2014 Holy Land Retreat and Pilgrimage

"Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." ~Ex. 3:5 

On December 29th, sixteen members of the Class of 2014 departed for the 2nd Annual Holy Land Retreat and Pilgrimage. Their journey began with a five-day canonical retreat (required for Ordination to the Priesthood) on the Mount of Beatitudes. Following the retreat, the deacons had time to visit Jerusalem and various sites in the Holy Land.

Visit the Holy Land Pilgrimage website for further information. 


Deacon Chris Aubuchon – Jefferson City

The pilgrimage and retreat to the Holy Land was such a powerful experience and it was a blessing
to have been able to go with my Deacon-brothers! I have come to know God’s love for me in a more profound way through this experience, because I realized ever more powerfully that I have been called by name to follow Christ in the Holy Priesthood. This took deeper root in my life by walking on the very shore where Jesus called the first disciples. God is so good!

I have also come to realize the depth of God’s humility by seeing the very place that Jesus, the Christ, chose to dwell in-time. I thought, “How blessed we are to have experienced Jesus in this new way, in and through the very land He chose to dwell in.” God could have come to us in any way that He wanted, as this all-powerful Master, Lord of glory, Prince of strength, but rather He
chose to come to us as a little child in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Deacon Colin Blatchford – Knoxville

As we know, Christ was fully God and fully man. For me, the “fully God” part has always been the emphasis; however, I now have a deeper understanding of his full humanity. The way I prepare for my preaching has already changed. I am better able to paint a picture for the people in the pews of what the world of Jesus was really like and how it is the same/different from the time we live in

Our visit to the Chapel of the Visitation was quite memorable. When you walk in, you see the well where Mary would likely have met Elizabeth, overjoyed yet alarmed by her news. What really hit me here is the thought of Mary’s emotions as a pregnant teenager and mother of God. What advice did Elizabeth provide? Mary's fiat was total, and, even though her will was in control of her emotions because she was without sin, I wondered, What emotions were running through her mind? The unique closeness to Our Lady I felt in that place has yet to leave me.

Deacon Benjamin Boyd – Omaha

I've always wanted to travel to the Holy Land. It is only because of the generosity of the people of God, that I was able to do so. It was a pilgrimage I'll never forget. Every place we visited carried with it such profound significance. I especially enjoyed the Mount of Beatitudes, where my eyes gazed upon the same landscape that our Lord's eyes gazed upon during His three years of ministry. At night, minus the traffic, my ears heard the same sounds that our Lord probably heard. I was moved to be in the places where He healed, taught, and called to His disciples.

The most profound experience for me was at the Church of the Primacy of Peter where Jesus made breakfast for the apostles, post-resurrection, and reinstated Peter by asking him if he loved Him three times. I had the privilege of being deacon at Mass in this church and the presiding priest chose to use the prayers from Feb. 22nd, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which is the date of my baptism (something with profound personal significance regarding my vocation). When proclaiming the Gospel where the events had taken place, I was struck to the core and saw God's
hand in it all.  

Deacon Michael Buckley – Colorado Springs

The trip to the Holy Land was amazing! I felt the grace of the Holy Spirit as the Scriptures came alive for me. I absolutely devoured Scripture while I was there. The trip increased my knowledge of Scripture and I am excited how it has influenced my preaching. My first homily back at the parish incorporated some of my Holy Land experience.

Deacon Yoelvis Gonzalez – Memphis

Traveling to the Holy Land was an awesome experience! Actually, at times, it is indescribable.
Praying in the places where our Lord prayed and in the places where the greatest events of our redemption took place really is an experience beyond words. The highlight of my journey was praying very early in the morning in front of Calvary--I will never forget that experience.

Deacon David Hogan – St. Louis

I would like to thank all of our benefactors and those who may this trip possible. It was during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land that Christ invited me into a greater understanding of His humanity. I could concretely see the places He stayed, preached, and rested from Galilee to Jerusalem. One experience that was particularly moving happened early in the morning when a classmate and I went to the Holy Sepulchre to pray our holy hour in silence. Without the noise of the crowds, I could take the time to contemplate this profound mystery of Jesus dying for the forgiveness of our sins in this very place, expecting nothing in return except our love.

