Pilgrimage to Holy Land brings Bible to life

by Jessica Wald | Reprinted with permission from the Napoleon Homestead

David Becker holding a cross, which was used for the walking of the stations of the cross (Via Dolrosa), while Father Neil Pfeifer recites the stations. (submitted photo)

“It was the experience, to understand the layout and see the places and things Jesus did. Instead of a story, it made the Bible come alive,” said Andy Gross of Napoleon, who was one of 40 who took a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Father Neil Pfeifer, pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Napoleon, and Father Brian Moen, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Minto, helped lead the pilgrimage to Israel April 9-20, with parishioners from both communities, along with a few others from around the state and Minnesota.

Father Pfeifer said this pilgrimage was his fifth time to the Holy Land. “It’s always good. Every trip I learn more. The first trip is, ‘Wow!’ The second you pay more attention to details. The third [and so on], you notice more details and something else jumps out at you.”

He said he enjoys visiting the Holy Land because it’s special to be in the footsteps of the Lord. “You can pick any spot and the Bible comes to life. It’s amazing to see what hits you and how.” Pfeifer said along the journey, people begin to pay attention to their senses and associate different smells, noises, etc. to certain passages in the Bible that they will carry with them forever.

Napoleon native Rachel Weigel said she felt a calling to go on another pilgrimage, as she was also able to go to Rome in high school. “They were both really important to me in my faith and I was so inspired to go after hearing Father Pfeifer talk about the Holy Land,” she said.

Being the youngest, at 21, to be a part of the pilgrimage, Rachel said age isn’t a factor and there were people who attended in their 80s. “It doesn’t matter where you are in your faith. It’s an eye opening experience that confirms what you believe in. You get to see the roots of your faith.”

Besides being an excellent trip with good guides, Weigel said the pilgrimage was extra special, as she was able to attend with her mom, Cindy, and her aunt, Connie Weigel.

She said one of her highlights was the geography of Israel. “A lot of the holy sites are on top of mountains and seeing the land from that point of view,” was surreal. She also added being part of the sunrises at the Sea of Galilee was a “peaceful and calming experience.” Another site she will cherish is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he rose. “I felt the presence of Jesus and it was easy to reflect; just feeling the reality of it,” she said.

Gross said he had so many highlights during the 10-day pilgrimage, but one, which stood out to him was Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. “It was different in my mind than it actually was; the proximity of the tomb and the crucifix were closer than I thought,” he said.

While in the deserts of Israel, the pilgrims dealt with 98 degree weather and Gross said he was surprised at the great amount of lush vegetation. He said it was neat to try the vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Gross added he would suggest the pilgrimage to anyone. “It is something everyone should put on their bucket list. It makes the Bible come alive; you see, smell and experience the story of Jesus. The whole experience draws you closer to God.”

Father Pfeifer said he would like to continue the pilgrimage to the Holy Land as long as there continues to be interest. Another trip is in the making for the fall of 2019 or the beginning of 2020. If anyone is interested in making the journey, call St. Philip Neri Church at (701) 754-2860.

“The trip gave me a vision to Bible stories,” said Weigel. “We all have a picture in our heads, but when you actually go in the footsteps of Jesus, you get a new perspective. Whenever I hear a reading, I now have an accurate vision/scenery of what’s going on; it brought the Bible to life.”