Regnum Christi

A Glimpse into the Holy Land

Fr Eamon Kelly, LC, has served for over 11 years in the Holy Land. The Holy See entrusted responsibility for the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center to the Legionaries of Christ in late 2004. Subsequently, the Legionaries began the Magdala center where Fr Eamon now primarily serves, while helping to bring the Holy Land to our homes.

Interviewer: Fr Eamon, what is your mission in the Holy Land right now?

Fr Eamon: Ever since I first got here, when Legionaries asked me that question, I always said, “My mission is smiling.” When somebody arrives in a foreign country, normally they are a tad apprehensive. When somebody comes to the Holy Land, it’s three times apprehensive. First, they’re apprehensive because it’s just another foreign place. Secondly, a lot of stuff happens over here! Even fireworks can trigger concern. They want to find a bomb shelter. So, you need to say, “Calm down there, relax, it’s just a birthday, graduation or wedding fireworks.” And then there’s a deeper apprehension, because the person could enter [a] close encounter with God, who apparently often showed up around here. That could be pretty serious. Smiling also cuts the distance to the confessional in half.

Hospitality is welcoming and receiving. We want people to connect humanly and [to] realize people here love and welcome them. They can relax, be at home, and they can be at home in Jesus’ home. Just imagine the day Andrew and John noticed Jesus, and they walked behind him. He asks, “What do you want?” They say, “Where you live?” Then they spent the whole afternoon with Jesus. Pilgrims are coming to look for Jesus, walk and stay with him. How should we receive them?

Now I serve in Magdala where we welcome pilgrims, just like I did in Jerusalem.

What’s the situation in Magdala? I think most people have heard about the first-century synagogue found there, but what else has been happening since then?

We did more excavations. In the last few years, we’ve slowed down new excavations because, when you excavate, the work isn’t finished. You have to do conservation, because these treasures were protected underground by the damp soil and a constant temperature. Once you uncover ancient treasures, you’re responsible; our synagogue’s frescoes and mosaics need protection from the elements.

Restoration helps antiquities become more self-evident: how they were used and appeared. Academic work is also essential. Both excavation teams are studying the site:  the Anahuac University and the Israeli Antiquities Authority. A site is not considered excavated until it’s published. A publication provides an objective reference point for expert discussion.

We are also adding new access as the numbers grow: in 2016, 76,000 visitors more than doubled [the number for] 2015, which was our first full year. In 2017, we welcomed 134,000. Already this year, January doubled and February grew by 50%. Rumors say 920 groups of Chinese visitors are supposed to come to the Holy Land this March – so Holy Land traffic will increase.

Magdala is dubbed Crossroads of Jewish and Christian History. Lots of ecumenical and interfaith work here. God is using Magdala like an anti-inflammatory at the joints between Christian communities and between the Jewish and Christ World.

As a St Mary Magdalene location, women are particularly front and center, as evidenced by our recent fourth annual International Conference, “Women of Excellence, Hope for Humanity.” Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other women experience wonderful blessings.

Our visitors have written reviews on TripAdvisor. Now even atheists come because it’s listed as one of the top things to do in Galilee [currently ranked the #1]. Trip Advisor just started us on the Israel level, too.

Guesthouse construction is progressing – could be further along but we depend completely on donations from the first brick to the last can of paint from visitors and their friends back home.

Do we have an approximate completion date on other facilities like the guest house?

Because everything here depends on donations, a precise date eludes us. In order to open the northern wing, we need three million dollars. Then we have the southern wing, the restaurant, and the full-fledged visitors center. Many opportunities to help. Maybe your readers would be interested in helping out themselves or will know somebody, an Evangelical, Protestant, or Jewish neighbor. It would a great opportunity to leave a legacy at this crossroads of Jewish and Christian history.

You’ve also been doing some videos on Facebook where you reflect on the Gospels with the scene from the Holy Land in the background. How did that get started?

Five years ago, people told me it’s important to offer a platform where people can see the Holy Land from outside – to spread the word in a way that people begin to take interest. I haven’t developed it in a focused way because it’s not the main [use] of my time.

Bethlehem on Christmas Day

When something calls my attention or is in sync with the time of the year – let’s say Bethlehem at Christmas – I take that little inspiration into a video. People loved one Easter Sunday sunrise video in Jerusalem.

People are telling me these Facebook videos helped them decide to come to the Holy Land. They say they sense peace, beauty, and goodness. They want to come on pilgrimage.

What do you hope that people would get out of your videos, besides the ones who go to the Holy Land?

That people come to the Holy Land – something they tell me they did because of the videos – is just a bonus. The main purpose is to communicate the joy and the reality of our faith. As children, we hardly ever saw a picture of Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee. People appreciate a live Holy Land connection: “I’m able to see the sunrise, the waves, I’m able to hear the water lapping, the birds in the morning chirping, to see the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum.” The incarnation isn’t an idea nor philosophy. It’s not just something cultural. It’s a personal encounter with Christ: God became man, and the coordinates are in time and history. Christ is not a theory. A connection to this material location, time, and geography helps people open mind and heart to pray.

From Notre Dame on a Snowy day

What other ways people can help experience the Holy Land from home?

There’s a show here on i24News called “Holy Land Uncovered” that does a short 6 or 7 minute segment on the religion and history of the Holy Land. I’ve appeared on it several times as a guest, usually with a Jewish scholar or a Rabbi. Once I spoke about taking part in a Yom Kippur ceremony. I’ve been on for different topics from Romance to Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

Any concluding words?

Pray for us! Come on pilgrimage! Connect at www.magdala.org. Spread the word! We are praying for you here!

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Alex Kucera

Atlanta

Alex Kucera has lived in Atlanta, GA, for the last 46 years. He is one of 9 children, married to his wife Karmen, and has 3 girls, one grandson, and a granddaughter on the way. Alex joined Regnum Christi in 2007. Out of the gate, he joined the Helping Hands Medical Missions apostolate and is still participating today with the Ghana Friendship Mission.

In 2009, Alex was asked to be the Atlanta RC Renewal Coordinator for the Atlanta Locality to help the RC members with the RC renewal process. Alex became a Group Leader in 2012 for four of the Atlanta Men’s Section Teams and continues today. Running in parallel, in 2013, Alex became a Team Leader and shepherded a large team of good men.

Alex was honored to be the Atlanta Mission Coordinator between 2010 to 2022 (12 years), coordinating 5-8 Holy Week Mission teams across Georgia. He also created and coordinated missions at a parish in Athens, GA, for 9 years. Alex continues to coordinate Holy Week Missions, Advent Missions, and Monthly missions at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Cumming, GA.

From 2016 to 2022, Alex also served as the Men’s Section Assistant in Atlanta. He loved working with the Men’s Section Director, the Legionaries, Consecrated, and Women’s Section leadership teams.

Alex is exceptionally grateful to the Legionaries, Consecrated, and many RC members who he’s journeyed shoulder to shoulder, growing his relationship with Christ and others along the way. He knows that there is only one way, that’s Christ’s Way, with others!