February 13, 2015

Seminarians drawn closer to Christ in Holy Land pilgrimage

Seminarians from Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad pose outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem during a December 2014 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Father Robert Robeson, at left, rector of Bishop Bruté, helped lead the pilgrimage. (Submitted photo)

Seminarians from Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad pose outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem during a December 2014 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Father Robert Robeson, at left, rector of Bishop Bruté, helped lead the pilgrimage. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Seminarians experience years of priestly formation to prepare to live and serve as special sacramental signs of Christ for the faithful after they are ordained to the priesthood.

This formation usually occurs in seminaries or in parishes of the dioceses for which they will be ordained.

In December, 19 seminarians from Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and five from Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad experienced their formation in a special way when they all made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Some of the seminarians then continued their pilgrimage in Rome, where they assisted Pope Francis in the celebration of Christmas Eve night Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

The Holy Land trip, which took place on Dec. 12-21, drew the seminarians closer to Christ and each other. It also deepened their bond with Father Robert Robeson, rector of Bishop Bruté, who returned to the United States at the end of the Holy Land leg of the pilgrimage to be at the side of his dying mother.

Father Robeson did a lot of planning for the pilgrimage, which was in part funded by a generous donor of Bishop Bruté.

While Father Robeson hoped that it would help the seminarians in their priestly formation, his time in the Holy Land also enhanced his experience of his own priestly life and ministry.

“To see the world from the perspective of Jesus, to be present in the places where he taught, where he lived and was born, died and rose from the dead was just amazing,” Father Robeson said. “It was incredible. I can’t really express how deeply it impacted me.”

Observing the young men as they made their way to the various holy sites connected to the life of Christ, Father Robeson saw how it influenced them as well.

“It certainly reinforced the vocation to the priesthood of many of the guys who went,” he said. “It helped them better understand what the priesthood is because the priesthood is ultimately about trying to make Christ present to others.

“To know Christ better through this trip was so valuable to them and to me. It helped them to see how they might be able to better live for Christ, in a way that unites them to Christ in order to make Christ present to others.”

Seminarian Michael Dedek, a junior at Bishop Bruté, said the pilgrimage strengthened his faith. He also said he can foresee how it will help him in the future to draw the faithful that he will serve closer to Christ.

“When you’re there, you can almost feel the holiness,” said Dedek, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington. “Being over there gave me a much deeper and profound respect for the events that are the foundation of our Church.”

This aspect of the pilgrimage was especially important for transitional Deacon Adam Ahern, a graduate of Bishop Bruté who is in the final year of his priestly formation at Saint Meinrad. He appreciated spending time in the places where Christ laid down his life for the salvation of humanity, something that he will share in through his priestly ordination, which is scheduled to take place on June 6 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

“It becomes so much more real because you can look at the places where these events happened,” said Deacon Ahern, a member of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Morris. “You walked in the same dirt that he did. It means that much more.”

John Paul Hennessey, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in his second year of formation at Bishop Bruté, had a similar experience. Taking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land helped him grow in appreciation of the humanity of Christ.

“Seeing where he walked, where he preached, where he interacted with people reinforced his human aspect,” Hennessy said. “It really helps with formation to the priesthood because we’re human as well. All the actions of a priest are based off of what Christ did. And to see where he did those actions is just amazing.”

This growth in awareness of Christ’s humanity occurred in special ways for Hennessey when he visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where Christ was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where he was born.

“You see where he really experienced the world with his own eyes for the first time,” Hennessey said. “It makes it much more real. He experienced humanity just like we all do.”

Part of humanity that every person has to face is their own death, and the death of those they love.

This was highlighted for the pilgrims when the seminarians joined Father Robeson as he celebrated Mass in the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

“At that moment, I came to a deeper understanding of how, at each time that we celebrate Mass, it’s a participation in that event that took place 2,000 years ago,” Father Robeson said.

Within a few days, however, Father Robeson returned to the United States because he learned that his mother was close to death in the upstate New York town where she lived.

He arrived two days before she died, and was able to celebrate Mass in her hospital room with his mom and family.

“It was incredibly moving to come right from the Holy Land to my mother’s death bed and celebrate Mass for her,” Father Robeson said. “I think it was a miracle that she made it long enough for me to get back. I think she was waiting for me. I think it was the prayers of our guys, and so many other people praying for her that I was able to make it back in time to say goodbye to her.”

While Father Robeson spent time with his dying mother, some of the seminarians made their way to Rome and soon learned that they would serve at Christmas Eve night Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Father Robeson had helped put those plans into place, but didn’t tell the seminarians in advance. He didn’t want to get their hopes up in case there were last-minute changes that would have kept them from assisting at the Mass.

Days prior to that liturgy, Hennessey and the other seminarians had visited a church built over the place next to the Sea of Galilee where Christ had called St. Peter to be an Apostle.

“When we found out that we were going to be serving for the pope, all I could think about was that I would be serving for the man who was the successor of the man who was called by Jesus at a place that I had seen,” he said. “I can imagine a boat being out on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus calling to [Peter]. And there I was, going to be serving for the pope. He’s been called by Christ in a slightly different way to be his shepherd on Earth of the whole flock.” †

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