Without question, the Gospel message is one of hope. One day when our trials come to an end we will all be invited to join Christ at the banquet of the Lamb! I pray that I am open to receive all the graces that God wants to bestow on my journey back to Him. May God bless you and your loved ones!

Deacon Adam Maus – Bismarck

It is hard to sum up and explain the many graces received on this trip, during the retreat and at the different holy sites we visited. The Scriptures will never be the same for me. Seeing the holy sites, seeing the landscape, touching the holy places, and taking in the culture - all these things will impact the way I preach and teach. I feel so much more enriched. Between our tour guide’s explanations of Jewish culture and input from books about the Holy Land, I was able to make
connections and associations in the Scriptures that I never had before. The Gospels have become so much richer.

The first week we spent on retreat on the Mount of Beatitudes was a very special and moving time. It was so easy to meditate at the places we read about in Scripture where Jesus called His disciples, taught the Beatitudes, fed the five thousand, walked on the sea, and appeared to the disciples on the sea shore. We traveled  to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Jesus went to be baptized in the Jordan River by John near where the river flows into the Dead Sea; He went to the lowest place on earth. That is something to ponder. Geographically, Jesus entered the world in the flesh at the most effective place. It is also no accident that there is deep meaning to the Word becoming flesh in this geographical area as well. What an amazing grace to visit these places, pray there, and receive from God. I am so grateful.

Deacon Conor Sullivan – St. Louis

One of my favorite places on our pilgrimage was the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. It is a very large church that has been built over the place that is traditionally believed to be the house of Mary. This means that this is likely the place where Gabriel visited Mary, and Mary responded with those famous words from the Gospel of Luke: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, (“Be it done unto me according to thy word”).

There is an inscription on an altar located on the lower level of that church. The traditional words of part of the Angelus read: Et verbum caro factum est (“And the word became flesh”). On this altar, the inscription was different by one word: Verbum caro hic factum est, which translates: “The word became flesh here.” Reading these words in person for the first time struck me profoundly. It was here that our Blessed Mother said ‘yes,’ to God’s plan for humanity. It was here that our Savior was conceived. It was here where our Lord really walked, taught, performed miracles, died and rose from the dead. I will not soon forget that moment, nor will I soon forget the entire pilgrimage; I am incredibly thankful to those who made it possible for us to go. 

Deacon Jaime Zarse – Kansas City, KS

The experience of walking in the footsteps of Christ, his mother and the Apostles has already changed the way I read Scripture. One of my most powerful experiences of Christ came at the Sea of Galilee as I reflected on Jesus calling the first priests, Peter, James, John and Andrew, from that very place, 2000 years ago. There were many other highlights as well:

Awe-inspiring: watching a sun set from the shores of the Sea of Galilee

Funny: riding a camel on a hill in Jericho

Moving: participating in Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Unexpected: Getting to spend several hours in prayer at Mt. Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre each morning (3-5 a.m. a few mornings without many tourists or pilgrims).


Sunday, December 29: Depart from the U.S.

Monday, December 30: Arrive in Israel and travel to Mt. Beatitudes (overlooking the Sea of Galilee). Celebrate Mass on Mt. Beatitudes.

"In the Holy Land! Made it to the retreat center at the Mount of Beatitudes. So far we have only seen Tel Aviv and the Sea of Galilee from a distance, but this is a gorgeous country. Silence begins shortly to commence the five day retreat! Prayers appreciated!" ~ Deacon Anthony Saiki

Tuesday, December 31: Retreat continues. Mass celebrated where Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday, January 1: Retreat continues. Mass at the site where Our Lord fed the five thousand by His Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes.

