Oct 27, 2012

Diocesan pilgrims visit Nazareth, Cana as Holy Land pilgrimage begins




By Terence Hegarty

NAZARETH, Israel – After visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation here, reportedly where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle, some of the 27 pilgrims from the Diocese of Springfield said they were moved to tears by their experiences Oct. 26.

“It’s a dream come true,” Jane Robitaille told iobserve. Jane and her husband Carl, parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Springfield, renewed their wedding vows Oct. 26 in a chapel in the town made famous by Jesus’ changing water into wine as he attended a wedding there.

It was the fulfillment of a dream postponed, Jane said. The Robitaille’s were scheduled to renew their vows three years ago in Scotland on their 25th wedding anniversary. However, two months before the scheduled ceremony, Jane was diagnosed with cancer. She needed immediate medical attention to remedy the very aggressive form of bone cancer that was found in her left arm. The couple was disappointed, but they knew that addressing the life-threatening cancer was the priority.

“That would have been a very special time in our lives,” Jane recalled, fighting off tears. “Obviously, living was more important.” Today, Jane has been cancer free for three years. “So, coming here today more than makes up for it. To renew our vows in Cana of all places was just incredible,” she said. Five other couples from the diocesan pilgrimage joined the Robitaille’s as Father Gary M. Dailey presided over the ceremony.

“Actually walking and being in the places that Scripture references is one of the beauties of being on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, as opposed to pilgrimages to other holy sites,” said Father Dailey, who is the director of the Newman Catholic Center in Amherst and is director of vocations for the diocese. “Scripture comes alive, it becomes three dimensional for pilgrims.”

Prior to the stop in Cana, the pilgrims celebrated their first Mass together in the upper church of the Basilica of the Annunciation, joining with pilgrims from other areas. Father Dailey, spiritual director for the pilgrimage, concelebrated the Mass with other American priests. Deacon Joseph Garde, who serves at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Springfield, served as the deacon of the word for the liturgy.

Beginning a whirlwind day of travel, the pilgrims boarded a bus at Mont Marie in Holyoke the morning of Oct. 24. A little more than 10 hours after their flight left JFK International Airport in New York, the pilgrims landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv the afternoon (Israeli time) of Oct. 25. Israel is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard (daylight) time. Next week, following the Nov. 4 change in the U.S., ending daylight savings time, there will be a seven hour difference.

On the first day on the tour bus, the pilgrims had to contend with a rarity in the area, a pouring rain. According to Raed Makhouli, tour guide for the group, this was the first significant rain in the northern area of Israel since last March. But the precipitation didn’t dampen the spirits of the travelers. “It is a blessing,” Makhouli said, “we need the rain.”

Also on Oct. 26, pilgrims visited Caesarea Maritime, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea where St. Paul was imprisoned for two years before being beheaded. They then traveled on to Acre, an ancient crusader city and UNESCO World Heritage site. The nine-day pilgrimage is being sponsored by the diocesan Catholic Communications Corporation and is being offered through Collette Vacations. The pilgrims are scheduled to return to western Massachusetts late in the day Nov. 1.

Continuing coverage from Israel will be provided here at iobserve.org as the tour proceeds on to such sites as Mount Tabor, the site of Jesus’ transfiguration, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.

Tune into the diocesan television program “Real to Reel” during the month of November for a special video series on the pilgrimage. “Real to Reel” airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-TV22.