Fr Benny’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land – 2019

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New Dawn Magazine - Editor Fr Karl Burns

On the 24th June this year, Fr Benny McHale (Athenry) led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, taking 54 people with him, mainly drawn from the Tuam Archdiocese (Athenry, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Claremorris and Westport) and supplemented with a number of pilgrims from neighbouring dioceses.

The Nazareth Group included: Front row: Margaret Allen (Ballyhaunis), Fr Benny McHale (Athenry), Loretta Dyer (Castlebar) Jo Kearney (Castlebar), Sadie Higgins (Westport), Martina Egan (Castlebar).

Middle row: Martina Farragher (Athenry), Bernie Gill (Ballyhaunis), Helena Fahy (Athenry), Julie Higgins (Athenry), Mairéad de Buitléir (Carna), Eileen Keane (Athenry), Mary Walsh (Claremorris), Majella Cunniffe (Castlebar), Kevin Higgins (Athenry) Breda and Tommy O’Toole (Cleggan) Antoinette Judge (Athenry), Deirdre Rabbitte (Athenry).

Back row: Ann Barrett (Athenry), Dominic Monaghan (Athenry), Cathal Kearney (Castlebar), Mary Madden (Athenry), James Malone (Westport), Patrick Egan (Castlebar), Gertie Foley (Westport), Padraic Judge (Athenry).

We visited all the major sites connected with Jesus’ ministry from the time of his birth in Bethlehem to his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. We spent the first part of the pilgrimage on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and visited many sites there including Magdala, Mount Tabor (Transfiguration), Mount of Beatitudes, Nain, Tabgha (Feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish), Cana (Jesus first miracle) and Capernaum, a place central to Jesus’ three years of public ministry.

In Nazareth, we were so excited to see the Knock mosaic in the courtyard of the Basilica of the Annunciation, singing ‘Our Lady of Knock’. Our guide surprised us with a walk through the Valley of the Doves, a route commonly used by Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum; it is a quiet, peaceful valley, practically unchanged since the time of Jesus.

This photo – Google My Maps

We spent a day driving around the Golan Heights and the border between Lebanon and Israel. We could see, in the distance, the UN peacekeeping base where some Irish troops are stationed. We got a fascinating overview of the history, geography and politics of the country.

After driving through the desert, we renewed our baptismal promises in the River Jordan and had the great experience of a swim in the Dead Sea where the high salt concentration allows bathers to float without sinking.

We stopped in Jericho and Bethany before arriving in Jerusalem and Bethlehem where we stayed for the remainder of our pilgrimage. in Jerusalem, we walked the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) in prayerful silence, a very moving experience. We visited the Church of St Anne and its wonderful acoustics; here, we saw a lovely statue of St Anne and Mary as a little girl. This church is dedicated to all grandparents.

We had a wonderful morning at the Western (Wailing) Wall where we witnessed a Bar Mitzvah ceremony where families celebrate their 13-year-old boy’s coming of age. It is a very colourful and noisy experience. Some of the other sites we visited included En Karem, where Mary met her kinswoman, Elizabeth. This is also the birthplace of John the Baptist.

We went to Bethphage which marks the beginning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and walked down the steep ‘Palm Sunday’ walk where we saw Dominus Flevit Church marking the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

One of the many highlights of our pilgrimage was our visit to the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane where we were privileged to have a Holy Hour. We also visited the Cenacle (Upper Room), site of both the Last Supper and the Pentecost experience.

The Church of Peter in Gallicantu (cockcrow), built on the site of the High Priest Caiaphas’ house was a very emotional experience for most people, especially viewing the image of a crucified man on the wall in the underground cell.

We had our final mass in the Holy Land on Calvary, in the Holy Sepulchre Church, and afterwards were able to venerate the Flock of Calvary and the Tomb of the Resurrection. In Bethlehem, we visited the Basilica of the Nativity where we prayed at the Cave of Christ’s Birth.

Here too, we saw the Cave of St Jerome and the Cave of the Holy Innocents. Before we left the complex, we visited St Catherine’s Church from where the Christmas Midnight Mass is broadcast worldwide.

Fr Benny celebrates his 40th pilgrimage to the Holy Land

At our final dinner in the Bethlehem Star Hotel, Fr Benny was taken aback when the management surprised him with a special cake to celebrate his 40th pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Those who know Fr Benny will realise that it’s not often that he is stuck for words, but he was genuinely touched by this gesture.

During our pilgrimage we visited many more sites and also the sites associated with all the decades of the Rosary. We started off as a group of strangers on 24th June but returned to Ireland on 4th July as a family after the marvellous and wondrous experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land.

See also: Fr Brendan Kilcoyne’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land 2017

This article was first published in the Archdiocese of Tuam’s New Dawn Magazine – Issue 24, Autumn 2019

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About this record

Written by To be confirmed!

Published here 12 Mar 2024 and originally published 2019

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