Father Stephen Vrazel with St. Vincent de Paul talks with us about a recent trip to visit some of the most important sites in Christianity. Here’s a look at our conversation:
Chad: You recently went on a trip to the Holy Land–where did you go and who went?
Guest: Our group was comprised of parishioners from St. Vincent de Paul as well as St. Bede in Montgomery. The associate pastor there is a friend of mine and he helped me lead the pilgrimage. We went to Israel, the West Bank, and even into Jordan.
Chad: What important spots in Christianity did you see?
Guest: The principal site to visit is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which is built over the site of Jesus’ crucifixion as well as his empty tomb. That is the highlight of any trip.
But in addition to that, we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and we visited various holy sites in Galilee. We even went to the top of Mt. Nebo in Jordan which is the spot where Moses viewed the Promised Land before he died.
Chad: How did this trip impact you?
Guest: This was my fourth pilgrimage, and as such, it is more about guiding the other pilgrims than anything else. It was, of course, meaningful for me, but sharing these holy places with people who are seeing them for the first time is a beautiful part of my ministry. St. Jerome calls the Holy Land the “fifth gospel,” because it gives that much greater an illumination to the four actual gospels. To be in the places where these mysteries of our faith took place goes far in strengthening faith.
Chad: How is that area of the world culturally different from the US?
Guest: It is of course radically different in various ways, but I’ll focus on the religious aspect. Jerusalem is a holy city not just for Christians, but for Jews and Muslims as well. And so in Jerusalem and throughout the region of Palestine, we see a complex tapestry of religious presence. Of course, at its worst, it can be a volatile and dangerous thing for people of different faiths to be so crammed together—not just between Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but even simply between different Christian Churches – the relationship between the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, etc. can be very territorial and tumultuous. So it’s really very jarring to visit this land that is giving you a spiritual awakening as you follow the footsteps of Jesus, yet at the same time have the constant tension of so many competing groups for waiting at every turn. The very need of the world for a Savior is on display in the land in which he lived.
Chad: That is also a contested part of the world that has seen violence, how do you stay safe on a trip of that nature?
Guest: While there are certainly very dangerous parts of the Middle East, we don’t go to such places while on pilgrimage. Whether it’s the Gaza Strip or the border with Syria, the Israeli government wouldn’t allow us to approach even if we wanted. In reality, I feel much safer than people might expect from a stereotypical understanding of that part of the world. People don’t want bloodshed. People want their livelihood and they want their families to be safe, whether they are Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim. In Jerusalem, in Galilee, even crossing into the West Bank to visit Bethlehem, I have always felt very safe and protected.