What is a pilgrimage? Most people define a pilgrimage as a spiritual journey to a sacred place or shrine as an act of devotion to God, though in modern days, some people may take a pilgrimage to visit a celebrity hero. For Catholics, however, a pilgrimage takes the traveler to a holy site or Christian historical sites to encounter and to pray to God. As Pope Benedict once spoke about a Catholic pilgrimage, “To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”
An internet search turns up lists of numerous agencies conducting Catholic pilgrimages, but ardent travelers should consider these two groups: T’s Italy and the Institute of Catholic Culture. The first group is owned and operated by Teresa Tomeo, a name that many surely recognize. She runs a weekday morning radio program called Catholic Connection, produced by Michigan’s Ave Maria Radio and on the internet through EWTN Radio, with over 400 AM and FM stations across the country as well as on Sirius Satellite, the internet, and shortwave radio, Teresa Tomeo explained.
Besides her followers on her radio programs, Teresa Tomeo is also well-known as a pilgrimage leader through numerous areas of Italy and has taken 60 trips. An Italian herself, traveling there with numerous tourists—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—is much like coming home to her Catholic country, especially the Eternal City where she has witnessed the canonization of several saints. She launched this business in 2019 after the owner of Corporate Travel Service in southeastern Michigan, with whom she regularly partners on group pilgrimages, encouraged her to offer her advice as a travel coach and consultant.
As she explained, a priest accompanies each pilgrimage group and holds daily Mass. “We travel all over,” she said, “but specially to the main sites, and that includes Rome and the Holy See and the Vatican. My husband and I formed a tour called la dolce fede, or ‘the sweetness of faith’, off the beaten track, and then back to the real heart of Italy, such as to the town of Todi in central Umbria near Assisi, and to Narni…we do wine tastings, dinners.”
“The smaller communities are so faithful,” she said, “and my family was from the regions of Calabria, Campania, and Basilicata in the southern part of the country. What really strikes me is their faith and their effort to keep the churches beautiful, such as in Marciano, where there is the church of St. John the Baptist. God is so evident with the beauty of the churches, mountains, villages, and countryside. That always takes my breath away.”
As she noted, she loves with she does because of her passion for her faith, which is so important in this day and age with so many attacks on marriage and on the church. “But in Italy,” she concluded, “with so many places devoted to our faith, in every age, God has given us a saint we are all called to make a difference.” Her next trip is in October, so check out the schedule on her website.
Institute of Catholic Culture
Eager to walk in Christ’s footsteps, see where he preached, and ride out on the Sea of Galilee? Although several tour groups lead clients through the Holy Land, probably the best experience a Catholic or anyone of faith could have is to register with the Institute of Catholic Culture. For those unfamiliar with the Institute, its main focus is this: “The Institute of Catholic Culture is an adult catechetical organization, faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, and dedicated to the Church’s call for a new evangelization.” Its founder and leader is Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo, a Melkite Greek Catholic priest who is spreading the truth of Catholicism through the website’s numerous webinars and available lectures posted online.
Its pilgrimages, five in all so far, have been led by two priests—Fr. Hezekias Carnazzo and his brother, Fr. Sebastian Carnazzo, both of the Melkite Greek Catholic tradition—and it take its followers throughout many areas of the Holy Land. At each location where the group stops, participants chant the gospel pertaining to that location. Often one priest reads a section from the Old Testament linked to the stop and the other priest then reads from the New Testament, linking the readings and the gospels to Christ’s life.
Peter Tapsak, Program Director for the Institute, recently returned from the ICC’s recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an experience that totally overwhelmed him. As he noted, “In the past, Father worked with travel companies in the United States, but this time because Father had plenty of experience in the Holy Land, we worked directly with an agent in Israel, and it was a great experience. We chose a Christian travel agency, a family business in Bethlehem.
“We did not want it to be merely a sightseeing tour,” he said. “He set up for us a bus, hotels and worked with our guide from Jerusalem. We tried to visit the sites in the order of Christ’s life. Many other groups don’t follow that necessarily, and may rush through 5 to 6 places a day. We slowed it down to do it in order, to really follow in Christ’s footsteps. We started with Old Testament sites connected to the prophecies of the coming Messiah, then went to Ein Karem to John the Baptist’s birthplace, and then the significant places in Christ’s life: Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Jordan River, etc. We spent a few days in Galilee (an incredibly peaceful place) then traveled back to Jerusalem, stopping a Mount Tabor along the way, and ultimately to journey through the events of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and Assumption of Our Lady at the end of her earthly life. Perhaps one of my favorite memories was when we were on the Sea of Galilee—it was a powerful experience—we asked the boat operator to turn off the motor so we were in silence. At that moment, it was like we had gone back in time and were on the Sea with the apostles themselves.”
Note: The Schierer Fathers, Fr. William Schierer and Fr. Nicholas Schierer, are leading a pilgrimage in January. As Fr. William Schierer noted, “This will be my first pilgrimage and I am going because I want more people to fall in love with Jesus.”
In-text image credits: Institute of Catholic Culture