Living stones

A pilgrimage to the Holy Land to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish in Boston, is a chance to rediscover one of the great gifts of God: communion.

Paolo Cumin is pastor of Sacred Heart in Boston (USA). In the photo, the inside of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

This year our parish of the Sacred Heart in East Boston turns 150. We’ve been planning the celebration for the anniversary of our community since last summer. Among the various events planned for the occasion – such as a mass presided by Cardinal O’Malley- we decided to kick off our jubilee year with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Michele Benetti, another priest of the Fraternity here in Boston, had led a pilgrimage to Israel five years ago with some friends from Communion and Liberation in Washington and had long been thinking of returning. So we proposed a 10-day pilgrimage, departing just after Christmas. A dozen parishioners responded enthusiastically and were joined by other friends from Boston and Washington. In the end, there were fifty-one of us.

One of our parishioners who signed up was Peter, a man of about eighty, recently widowed. We were a little worried about him: he had never traveled outside the United States and has some health problems, particularly with walking. In the months leading up to the pilgrimage, we had many conversations with the other parishioners about how to stay with him during the travels from one place to another and how to help him in general. I also spoke personally with Peter and his son to let him know about our worries. I was pretty reassured by these conversations and by the willingness  of the other parishioners to help, even if I was still a bit apprehensive.

His simple and humble joy was truly contagious. He helped everyone to stay in front of those sacred places with a different perspective.

In the end, Peter surprised all of us. Not only did he not have any problems, but he followed us everywhere and, after struggling to walk for the first two days, allowed himself to be brought everywhere in a wheelchair. He was the first to arrive for breakfast every day, always happy and smiling. He had to skip the walk in the Judean desert and the hike up Mt. Tabor, but he managed to walk with us on the Way of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He was never left alone even when he couldn’t stay with the main group.

His simple and humble joy was truly contagious. He helped everyone to stay in front of those sacred places with a different perspective.  During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you run the risk of focusing solely on your own spiritual experience. With his joy and curiosity, and just by the fact that he needed to be helped, Peter was a concrete reminder for us that Jesus called us all to walk and pray together as a faith community in the places of his earthly life.

This experience of looking at oneself in communion with others was one of the most beautiful gifts that the Lord gave us during the pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

When we returned to Boston, I asked the parishioners who had come with us to give a presentation of the trip to the rest of the parish community. A few weeks after the pilgrimage, during the traditional “Coffee & Donuts” that we do after the 10AM Mass every Sunday, we showed some pictures from the pilgrimage and each of them shared something that had struck them. Many of them didn’t just speak about a particular place that had struck them, but rather they talked about the beauty of having gone to the Holy Land together, that is to say, the discovery of the community as the physical place where the Lord calls us now. The stones where Jesus walked didn’t remain a cold memory of the past but became living stones of the brothers and sisters in the faith that walked with us.

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