If you are a Regnum Christi member or any sort of serious Catholic, you likely would like to visit the Holy Land. Who wouldn’t want to walk where Jesus walked and drink in the spiritual richness of Christian History?
But for some of us, there might be doubts or fears – or at least a long list of questions. We know that any travel can hold surprises, but it is good to know what you are getting into.
- A pilgrimage that isn’t just “holy tourism” but an actual retreat.
- Large enough to make it economical, but small enough so the entire group can have plenty of room to be comfortable on a single bus.
- Only stay at a beautiful retreat center: Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem, and soon at the Magdala Center.
- Accompanied by a couple knowledgeable Legionary priests.
- A pilgrimage that is totally Christ-centered.
- An itinerary that follows the life of Jesus chronologically.
- Be physically fit to walk “where Jesus walked”?
- A personalized guide book for each participant that includes details of every place to be visited, prayers and meditations for each day, a liturgy guide for the Masses to be celebrated and places to personalize so it becomes a real journal to take home for prayers and recollection.
- Every detail answered in advance, from what to wear to how much money to have in your pocket.
- Your very own “Julie-the-cruise-director-from-Love-Boat” guide with you every step of the journey.
It is a beautiful vision. And the best part is that Cris has made it a reality. She has led four Holy Land Pilgrimages, with more scheduled over the next two years. And they comes in two flavors: English and Spanish.
You can find all the details here. And Cris was generous with some of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions…
How did you get involved in directing pilgrimages?
It started years ago. My husband was career Air Force and we were stationed in Germany. I got involved in the wives club and they needed a tour coordinator – so I volunteered! Having majored in History, I love to travel, most of the husbands worked long hours, so I figured this would be the best way to get all the wives to see the area while we were there. Well…I guess you could say I was enthusiastic about the job; I organized more than 30 tours the first year. Some were nearby for the wives with small children – others as far as Russia and Egypt. Frankly, at that point in life I wasn’t involved much in my faith, so they were really secular tourism events.
We had a second tour in Europe a few years later and by that time I had begun to discover the beauty of my Catholic Faith, so this time I traveled with my husband and it was all about visiting all the pilgrimage sites I had missed before!
What about Our Lady of Bethesda?
After we moved to Washington, I was involved in Regnum Christi and starting serving at the retreat center. My apostolates consisted pretty much just doing what needed doing. When Fr. Donal O’Keefe, LC, moved here, he shared his experience of Holy Land pilgrimages from his past assignments and expressed his desire for Our Lady of Bethesda to do a pilgrimage and it seemed a “heaven sent” natural for me to tackle.
How many have you gone on personally?
All of them – I’m the tour director! I don’t have kids, so the pouring out of myself and being totally available during the pilgrimage is my opportunity to totally serve others, sort of a mom to them! I have a gift for handling the details. I set the table so the Fathers can serve the spiritual meal with the least distractions as possible, we want that transformation of heart!
What are the most memorable tours?
All the tours are memorable and I’m constantly updating because we have repeat customers. What is unusual is the effortpeople make to participate. For some people, going to the Holy Land is a lower priority than Europe or other places. For some, it is a dream they want to go after, even if they’ve never been out of the US. One woman sold an insurance policy to raise the money for the trip. In another case, an older couple really couldn’t afford to go – so their grown kids loaned them the money. The desire to go to the Holy Land, is really a response to Jesus’ invitation.
What makes these tours different than the dozens of other Holy Land tours?
I want to stress that what we do is a pilgrimage that is also a retreat. We want people to walk in the steps of Jesus and have an experience that changes them forever. What we do is completely Christ-centered – no old testament or Israel tourism.
We have a personal one-inch binder for each participant to refer to and record their experiences. My passion is giving the pilgrims the richest experience possible – not only in terms of places, but so they can write their own narrative so when they get home they can remember and savor in their daily prayer about the things they have seen and touched. If you look at the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee, those really have not changed much since Jesus saw them, neither has the way that the sun reflects on them, or how they look at sun rise and at sun set. Your ‘composition of place’ will never be the same!
Ever had to deal with a serious illness, somebody lost, any other crisis?
When Fr. Donal O’Keefe got sick and had to be hospitalized for a couple days. Fortunately, he recovered and in his absence other Legionaries picked up the baton and the pilgrimage didn’t miss a beat, the pilgrims were super understanding!
Well…and there was a pilgrim who ignored my admonition not to drink the unprocessed pomegranate & orange juice and spent a day very ill and looking rather green, but she was soon back to normal.
What are the biggest challenges?
For me, the challenge is making it special for each person. This is my RC apostolate, a laborer in the vineyard – a way of expressing my love for God, trying to be his instrument, building the Kingdom! That’s why I always write the trip plan sitting before the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t want to forget who is in charge! As my first LC spiritual director told me, “all apostolate is done with love out of love for Christ,” that’s my impetus!
What are the most rewarding aspects?
That is simple: seeing lives transformed. People go home filled with passion for Jesus and our faith, many undertaking apostolates in their parishes.
What are the stops on a typical trip?
If I could I would begin in Nazareth with the Annunciation, but that would mean four hotel changes, so we do the next best thing! This is our typical itinerary – and Cris always has surprises!
The path Jesus took:
Day 1 The Visitation: Ein Karem and Transfer to Jerusalem
Day 2 His Birth: Bethlehem, Shepherds Field, Milk Grotto
Day 3 His Baptism and Temptations: Jericho, Judean Desert
Transfer to Galilee
Day 4 His Early: Life: Nazareth, Cana
Day 5 The Calling of His Apostles: Tabgha, Magdala, Primacy
Day 6 His Public Ministry: Beatitudes, Capernaum, Caesarea Philippi
Day 7 His Transfiguration: Mt. Tabor, Jacob’s Well
Transfer back to Jerusalem
Day 8 The Raising of Lazarus: Bethany, Qum Ran & a Dead Sea swim to end the day & to prepare for the Passion.
Day 9 His entry into Jerusalem & Last Days: 1st Cent Jerusalem
Day 10 His Passion and Crucifixion: Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulcher
Day 11 His Resurrection and Pentecost: Holy Tomb, Abu Gosh/Emaus
What do you see for the future?
Well, I do tend to think big. Get as many people as possible to experience the Notre Dame and Magdala Centers while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land! Hopefully two pilgrimages a year. Since OLB’s trademark are her retreats, all our pilgrimages will have that additional retreat angle. Jordan and Turkey are treasure troves – So coming pretty soon, hopefully spring of 2019: In the Footsteps of Moses and the early Christians in Jordan; ….The Madonas of Central Europe and Poland, The Sacred Heart & St. Thérèse retreat in France. In the Footsteps of St. Paul in Turkey a little later. I am helping Fr. Martin Connor, LC., with the itinerary of his Theology of the Body course in Italy the spring of 2019. I am looking for Legionary volunteers! ….Stay tuned!