Pilgrim Experiences

Author: Nancy Osberg-Otrembiak

My planned trip to Israel with Chris Cross was my first attempt to go to Israel. When I saw the notice in our church bulletin (St. Clement’s Roman Catholic Church, Saratoga Springs, NY), I knew right away I had to make this trip. The price was ridiculously affordable. Our trip was scheduled for Oct. 23 – Nov. 2, 2006. In August 2006, fighting broke out in the northern regions of Israel and Lebanon. I began to feel anxious and nervous that this trip might not happen. I have to admit that I had a few moments concern that they might make the trip even if there was fighting, but I put this behind me immediately realizing the liability that would cause and decided from that point on, I would trust whatever Chris Cross decided. Afterall, I thought, he has already been there 39 times (we were his 40th Pilgrimage). And then, I prayed. I prayed that I would let God make this decision for me and I would let go of the worry. I listened to the news on TV as the fighting continued through the month but by the end of August it seemed to be dying down. It was about this time that Chris phoned each of us slated for this 40th Pilgrmage and said the final decision to go or not to go would be made by Sept. 3. By that time, the fighting had ended. Ironically, Chris had predicted it woudl (clearly showing me that he has been there enough to know what to expect). From the time I put this decision in God’s hands, I never looked back. If Chris Cross said the trip was on, I was going. And I was taking my 82 year old Mother with me. She was actually much more nervous than I about it. But she, too, came to terms with her anxieties and said she was going no matter what. I thought about all the trips I had made in my life and realized, your life is in danger every time you get in a car, every time you fly in a plane, every time you ride a bus. Sometime God is going to take me. Only He knows when and how. And when he does, I will not be able to change His divine plans for me. So I might as well enjoy the opportunities before me and let God do what He does best. And so I went.

I don’t know where to begin to speak about my experiences on this trip — to talk about how much I learned, what wonderful things I saw, how spiritually emotional it was to touch, see, feel, smell all that Jesus touched, saw, felt and smelled. Each day was filled with so much wonderful stuff that it was hard to believe that the next day could be better–but it always was. As Chris said at the end of each day, the best is yet to come. We had a wonderful bus driver, an amazing intellectual, historically accurate and funny Franciscan guide, and Chris to guide us on all of our journies. Never did I feel fear, never did I feel anxiety. But every day I felt such love from each of these wonderful people, such caring that my experience be fulfilling, such concern for each individual on the trip. The knowledge of the scriptures, the events of Christ’s life, the historical sites we visited – was no less than amazing. No question was unanswered. And everything we saw was up close and personal. We walked up the steps to Caiphias’s house, the actual stones on which the feet of Jesus trod the night he was arrested. We walked through the Garden of Getsemane (something not all tourists get to do) and touched olive trees that Jesus most likey touched as he prayed there. We saw where the foot of Jesus left the earth in ascension. We saw the dungeon in which Jesus was held overnight when he was arrested. We stood in that dungeon, with the lights off, and felt what it was like to be there. We walked through the upper room of the Last Supper, we stood in the field at Bethlehem where the shepherds watched their flocks at night and sang Christmas carols. We walked the Via Delarosa where Jesus carried his cross to Calgary. We had mass every morning either on Calgary or in the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid after his crucifixion. We kissed the stone on which his body lay and was annointed after death and before entombment. Every single site was saw, we stopped to read scripture and talk about what Jesus would have been doing at this place, where he was going.

I don’t know if my words will help you make a decision to go to Israel with Chris Cross. I can only pray that God leads you, as he led me, my mother, and 30 or so other Pilgrims on Chris’s 40th Pilgrimage. If you put your faith in God and trust Chris Cross that he knows more about Isael than some Israelis, you will find yourself on a most fantastic and spiritual journey. You’ll sail on the Sea of Galliee, cross the Judean Dessert and touch the water in the Jordan River. And if you are very blessed, as I was on the Mt. of Beatitudes, you will feel the presence of Jesus caressing you and holding you in his loving arms.

