Fr Albano Fernandes

Parish Preist, St Inez

During my post-graduate studies in Chicago, USA; I had the opportunity to accompany two pilgrimage groups through Totally Yours led by Mr. Guy Murphy. My first experience was the Holy Pilgrimage to Italy and Medjugorje. The second one was to Poland and Czech Republic. Both the pilgrimages had a profound impact upon my life as a Person and as a Priest. The pilgrimage to the Holy Land was one wish that hoped to accomplish. After, I returned to Goa, I noticed that many priests were going to the Holy Land through tours organized by different agencies. At the beginning of this year 2017, my sister expressed her wish to send our parents to the Holy Land and she requested me to find out the dates and other details. Having heard that Zion organizes such pilgrimages, I contacted the office and checked about the dates and other details regarding Holy Land pilgrimages. I cannot clearly remember the way this happened but I can say that it was divine providence that I became the part of this group. I think Paul asked me, 'Fr. Have you been to Holy Land?' I said 'No'. He said, Would you like to go there? I didn't know what to say. I fumbled as I retorted him, 'Would it be possible?' He said, 'We have one Priest already listed for the group but we will take you also, Fr. God has blessed me in many ways and I don't say 'NO' to Priest's. I thanked Paul and raised my voice in thanksgiving to God for this opportunity, for I believed that God makes thing happen in His own time, because He is good all the time.

Paul addressed the group few days before our departure, preparing us to open our hearts for God's abundant graces and blessings, laying stress on prayers and spiritual experience. With such disposition and openness, we embarked on this pilgrimage with hearts filled joy and hope, not as tourists but as pilgrims. Before we boarded our flight at the Dabolim Airport, we prayed and surrendered our journey into God's hands. As soon as we arrived in Jordan, we followed the itinerary prepared for a wholesome and mighty experience of God, the Holy Trinity. Standing on the mountain, Mount Nebo, where Moses stood and saw the Promised Land, which he was not destined to enter, and looking at the mountains and valleys around was a breath taking experience. Our guide in Jordan, Mr. Suleiman, with his experience, knowledge, friendly nature and a witty sense of humour, guided and educated the whole group, to understand the importance of Jordan in the Biblical and Worldly traditions.

Next day, we said 'good-bye' to Suleiman and the driver, and crossed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan without serious complications and entered into Israel. We could feel God walking ahead of us to set everything right. Five days we spent in Nazareth and Bethlehem. The holy places we visited from Cana to Mount of Beatitudes to Capernaum and the boat cruise in the Sea of Galilee; from Mount Carmel to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane to Mount Zion and Calvary; from Ein Karem, Bethany, and Jericho to the experience of floating in the Dead Sea, have uniquely and mightily touched the soul of every pilgrim of our group. I would like to appreciate and express my gratitude to Mr. Hunny, who was with us for five important days, as he shared from his rich experience and knowledge, the importance of every Holy Place we visited in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. He left lasting impression on the group with his phrase 'Begin (Vegim) ieyat'.

We entered into Egypt, after a spectacular view of the Red Sea and a stop to view statue of Lot's wife. We saw the burning bush and Mount Sinai which uplifted our spirits knowing that we were standing on the holy ground. The last day was spent visiting the historical Egyptian Museum, Pyramids (the wonder of the world), Sphinx and the Nile Cruise. Our guide in Egypt, Ms Dalia was impressive and friendly, who highlighted the impact of the visit of the Holy Family to Egypt upon the people of those times which helped St. Mark to preach the Gospel, though later killed in Alexandria.

As a priest accompanying this group, along with Fr. Peter Simon and my parents, was in deed a great blessing. I have to believe that it is not just a priest, who sanctifies the pilgrimage, but people of the group are major contributors towards the success and fulfilment of the Pilgrimage. I must sincerely admit that I was with wonderful people, who helped each other through meaningful and active participation in the Holy Eucharist, by leading the prayer of Rosary and by sharing experiences which touched them during this pilgrimage. Ms. Judy Fernandes (our tour guide), did a marvellous job of leading the group by her deep commitment, jovial presence and loving concern towards each member of the group. For a priest, there could not be any richer and important gift/blessing than, being once in his priestly life, at the place where Jesus was born, grew, lived, died, resurrected and ascended into Heaven. This pilgrimage has not only made alive in me the Scriptures I studied, read, reflected and preached; but, it has given me a deeper and richer experience of the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Every Holy Place I visited filled me with divine graces and made me feel proud that I am a believer in Jesus Christ. The most touching moment for me were few minutes which I spent in the dungeon where Jesus spent his last night before He was taken to be condemned to die. I never realized the depth and intensity of His emotional agony, abandonment and isolation He went through, besides physical torture and humiliation, until I saw the dungeon, where he was put, abandoned by everyone, alone and wounded. As a Priest, I recollected my experiences of such pain, though nothing compared with what Jesus went through, and, I felt the grace which strengthened me with the presence of Jesus. I came out of the dungeon with more courage and strength to face my moments of loneliness and humiliation.

I believe that this Holy Land pilgrimage has sanctified my priesthood and came at an appropriate time as a preparation before assuming the responsibility of Shepherding the Parishioners of St. Inez Church. Reflecting deeply on the life of Jesus, as we visited these holy places, helped me to surrender everything into God's hands and to recommit myself with zeal and passion to serve the people entrusted to my care.

I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Paul Siqueira for giving me the opportunity to have a deeper experience of my faith as a follower of Christ by taking me to the Holy places of Jesus, an experience which I will never forget, memory which will remain treasured for the rest of my life. I also would like to thank his whole team for doing all the necessary formalities and arrangements for a comfortable and hassle-free travel and stay in the Holy Land. From the beginning of our pilgrimage to the end, we could sincerely and joyfully acclaim that 'God is good all the time; all the time God is good.'

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