Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

On pilgrimage to the Holy Land

This week, I have been on retreat with a group of 29 priests from the archdiocese in the Holy Land.

Though we have been planning this retreat for over a year, it comes at an unusual time for me, because I had not been expecting to be out of the archdiocese for three weeks participating in the conclave. However, I think this has been a very important opportunity for me to be together with our priests and to share this experience with them.8633076508_1ea72162dc GM3_3108.JPG

Many of them are coming to the Holy Land for the first time and so it is an important moment to support them and encourage their spirituality and fraternity. We are so glad that so many could come.

Coming to the Holy Land is an extraordinary experience, which opens up the Scriptures in a very powerful way for people to understand what we read about in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. It provides an opportunity to actually visit the places where Jesus walked and experience the culture, geography and history of the people that inhabit this part of the world that is such an important place for Christians, Jews and Muslims. For us it is an extraordinary way to appreciate the Gospels and Jesus’s life and works.

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We began our pilgrimage arriving on Monday night at the Domus Galilaeae, a Catholic center of the Neocatechumenal Way on the Mount of Beatitudes. It overlooks Sea of Galilee and is very close to Capernaum, the ancient ruins of Korazim and the place where Jesus performed the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

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Just as the Gospel begins with a call to conversion, our retreat began Tuesday morning with a penance service with all of our priests as well as several lay people who were there, many of them from Boston, on another pilgrimage.8633168225_d2e33bce3b GM3_3376.JPG8633168689_ef7ff7fe8b GM3_3397.JPG8633168961_fe901c7261 GM3_3399.JPGGM_20130409_034100 8633458733_de97b31611 GM3_3467.JPGGM_20130409_024502

After the Penance Service, we had a “scrutatio” or “scrutiny of the Word of God”, which is a Lectio Divina, within Domus Galilaeae.

The Domus Galilaeae has become quite a point of contact with the Jewish faith, in great part because Kiko Arguello, one of the initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, has always emphasized the Jewish roots of Catholicism. Therefore, the Jewish people have found themselves at home there.

One example of this would be the room where the scrutatio takes place, which very much like a yeshiva, the Jewish monastic setting to study the Scriptures.8633461917_d08277d059 GM3_3511.JPG8633459939_7b80dea039 GM3_3491.JPG

Then, in the afternoon, we went to Nazareth where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation.GM_20130409_081025GM_20130409_081714

While the priests were visiting the Basilica, I walked over to the nearby Poor Clare monastery where Blessed Charles de Foucauld had lived for three years at the turn of the 20th Century. There is still one nun there who knew him personally.


This is the original Poor Clare monastery where he actually lived. Now the sisters live in a modern building and the Brothers live in the old building. There is also a school there because this was much too large for the present community.

This is a place that they keep a number of the relics of Blessed Charles. HL_20130409_145123_IMG_1573

This is a painting that he made himself of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. HL_20130409_145114_IMG_1572

This is a picture of the little hut that he used to live in.HL_20130409_145231_IMG_1574

Then, I went to the original monastery where the nuns were at the time.

This is the Chapel where he would pray for hours each day.HL_20130409_151553_IMG_1584

A photograph of Blessed Charles:HL_20130409_151338_IMG_1582

This is the little room in the monastery that he used as an office.HL_20130409_151328_IMG_1581

This is a painting that was done of him, indicating very early on that his great desire was to be a martyr.HL_20130409_151132_IMG_1580

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From Nazareth we went to Mount Carmel.HL_20130409_165721_IMG_1592HL_20130409_170857_IMG_1595

Here, under the high altar, it says “The prophet, leader and father, Elias the Great, lived in this cave for some time.”HL_20130409_165627_IMG_1591

Here is the altar above with the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and they have representations of different Carmelite spiritualties.