"From the land where Christ walked among us, Happy New Year. May this New Year be blessed and may we all take time each day to give thanks to God for all the blessings He bestows on us." ~Deacon John Stearns

Thursday, January 2: Retreat continues. Mass at the Primacy of Peter, the place where Our Lord bestowed upon Peter the role of leadership in the Church.

Friday, January 3: Retreat continues. Mass overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Saturday, January 4: Retreat concludes. Visit Capernaum. Mass in St. Peter Church.

"Just finished Mass over St. Peter's mother in law's house outside of the synagogue where Jesus taught the Bread of Life Discourse. Amazing to read at Mass and then to walk in the same temple as Christ taught (Jn. 6:53-59)." ~Deacon Stearns

Sunday, January 5: Boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Visits to Mt. Tabor (site of the Transfiguration), Nazareth, and Cana. Mass in St. Joseph Church.

Monday, January 6: Drive to Jerusalem with visits to Jericho, the Dead Sea, the Jordan Rivery Valley, and Bethany. Mass in the Church of St. Lazarus.

"Just renewed my baptismal promises while standing in the River Jordan! Feeling awesome." ~ Deacon Saiki

"We are leaving the Mt. of the Beatitudes this morning on our way to Jerusalem.  We visited Nazareth yesterday and celebrated Mass in the Chapel of St. Joseph.  We prayed the Angelus before the grotto of the home of Our Blessed Mother as we recalled the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will be the mother of the Savior. This pilgrimage has been a spiritual experience for all of us.  We have walked where Jesus walked.  We will soon pray at the holy sites in the city of Jerusalem itself." ~Msgr. Gregory Mikesch

Tuesday, January 7: Visits to Bethlehem and Ein Karem. Mass in a Grotto of Shepherds Fields. Veneration of the Holy Grotto of the Nativity and devotionals within the Church of the Visitation and the Church of St. John the Baptist.

Wednesday, January 8: Visits to the Garden of Gethsemane, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Summit of Mt. Olives. Walk the Palm Sunday Road and celebrate Mass in Dominus Flevit Church. Follow the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and complete devotionals at the sacred Tomb of Jesus.

Thursday, January 9: Visits to the Western/Wailing Wall and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. Mass at the Tomb of Jesus.

This morning at 6:00 a.m., we celebrated Mass in the chapel marking the tomb of Jesus.  It was a spiritual and emotional experience to celebrate the Eucharist in the place where Jesus conquered sin and death.  In our Eucharist, we share the divine life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  Our baptism into Christ and the Eucharist we celebrate are the pledge that we will share the victory of Jesus' Resurrection. ~Msgr. Mikesch

Friday, January 10: Visits to Mt. Zion, the Upper Room, and the Dormition Abbey Church. Mass in the Franciscans' Cenacle Chapel. Depart Jerusalem for the U.S.

"Headed back home! What an amazing blessing to see the holy sites and our Lord's homeland. For those who sent me prayer requests, I prayed for them everyday and finally placed them at the sight where Jesus was laid in the tomb and resurrected! I hope He answers them. Thanks to all who prayed for us during the trip. This was a gift that I'll never forget. God is so good!" ~Deacon Benjamin Boyd

Saturday, January 11: Arrival in the U.S. after an overnight flight.

Pilgrimage Participants

Deacon Chris Aubuchon –Jefferson City

Deacon Colin Blatchford –Knoxville

Deacon Benjamin Boyd –Omaha

Deacon Michael Buckley –Colorado Springs

Deacon Andrew Burkemper –St. Louis

Deacon Yoelvis Gonzalez –Memphis

Deacon Paul Hamilton –St. Louis

Deacon David Hogan –St. Louis

Deacon Robert Kane –Knoxville

Deacon Adam Maus –Bismarck

Deacon Anthony Saiki –Kansas City, KS

Deacon John Stearns –Colorado Springs

Deacon Conor Sullivan –St. Louis

Deacon Thomas Vordtriede –St. Louis

Deacon Ryan Weber –St. Louis

Deacon Jaime Zarse –Kansas City, KS

*Msgr. Gregory Mikesch – faculty moderator