I had just arrived back in the Holy Land to help lead another pilgrimage with my friend, Catholic apologist and author, Steve Ray. With us on this most recent trip was Janet Morana from the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and Priests for Life. I was especially excited about helping to escort Janet through Israel because this was her first time visiting the land of Jesus. We decided to arrive a few days ahead of our 81 pilgrims so we would be refreshed and ready to share when they arrived.
I chose the quiet port city of Jaffa for our respite. Jaffa is one of the oldest port cities of the world and has great Biblical significance. It is considered to be the port from which Jonah set sail for his encounter with the whale. It is also the city mentioned in Acts 9 and 10, and is the city where St. Peter raised the disciple Tabitha from the dead in an upper room. Jaffa (Joppa, as it is referred to in Scripture) is also the location of the home of Simon the Tanner where St. Peter had the vision which enabled him to understand the Lord’s desire for Gentiles to be included in the kingdom of God.
It’s a stunning little town that is perched perfectly on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. Today it’s cobble stoned streets are lined with lovely galleries and quaint shops. Because of its close proximity to Tel Aviv and the airport, it is often a quick stop for tour buses on their way up to or back from Galilee as the setting provides the perfect backdrop for photo opportunities.
On our first night in Israel we decided to grab a quick bite at one of the little cafes that provided an incredible view of the ocean. As we munched on roasted eggplant and pita bread and struggled to deal with the time change and the jet lag, we stared out over the water and marveled not only at the beauty but at the thought of what it must have been like for St. Peter and the other apostles and witnesses during the time of the early Church.
Granted a 10-hour flight in coach is far from a picnic. We were exhausted and our bodies ached from the experience but we had all the modern conveniences.
In this coastal town we were literally across the street from old Jaffa. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for Peter, a fisherman from the north, to travel south to Jaffa, which by today’s standards is about a two-hour drive. Janet and I wondered how many Christians actually stop and think about not only the responsibility of teaching and preaching in the first years after Christ but also about the physical and spiritual hardships. While the Bible tells us that many people helped Peter and Paul along their journeys can we even begin to understand what it must have been like for them?
These questions led to some powerful reflections on our parts that we shared with the pilgrims along our Holy Land journey. It also caused me at times to realize how I often take so much for granted. Traveling over seas is not for the faint of heart, even in the 21st century. It is nothing, however, compared to the conditions that existed 2,000 years ago. How often during my travels across the country and overseas do I get grumpy and complain about the uncomfortable plane rides, long security lines, weak cell phone and Internet connections, and countless other “issues”? This latest pilgrimage served as a humbling reminder that despite all my modern creature comforts and my continued attempts at evangelization there are still too many times that I don’t have a very good attitude about spreading the Good News. So as bumpy as the ride might be, the journey to holiness continues.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.