Spiritual Exercises in the Holy Land 

Next spring, Catholics can take advantage of two unique new Holy Land pilgrimages organized by RC member Cris Tallent, who has directed pilgrimages for Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center for years.

The first pilgrimage, March 16–28, 2019, is for women only and focuses on feminine spirituality. Entitled “In the Footsteps of Jesus,” it will be led by Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC,  and Fr. Stephen Ellis, LC, assisted by Fr. David Steffy, LC, and author Melissa Obermeyer.

The second pilgrimage, “Come, Remain, Go Out, ” is open to both men and women. Running  March 30-April 11, 2019, this tour combines pilgrimage with a preached 8-day Spiritual Exercises. This unique combination provides both the deep spirituality of the Exercises and the experience of being in the Holy Land. This is an opportunity for Regnum Christi members to “go deep.”

Both of these pilgrimages feature stays at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem pilgrimage center and visits to Magdala, rated the top “Thing to Do in Galilee” by Trip Advisor. Both sites are run by Legionary priests and Regnum Christi members.

Participants in either pilgrimage can take advantage of the optional extension, “In the Footsteps of the Early Christians,” a side trip that will take place during the days between the two pilgrimages, March 28–31, 2019. This option takes participants into Jordan to see Petra, which was built by the Nabateans. (King Herod, in Jesus’ day, divorced his first wife, a princess of the Nabateans, to marry Herodias). Participants in this trip will spend a night out in the desert in tents to get a real taste of desert life.

Pilgrimage organizer Cris Tallent points out that one of the unusual features of these Holy Land tours is that they start and end in Jerusalem rather than doing time there and in Galilee separately. “We do things in the order of the life of Christ,” Cris explained. They keep the groups small, around 25-30 pilgrims.

Cris describes how they live each place intensely: “When we go to Capernaum, we don’t just go but we have Mass at the site. When we go to the Mount of the Beatitudes, we don’t just go there but we hike down to a special cave where we have an ancient description of Christ preaching from there. We end up doing things different from other pilgrimages.”

With her long experience leading pilgrimages, Cris can help you with details such as how much money you’ll need for different activities,  whether you need sunscreen, and where to find secret spots at some churches.

We asked Cris about her experience in organizing and leading pilgrimages.

How did you get involved in directing pilgrimages? 

It started years ago.  My husband was career Air Force and we were stationed in Germany.  I got involved in the wives club, and they needed a tour coordinator, so I volunteered. Having majored in History, I love to travel. Most of the husbands worked long hours, so I figured this would be the best way to get all the wives to see the area while we were there.  Well … I guess you could say I was enthusiastic about the job – I organized more than 30 tours the first year.  Some were nearby for the wives with small children, others as far as Russia and Egypt.  Frankly, at that point in life, I wasn’t involved much in my faith, so they were really secular tourist events.

We had a second tour in Europe a few years later and by that time I had begun to discover the beauty of my Catholic faith, so this time I traveled with my husband and it was all about visiting all the pilgrimage sites I had missed before.

When did you get involved with Our Lady of Bethesda pilgrimages? 

After we moved to Washington, I was involved in Regnum Christi and starting serving at the retreat center.  When Fr. Donal O’Keefe, LC, moved here, he shared his experience of Holy Land pilgrimages from his past assignments and expressed his desire for Our Lady of Bethesda to do a pilgrimage. It seemed a “heaven sent” natural for me to tackle.

What makes these tours different than other Holy Land tours? 

I want to stress that what we do is a pilgrimage that is also a retreat.  We want people to walk in the steps of Jesus and have an experience that changes them forever.  What we do is completely Christ-centered – no Old Testament or Israel tourism.

We have a personal one-inch binder for each participant to refer to and record their experiences.  My passion is giving the pilgrims the richest experience possible – not only in terms of places, but so they can write their own narrative. So, when they get home, they can remember and savor in their daily prayer the things they have seen and touched. If you look at the hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee, those really have not changed much since Jesus saw them, neither has the way that the sun reflects on them, or how they look at sunrise and at sunset.  Your “composition of place” will never be the same!

Have you ever had to deal with a serious illness, somebody lost, or any other crisis? 

[Once], when Fr. Donal O’Keefe got sick and had to be hospitalized for a couple days.  Fortunately, he recovered and, in his absence, other Legionaries picked up the baton. The pilgrimage didn’t miss a beat, and the pilgrims were super understanding!

Well … and there was a pilgrim who ignored my admonition not to drink the unprocessed pomegranate and orange juice and spent a day very ill and looking rather green. But she was soon back to normal.

What are the biggest challenges? 

For me, the challenge is making it special for each person. This is my RC apostolate [as] a laborer in the vineyard – a way of expressing my love for God, trying to be his instrument, building the Kingdom! That’s why I always write the trip plan sitting before the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t want to forget who is in charge. As my first LC spiritual director told me, “All apostolate is done with love out of love for Christ.” That’s my impetus.

What are the most rewarding aspects? 

That is simple: seeing lives transformed. People go home filled with passion for Jesus and our faith, many undertaking apostolates in their parishes.

To reserve your place in one of these unique pilgrimages, be sure to sign up by January 16 for the women’s March 16–28, 2019 pilgrimage with Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC and January 30 for the Spiritual Exercises Pilgrimage with Fr. Stephen Ellis.

To learn more about the Holy Land pilgrimages offered through Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center, check out this previous article.

Spiritual Exercises in the Holy Land  Read More »