Seminarians Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Seminarians Pilgrimage

Third and fourth-year seminarians from the Pontifical College Josephinum recently took a winter break pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There, they participated in Pope Francis’ Holy Mass and a retreat in Assisi. We interviewed seminarians Seth Keller and Eugene Joseph to get their perspective and insight on the trip, and what it meant to them.

Seminarian Seth Keller

Can you provide a short description of your experience? What did you do?

We began our trip in Rome. We were able to see the four major Papal Basilicas and even had the privilege of meeting our Holy Father, Pope Francis and serving Holy Mass for him in St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest Christian Church in the world. We were also able to visit many other churches and venerate the relics of many saints including St. John Paul II, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Philip Neri.  Of course, were able to enjoy some Italian pasta, gelato, and espresso too. We ended our trip with a retreat in Assisi in preparation for Ordination to the Diaconate in the spring. We were able to have Mass at the tombs of St. Francis and St. Clare. It was a wonderful and moving trip. We were very blessed to have the opportunity to make this pilgrimage and to experience a sense of the Universal Church in Rome, as well as the peace and silence of Assisi.

What was the highlight of your experience?

The highlight of my experience was being able to pray in front of the real San Damiano cross, from which Our Lord spoke to St. Francis. It was very meaningful to reflect on the centrality of the cross in our faith and the way in which St. Francis lived that out so well. It was also a wonderful opportunity to pray for the grace to live my vocation well by imitating Jesus Christ and his self-sacrificial love.

How has this experience enriched your life?

I left Rome with a greater appreciation of our Catholic faith and for the many people that have given their lives for Christ and the Church. Being in Rome encouraged me but also challenged me to live my faith more fully following the example of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Cecilia, and so many others who made the ultimate sacrifice for God.

Seminarians Pilgrimage

Third-year seminarians gathered outside of the Basilica of Saint Francis, following Mass at his tomb. Photo Credit: The Pontifical College Josephinum

Seminarian Eugene Joseph

Can you provide a short description of your experience? What did you do?

It is not that often one gets to serve for the successor of Peter, at the altar built upon his bones (literally the ‘Rock’ on which the Church is built). I felt very honored and humbled by this opportunity. We pray for Francis, our Pope, during all Masses in our parishes, but to be there with him and to serve him as he offered the Holy Sacrifice of our Lord to the Father – it was definitely a great blessing and privilege.

I didn’t do anything extraordinary, but helped with the ordinary tasks of the altar server: candles during procession, helped set up the altar during the offertory and had the chance to hold torches in front of the altar during the prayers of consecration. These may seem like ordinary tasks when we do it regularly at our parishes, but realizing where we were and with whom we were celebrating these sacred mysteries was very important to me! The chance to walk up the stairs toward the altar and hand the missal stand to the deacon – its a simple thing, but to know that the bones of the Apostle Peter lies beneath the altar, the others apostles in union with him and how, in this one man, our Holy Father, the Universal Church is united – it was truly a phenomenal experience. A great blessing! And all this occurring on the solemnity of our Blessed Mother, Mother of God! Truly a blessing! I thank God for his mercy.

What was the highlight of your experience?

As I mentioned, I think one of the important/joyful moments during my time at St. Peter’s for the Holy Mass would be the opportunity I had, to walk up those steps to the altar with the missal stand. It truly is irrelevant in relation to chalice or ciboria that I could have taken up to the altar, but more than what I took up, it was simply the opportunity to walk up those steps, knowing its significance – where I was, on whose foundation this Church (St. Peter’s Basilica and the universal Church) was built, gave me great joy and peace and I felt truly privileged to be able to do that. I don’t think I would ever like to forget this opportunity I was blessed with and I pray that I do not forget it!

But, this is not to say I did not pray to our Lord during the liturgy, on the contrary, if anything, all this pointed me closer to our Lord for these same reasons. Peter walked with Christ always and even after his betrayal, our Lord entrusted to him the mission of the Church. Therefore, to stand by him and his successor in honoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the perfect sacrifice offered to the Father – truly a blessing! ! I praise God for His love and mercy.

How has this experience enriched your life?

I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to different countries in my short life. As you may (may not) know, I was born in India, grew up in England, living in America – all these years have truly shown me the Catholicity (universality) of our Church! Like I mentioned, we pray for our Holy Father at every Mass in our parishes, but here, in Rome, at St. Peter’s, I had the privilege and blessing to partake in the Holy Mass offered by him, Pope Francis, the head of the Universal Church, a successor of Peter.

We sometimes get carried away by our parish/diocese without thinking of the universal Church and this experience in Rome added to my understanding of the One Body, though with many members, they are all united to the One Head. Every time I attend Mass from now on, I pray that I can remember the moment I was at St. Peter’s with the Holy Father and pray for the whole Church spread throughout the world.

Also, just a side note. At St. Peter’s, you truly feel how small each one of us truly are in relation to the depth, length and width of the Basilica. A fun fact – the image of the Holy Spirit painted on the window behind the main altar is nearly eight feet wide. When I stood next to the baldacchino around the altar, I was nothing compared to its size. It helped me to see how humble we ought to be and pray for each other that we can all live holy and humble lives for the glory of God.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Please…

Pray for our Bishops, Priests, Deacons and seminarians. Pray for our Religious brothers and sisters. They have left everything to serve us and the Church, though not perfect, we ought to pray for them, respect their office, help them in their struggles, give them courage and in so doing, remind them that their vocation is meaningful and worth continuing in!

Faith, Hope and Love remains, but the greatest of these is Love! Love your priests. Pray for them always. Always! We need holy priests!

Pray for me as well please…

Seminarians Pilgrimage

Third-year seminarians on retreat in Assisi, following Mass at Saint Clare’s Basilica. Photo Credit: Pontifical College Josephinum

Watch the Holy Mass the seminarians participated in here.