A pilgrimage is an opportunity to draw closer to our Lord. It is more than just a trip or a vacation, but an answer to the call from the Lord as He calls us to come and follow Him. A pilgrimage can be a time to carry special intentions for oneself or for others who are unable to travel.
Such was the experience of Thelma Tiambeng-Bright, who carried the intentions of her family, friends, and Thursday night prayer group from her parish, as she traveled on a Tekton Ministries pilgrimage to the Holy Land in February, 2017.
You carried other people’s prayer intentions with you while on this pilgrimage. When did you decide to do this, and how did people give you their intentions?
I belong to the Thursday Prayer Group at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Dallas, TX. Since only my sister and I would be able to join the pilgrimage, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I asked the prayer group to place their written prayer petitions in a sealed envelope and I would carry them with me. I said I would take them to every church where we would have Mass and finally drop them off at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I also carried their rosaries and a Jerusalem cross belonging to a priest friend (his intentions were on this cross) to place them on the tomb of Jesus. There, I said their names and offered all the prayers that Jesus knew were in my heart.
Why was it important for you to do this?
The carrying of their thoughts and prayers was all prompted by the Holy Spirit. I considered it a privilege and it was an act of spiritual pilgrimage for them since they were not with me physically.
Were there any places in particular where you felt especially connected to people back home as you were praying for them?
Outside the church of the Beatitudes we gathered together as we listened to Fr. Austin read each beatitude slowly and very clearly so we could listen to each word. It was a spirit filled moment to listen to Jesus' words. I thought about all the people in my life…The Holy Spirit was whispering in my ears and I was listening.
Also, to be at the place where Jesus was crucified was truly tremendous. All I could do was cry. I was imagining how his mother Mary felt watching her son suffer and die on this cross. When I touched the stone where his cross once stood, I thought of all the intentions I carried with me and all who have been with me through this pilgrimage, in spirit. I felt I touched Jesus and He was listening and asked for mercy for us all.
Did your priest/spiritual director also incorporate this into your pilgrimage?
At the Basilica in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Fr. Austin's homily centered on why Jesus did what He did. He suffered physically but the cross was his victory. He conquered sin and death on that cross so that we may be saved. May we imitate Jesus' actions that in spite of what is happening now around the world we are still brothers and sisters and we continue to pray and help one another.
Before Fr. Austin gave us his blessing, he told us it was customary to kneel in front of the rock, to kiss it or touch it with reverence and to pray for our intentions and everyone's intentions that we each carry with us. So that's what I did. The Holy Spirit was with me during Mass and when I kissed and embraced the stone. I wish everyone could have felt what I felt.
You have traveled to the Holy Land before. What was it like going back again? Would you go back another time?
I'm still in awe and still learning new things from my third visit to the Holy Land. I didn't know how I would feel during this pilgrimage, but the Holy Spirit helped me. Thank you to the Holy Spirit. I truly enjoyed traveling with Fr Jonathan, and our group through Tekton Ministries. The pilgrimage was awesome!!!
Each visit has given a different meaning and renewed my faith. It was a different experience each time – bringing new light. If I could have stayed longer, I would have. God willing, I would go back again and again.
Early morning prayers before walking the Via Dolorosa
Blessing for widows and widowers at the church in Cana
What would you say to someone to encourage him or her to go to the Holy Land?
I am glad to contribute my experiences on this pilgrimage and I hope these experiences will encourage Catholics and other Christians to visit the Holy Land to have their own personal spiritual experiences. Every Catholic should go to Israel.
The Lord touches each one of us in many different ways. It is a wonderful personal experience to touch Jesus and be touched by Him.
Some of Thelma’s fellow pilgrims at the Jordan River Baptismal Site. Left to right: Fr. Austin, Daisy Varghese, Lourdes Tiambeng (Thelma’s sister), Fani Urrutia.
About the experience at the Baptismal Site, Thelma shared:
Fr. Jonathan performed our baptismal vows using the water from the river. He poured some water into our hands and crossed ourselves with the water. That was beautiful and very touching to actually be at the spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. I felt truly overcome by the Holy Spirit.