Kittson County residents were part of a group from the Catholic Diocese of Crookston who made a pilgrimage to Israel for a life-changing experience. Making the trip were (back l-r) Hugh Hunt, Keith Urbaniak, Dylan Kent, Mike Wavra, Cindy Wavra, Father Vasek, VeAnn Green, Mary Dziengel, Chuck Dziengel, Steve Paveck, Linda Paveck, Ron Vasek, Bruce Steen, Michelle Steen, (middle) Joan Osowski, Pam Hunt, Cindy Urbaniak, Elizabeth Rzepka, Carol Olsonawski, Jerry Olsonawski, (front) Terry Osowski, Terry Kent, Danika Kent, Hayleigh Kuznia, Bill Miller, Amy Miller, Earl Karboviak, Patty Vasek, Dawn Holm and Gary Holm. (Photo Submitted)
By Linda Andersen
They refer to themselves as “pilgrims,” not travelers or tourists, or vacationers. As a booklet by their tour guides, Steve and Janet Ray, explains, “Tourists travel to site see and relax; pilgrims travel to learn and pray and draw nearer to God.”
This past winter, a group of 25 pilgrims from the Hallock area joined other pilgrims from the Diocese of Crookston and various parts of the United States to make a pilgrimage to Israel. They left Jan. 31 and returned Feb. 8. Their flight out of Grand Forks took them to Minneapolis, Atlanta, New York, and finally Tel Aviv, a trip of 26 hours.
Seven of the participants (Chuck and Mary Dziengel, Dawn Holm, Pam Hunt, Jerry and Carol Olsonawski, and Father Craig Vasek) agreed to share with “Enterprise” readers about their trip.
Jerry Olsonawski, who explained that he is a farmer, said he had thought, before the trip, that Israel was “all rocks, hills, and sand.” He was impressed, however, by beautiful crop land, particularly in the Jezreel Valley, a valley that goes all the way to Southern Africa.
Carol Olsonawski described staying the first three nights in a hotel on the Sea of Galilee where they observed fishermen in boats with nets on the peaceful, calm sea. Except for the motors on the boats, it was easy to imagine life in the time of Jesus.
The group discussed the buildings in Israel, saying that they are all the same color because they are required to be made of limestone. They said that about one-half of the homes are not finished because a first generation of a family builds the first story of the house and subsequent generations add stories. Home owners are not required to pay taxes until the house is completed.
Pam Hunt said they experienced the places talked about at Easter “coming to life.” She was particularly struck by Mary’s sacrifice, mentioning that they had seen the house where Mary lived and a mural which depicted Mary preparing Jesus’ body for burial.
Mary Dziengel spoke of the significance for her of attending a High Mass at 6 a.m. one morning over the tomb of Jesus. Father Vasek had the great privilege of officiating at the mass – something that only an extremely small percent of priests get the honor of doing.
Dawn Holm was impressed when a Christian tour guide welcomed them with these words: “Welcome home, this is where your faith began.” The pilgrimage also made her more aware of the “plight” of the Christians in the Middle East. She explained that the population of Israel is 80 percent Jewish, 18.5 percent Muslim, and 1.4 percent Christian. Most of the Christians are Catholic or Greek Orthodox. Since Christians are in the minority, they have trouble getting jobs and tend to be excluded from politics. She also stated that Christians are being “slaughtered in Syria.”
The group expressed surprise that Bethlehem is now surrounded by a wall which was built about 10 years ago to offer protection from terror attacks by Muslims. Christians in the city have very little freedom to leave.
Carol spoke of walking the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus walked through Jerusalem on the way to the crucifixion. “This was what it would have been like when Christ walked it,” she said, adding that garbage and rodents were evident and bad smells filled the air.
Jerry spoke of three perfectly heart shaped rocks that are visible when water recedes at the Sea of Galilee. This spot is the place where Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17).
Pam expressed surprise in having learned that Jesus was actually born in a cave.
Father Vasek spoke of being struck by the fact that “We were where he (Jesus) was.”
Mary spoke of her and Chuck renewing their wedding vows at the church where the “Wedding of Cana” (John 2:1-11) once took place.
Chuck, who is Polish, was pleased to meet a group from Poland who recited the Lord’s Prayer in Polish and sang in Polish. He found out that his last name is pronounced “Jingle” in Poland.
Dawn commented that the “sites most sacred to our Christian faith are not in Christian hands. They are controlled by Muslims or the state.”
How do people today know that certain sites are the ones spoken about in the Bible? “We know these are the places,” an Israeli guide told the pilgrims, adding that the information has been passed down through the generations.
According to Father Vasek, people can’t fully grasp the significance of biblical places until they see them. He’s happy that some of the people in his congregation will now fully understand what he’s talking about when he mentions certain places. “I know that the gospel is more real to the parishioners after they went,” he stated.
The pilgrims from Hallock passionately shared more stories of their experiences in Israel, stories of singing Christmas carols in caves, hearing the caw of a crow while at the church of St. Peter where Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, and more. Visit with the pilgrims when you see them – you may even be inspired to make your own pilgrimage!