Please, don’t let fear keep you from this journey. Put your faith in God. He will take care of you. He already has His plans made for you. So let Him do what He does.

God Bless you. And now that I’ve said all this, all I can say further is, if I had the time I would be on the next trip with Chris . And the next one, too.

Author: Sue Brown

After a pilgrimage to Italy with our parish priest, my husband and I became very open to going on a trip to the Holy Land, but we only wanted a pilgrimage, not a tourist trip. We wanted a Catholic experience with daily masses and Catholic reflections. When we had the good fortune of finding out about Chris’ trip and attending his information session in Saratoga Springs, we felt “very called” to go. Chris’ experience of taking people to the Holy Land, his knowledge, enthusiasm and his contacts in Israel were all factors that made us feel very trusting about going with him. The fact that priests had gone with him several times really sealed the trust!

The Israeli-Lebanon Conflict was going on the summer of 2006 when we were due to leave in October.The news in the paper really scared me and I had great concerns about going. Chris was frequently in touch with his contacts in Israel and we were frequently in touch with Chris and I truly believed that Chris would cancel the trip if he did not think it would be safe for us to go. As it turned out, I never felt any fear while we were there and I felt more fear about moving around in certain places in the US. Security is tight in Israel. Several weeks before we left, Chris gave us “thumbs up” and the trip was a go. We never looked back. This was Chris’ 40th trip of taking religious and lay people to Israel.

It would be next to impossible for me to put into words what I got out of the trip. It was the best trip I have ever been on. You take the unique person you are, expose yourself to what you see, hear and experience and you become transformed in an indescribable way. Every day was better than the day before as you travel this spiritual journey.

The trip enriched my inner life will forever change who I am. When I first returned and heard the scriptures read, I about jumped out of the pew. I was there..the very places that are being read about. I was there and felt God’s presence. I walked, stood, kneeled and prayed where Jesus spent his life, suffered, died and rose again.

The Holy Land trip with Chris Cross is one of the best balanced trips I have ever been on. He is an exceptional person who makes the trip flow. His spirituality is contagious and he is also a very funny person.
We all prayed together, laughed together and even cried together.

On the practical side, the accommodations were very comfortable and the food was very good.

I would tell you, if you have the chance to go to the Holy Land with Christopher Cross, GO!

From Sue Brown, Greenville,SC

Author: Dorothy Werner

What kept you from going before?
I was working and time was a factor. There always seemed to be a period of unrest, be it the human bombings, Arafat sturring things up, etc.

What helped you to go?
Going to the Holy Land has always been a dream of mine. The human bombing had stopped. And, I wasn’t getting any younger. I felt if I didn’t go now (age 70) I didn’t know if I would ever get there. And, that was not an option I wanted .

What were your concerns?
Of course, the most obvious…….an uprising of some kind while I was visiting.

What did you learn?
Oh my, where do I start. First of all, I did not know that the Church of the Holy Seplecur had both the Tomb and Calvery in it. The narration by both Fr. Angelo and Chris is still being digested by me. The history plus seeing all the places described in the Bible is mind boggling. So much information was given to us by these two very knowledgeabe people.

How did it change your life?
Every day something from the trip is recollected. Be it the Gospel at Mass, (visualizing the sites), my looking out my window and seeing my statue of St. Francis in my back yard,(I had no knowledge of the vast amount of influence he had in establishing many of the sites in the Holy Land), or just a quiet moment in prayer If it weren’t for St. Francis going to the Holy Land and procurring the sites there would be nothing for us to see there. The trip was first class, from the accommodations, the information, the food, the transportation, to the seeing so many of the sites of the Bible. It was a dream come true for me. I have traveled to London, Paris, Rome, Hawaii, Cruises, but this trip will always be at the “top of my list”.

Would you recommend it?
I would highly recommend it. It is a life changing experience. The Gospels now have a face. I have walked in His footsteps and my memories from the trip are of a value untouched by money. Please do yourself a favor and make the trip. I guarantee you will not regret it. I value those ten days above all.

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