At Mount Carmel, we had a Mass together with the priests at the Stella Maris Monastery.GM_20130409_102155GM_20130409_102441GM_20130409_102859

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On Wednesday, at Caesarea Philippi, we visited the pagan temples where Christ asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter says, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus said response to him, “You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church”. So, this is certainly a very important place for Catholics, as well as the place where the Jordan River actually begins.HL_20130410_100604_IMG_1600


In a number of the photos, you will see Father Francesco, who is a Scripture scholar and a professor at the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Domus Galilaeae. He has given a number of conferences to the priests on the different aspects of the holy places that we have been visiting.



Visiting the springs that feed the Jordan


We were also blessed to be able to visit Capernaum. HL_20130410_114741_IMG_1603

Capernaum is where St. Peter lived and also the site of the synagogue were Jesus gave the sermon that appears in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel in which he says “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. GM_20130410_051502

HL_20130410_114855_IMG_1604GM_20130410_061052HL_20130410_115048_IMG_1606HL_20130410_125035_IMG_1610GM_20130410_055136In each place we gathered, we would read a passage from the Gospel related to that site. HL_20130410_125848_IMG_1611

Here, Father Jonathan is reading from the gospel passage relating to that synagogue.

There were many homes around the house of St. Peter, but this one I thought was very interesting because it gave the street address!HL_20130410_131002_IMG_1612HL_20130410_131002_IMG_1612

We also visited the church called the Mensa Christi, Latin for the “Table of Christ”. Here is where Jesus prepared breakfast for the apostles in the shores of the lake and he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and told him to “Feed my sheep”.


We ended the day with Mass back at the Church of the Beatitudes. The theme of the Mass was, of course, the Beatitudes but I related the Beatitudes to the Year of Faith in the faith life of the priest.


This is a picture of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, which is on the Mount of Beatitudes.HL_20130411_084226_IMG_1619

Below this statue of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which is the fulfillment of Blessed Charles de Foucauld’s wish that there be a chapel built on the Mount of Beatitudes where there would be perpetual adoration.

 GM_20130410_152730 I was happy to spend time with the Boston pilgrims

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Thursday, we had a tour of the library at Domus Galilaeae.

Here, Father Francesco is speaking about the Torah kept in the library, which was a gift from the Archbishop of Brussels. It is over 300 years old. HL_20130411_084453_IMG_1620

Also, on the walls of the library is an inscription of the Sermon on the Mount in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic.

I also couldn’t help but take notice of this — I think every library should have one of these signs. It says, “There is excommunication reserved for the Holy See for anyone who takes a book from this library without permission.” HL_20130411_085027_photo3

I have one of these my own personal library, it was a gift from my sister. My theory is that the first two hours of Judgment Day are going to be dedicated to having people return borrowed books!

The also introduced us to the community of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary that is hosted at the Domus.


And some of our priests crawled through a representation of the “narrow gate” of Scripture


Fr. Charles Madi Okin


Father Rino Rossi, the head of Domus Galilee took very good care of us

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From Domus Galilaeae, we went to Mt. Tabor, where we celebrated Mass with the priests at the Church of Transfiguration. The church there, in a way, embodies the humanity and divinity of Christ that is revealed in the Transfiguration. GM_20130411_040922GM_20130411_041326GM_20130411_041620

These are the words of Peter, “How good it is for us to be here.”HL_20130411_121029_IMG_1629

In the upper church there is a beautiful mosaic of Jesus appearing with Elijah and Moses.GM_20130411_035643

From Mount Tabor, we went to the place in the Jordan where Jesus was baptized and we had an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows there.HL_20130411_161750_photo1


On the way back from Mt. Tabor, we passed the desert and that is where the local Bedouin merchants sell camel rides.


At another stop they were selling these spiffy headdresses.


There, in the desert where Jesus fasted for forty days, we met the Boston pilgrims.GM_20130411_104406


On the way through Jericho, we took this picture of the Sycamore tree, which is what Zacchaeus would have climbed to see Jesus.


The next stage of our trip takes us to Jerusalem.

I look forward to sharing my reflections on the remainder of our pilgrimage next week. In the meantime, you can read reflections by some of the priests on the trip and see more photos at

– Cardinal Seán