By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
It’s hard to believe that so much as happened since Christmas. The president of the United States has been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and acquitted by the U.S. Senate.
Reaction to all of this has further fueled the divisiveness that has become infectious in our country. The rhetoric on both sides of the aisle is reprehensible. Those who lead us from the White House to our local town legislators should lead by example, no matter what their political affiliation. Speaking disrespectfully and acting vindictively under no circumstances is ever acceptable behavior from those we’ve elected to lead us or from anyone in the position of authority and/or leadership.
Despite that very troubling landscape, I was privileged in early January to shepherd a group of 122 people to Israel and lead them through the holy places where Jesus lived, died and rose. Our group was a cross section of all Christian denominations, predominantly Roman Catholic, a Muslim and a number of people from the Jewish faith. All of the participants represented a wide range of professions and religious practices.
We left JFK as a large group of strangers and returned home after 10 days of being together as a community of friends. The transformation that took place was beyond words. Every day we ate together, prayed together, laughed together and sang together. At the end of each day, most of us gathered to share what had touched us from the day’s journey. The sharings were remarkable.
The experience was further enriched by having the music group the HIMS (Hope Inspired Men Sing) and Her with us. All of our prayer gatherings and Masses were blessed with their music and voices. They also added music to our bus rides.
These eight young men, who live at Hope Academy on the grounds of Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai, are in various stages of recovery from the affliction of addiction. They came together in treatment and created this music group that shares the message of hope and change wherever they go. They are a powerful reminder that people do recover, get better and make a powerful difference in our community.
There were so many moving moments during those 10 days — being on the Sea of Galilee in a boat much like the one Jesus road in; celebrating Mass on the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus was born; floating in the Dead Sea; renewing our baptismal promises at the Jordan River; praying and celebrating Mass at Gethsemane in the Church of All Nations; walking the streets of Caesarea Philippi; and singing and praying in the Chapel of the Encounters in Magdala where Mary Magdalene was born.
On the final day, we got up at 4:30 a.m., went into the Old City of Jerusalem and walked the way of the cross – Via Dolorosa, singing, “Jesus, Remember Me” in between each station until we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for our Mass in the tomb where Jesus was buried.
There were many powerful moments during our time together. So many of the pilgrims highlighted the different experiences that touched them. Probably one of the most poignant and powerful moments was the concert given by the HIMS and Her outside the Old City of Jerusalem. A few hundred people gathered to hear this dynamic band singing about hope, change and transformation. Their final song, which is a song filled with hope, was entitled “Go Light Your World.” As they sang their hearts and souls out about being a light in the darkness, people took out their phones and lit up the darkened chapel where the concert was held.
When we returned to JFK at the end of our pilgrimage, there was much hugging and tears. We had just spent 10 days in the most dangerous part of the world, never fearing for our safety, never sensing hostility or disrespect. These 122 strangers went beyond all of their differences and we were once again reminded that when love and respect are present, miracles happen; strangers become friends and hope lives!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.