Pilgrimages return, space limited

Saint Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem.

Catholics with a pent-up desire to travel abroad can renew their faith while doing so, as they sail across the Sea of Galilee, celebrate the 102nd birthday of St. John Paul II in his hometown or attend the famous Oberammergau Passion play.

The Pittsburgh Catholic is sponsoring three pilgrimages in 2022: The Holy Land with auxiliary Bishop William Waltersheid, Jan. 14-24; Poland with Bishop Waltersheid May 12-20; and Oberammergau and the hometown of Blessed Francis Seelos with Bishop David Zubik, Sept. 18-27. Click on the links or call Marianna Pisano at Unitours, Inc., 1-800-777-7432.

“The world is opening up again and we should celebrate that in a way that honors Jesus and the saints, especially in the Holy Land,” said Belinda Held, the pilgrimage organizer who has worked with The Pittsburgh Catholic for many years.

Oberammergau, performed every 10 years since 1634 to thank God for delivering the village from a plague, was delayed for a year due to COVID. Only seven openings remain available on this tour.

“Many of us prayed that we would get through this pandemic,” Held said. Witnessing the play “is a way to thank God for saving us.”

 The pandemic also forced rescheduling of the Poland pilgrimage, with the happy result that Pittsburgh pilgrims will visit St. John Paul’s birthplace on his birthday.

Bishop Zubik and Bishop Waltersheid offer spiritual guidance throughout their pilgrimages and celebrate Mass daily. On the Holy Land pilgrimage, married couples will have an opportunity to renew their wedding vows in Cana, where Jesus worked his first miracle during a wedding celebration.

In addition to places where St. John Paul lived, highlights of the Poland pilgrimage include the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the grave of St. Faustina Kowalska and the monastery of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who gave his life in 1941 to save another prisoner from execution in Auschwitz. Pilgrims will tour Auschwitz itself, and pray to make “never again” a reality.

Pilgrims will also pray at the shrine of a more recent martyr, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest and social justice advocate who spent time in Pittsburgh before returning to Poland, where he was murdered in 1984.

In the Holy Land, pilgrims will sail across the Sea of Galilee and see the “Jesus boat,” a first century fishing craft that archaeologists recovered from the waters where St. Peter cast his nets.  In addition to historic churches at the traditional sites of Jesus’ life in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, pilgrims will visit the excavation of  a third century synagogue in Capernaum, which was likely built on the same site as the synagogue where Jesus preached.

After walking the route on which Jesus is said to have carried His cross to Calvary, pilgrims will visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. Pilgrims can book a three-day extension in Jordan, where they will have an opportunity to renew their baptismal promises by the Jordan River.

The Oberammergau pilgrimage traverses three countries: the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. Beginning in Prague, pilgrims travel the Danube Valley, visiting important churches, shrines, monasteries and historical sites. These include Fussen, Germany, home to Blessed Francis Seelos, who became a parish priest in Pittsburgh. The grand finale is Oberammergau, followed by a visit to the shrine at Altotting, where a 7th century image of the Blessed Mother is associated with miraculous healing.

“Going on pilgrimage bring so much joy to people. It feeds their soul, renews their faith. It’s something you remember your whole life, something that changes you. People are hungry for that kind of experience,” Held said

“On these pilgrimages, people have the opportunity to experience places that they have only read about in the Bible or heard about in Sunday school. We are praying and celebrating Mass in the places where Jesus and the saints lived and walked.”