By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Touchdown in the Land Called Holy

 We're here! And we hit the ground running. This is a resilient group, I must say: four-hour flight to Toronto; mass in the airport chapel (pictured at left); 10.5- hour flight to Tel Aviv; immediately onto the buses; off to Caesarea, then on to the Sea of Galilee where we celebrated Mass at the site known as the Primacy of Peter (pictured below), before - finally!! - checking in to the hotel. Something tells me all will sleep well through the night.

To me it is impossible to grow tired of this extraordinary place. I think this is my fifth visit, yet it does not fail to thrill. It is beautiful to see awareness dawn and excitement awaken, even in the midst of deep fatigue, among the pilgrims, especially those who are here for the first time. After all, we are now where Jesus once walked. Here in the territory sanctified by his very presence, he was born and grew up, preached and healed, gave up his life on the Cross and then rose again that we might live. God's plan for all of humanity for all time is to save us, i.e., to liberate us from all that separates us from him that we might live in blessed communion with him forever. The way was prepared through all that happened in the history of our forbears in the faith, the chosen people of Israel. The plan came to fulfillment in Christ, and continues to unfold in the hearts of believers through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, first bestowed in the Upper Room at Jerusalem.

Recalling the presence and action of God throughout history places all that we see in proper perspective. A lot of history has happened here, but the traces of that history are often ancient ruins. Things built with the intention of lasting a very long time did not. That's what we encountered at Caesarea, where only a few traces remain, much under the ocean, of a once magnificent maritime city built by King Herod the Great. This particular visit gave us the opportunity to recall the words of Jesus: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Matthew 24:35) That which is truly lasting is the Word of God, which became flesh - here - so that God's eternal salvific intention might be accomplished. These words of the Lord teach us the true meaning of history. It is not a succession of events without ultimate purpose. It is, precisely, salvation history - God present and active in the times, spaces and places that he has fashioned in order to draw humanity to himself.

The Church of the Primacy was a beautiful place to celebrate our first mass on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This site recalls the encounter between Christ and Peter following the resurrection. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Beautiful words to hear on the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus is, indeed, King; his dominion is the human heart, where he wills to rule by love and vanquish all that keeps us apart from him. We prayed during the mass that this love will fill our hearts anew during this pilgrimage, and enable us to give an ever deeper response of love in return.

We're launched! Great blessings await.

Audio Recordings

One of our pilgrims has kindly offered to make audio recordings of my homilies during the pilgrimage. I invite you to listen to these recordings as a way of journeying with us.

Homily during Mass at Toronto International Airport

Homily during Mass Mass at Primacy of St. Peter