step in verifying his vocation, and it prepared him for “the definite wake-up call,” which was meeting his wife Devon, he said.
Among the many fruits that come from this pilgrimage, Father Ariniello said that being exposed to the Jewish community and tradition has helped many young men and women appreciate the Jewish roots of the faith and family life.
“Anyone who goes has a transformed perspective of what liturgy is, when experienced in the Eastern and Jewish traditions. People find a deeper sense of worship,” he said. “Participating in a Shabbat meal with a Jewish family helps them have a sense of how family life is a little temple and how it can be a domestic church.”
Father Ariniello encouraged young men and women from the U.S. to not be afraid to embark on this journey.
“Now it’s a very peaceful time,” he said. “You open up to the fact that these are real people who make you feel at home, even if they speak a foreign language. It’s foreign, but Jerusalem is everyone’s mother.
“I want to open the door to young people to offer support and be the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” he said. “Like [the disciples of Emmaus], we can proclaim [Christ] after we’ve experienced his Resurrection and leave ourselves and our sadness behind.”
Next pilgrimages: May 15 to June 15 and July 28 to Aug. 15.