On the shores of Galilee in northern Israel, lies Magdala, a pilgrimage center built at the site of the hometown of Mary Magdalene. Inaugurated under the direction of Fr. Juan María Solana, LC, in 2019, Magdala is home to two other Legionary priests, Fr. Eamon Kelly, who serves as Vice Director, and Fr. Guillermo Garcia, Chief Operation Office, as well as Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi, Kathleen Nichols, the center’s Chief Mission Officer. They, along with the other members of the leadership team at Magdala, work together to provide a space that welcomes visitors to encounter Christ in the places where he walked, taught and preached in the synagogues, and earlier this year in June, Magdala was one of the stops on a pilgrimage hosted by Jeff Cavins and Fr. Mike Schmitz, accompanied by a group of Legionary priests, which brought approximately 300 pilgrims on the Young in Spirit Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Jeff and his wife, Emily, have been hosting pilgrimages to the Holy Land for years – they have been there over 60 times – but this is one of the first major pilgrimages they’ve hosted since the covid pandemic caused them to cancel most visits three years in a row. For this reason, the June pilgrimage, which is typically geared towards young adults, was open to all, particularly those who had planned to participate in pilgrimages over the past three years and were unable to attend. This year’s participants comprised of one busload of young adults and another of older adults, and four buses of families, including anything from college students with their parents, young couples with their children, and multi-generational family groups.
The two-week pilgrimage, which ran from June 5th – 17th, was led by Jeff and Emily, with Fr. Mike, well-known for his YouTube videos as well as The Bible in a Year and The Catechism in a Year podcasts, serving as head chaplain. Six other priests accompanied the pilgrims on the tour, including three Legionary priests – Fr. John Klein from the Atlanta locality, Fr. Matthew Schmitz who is serving in San Jose, and Fr. Brett Taira who recently moved from the Louisiana locality to serve at Benedictine College. They, along with Fr. Eric Garris, who is the vocations director for the diocese of Cleveland, Fr. Anthony Craig from the diocese of Duluth, and Fr. David Neuschwander from the diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin, made up the pilgrimage priest team. Each of these six priests served as chaplain to one of the six buses, while Jeff and Fr. Mike rotated throughout the group, spending half a day at a time with each bus. Each day included a talk from either Jeff or Fr. Mike covering topics such as growing in faith, conversion, the papacy, and evangelization.
The pilgrimage began in Israel with an opening Mass and orientation in Tel Aviv, and the next day, the group travelled to Galilee for a teaching in the theater built by Herod the Great. They spent the afternoon touring and participating in the Mass at Magdala. At Nazareth the next day, pilgrims had Mass at the Church of the Annunciation and visited the grotto where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, before hearing a teaching from Fr. Mike on Mount Precipice, and then the following day on the Mount of Beatitudes. The group then visited Caesarea Philippi and Capernaum, where they participated in Mass at St. Peter’s Church, built over the site of the home of St. Peter, as well as Qasr el-Yehud, the baptismal site of Jesus in the Jordan River where the had the opportunity to renew their baptismal promises. After spending the night in a Bedouin camp, the group travelled to Jerusalem where they spent the rest of the week, visiting nearby Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and a variety of other holy sites. On one of the last days of the pilgrimage, the group walked Christ’s Passion along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The pilgrims also were able to participate in hands-on experiences like making bread, goat cheese, and olive oil, as well as rafting on the Jordan River, boat rides on the Sea of Galilee, and swimming in the Dead Sea.
One of the unique highlights of the pilgrimage this year were the three large concerts featuring gifted Catholic musicians that were held throughout the two weeks. The music team featured three musicians: Fr. John, who is from Nashville and currently writes music and performs with Regnum Christi Music Collective; Taylor Tripodi, a full-time musician, singer-songwriter, and worship leader also from Nashville; and Aly Aleigha, an indie-folk singer-songwriter and worship leader from Duluth, Minnesota. The group provided music for Mass and had the opportunity to perform at three professionally staged concerts. “On these nights when we had live music, I was able to play my original songs, tell my vocation story, and tell the different stories behind my music,” says Fr. John. “It was a beautiful opportunity to evangelize and play for the group.”
There are many ways for Regnum Christi members to unite in prayer for the Holy Land. Join the Magdala family’s United Praying for Peace initiative, which offers daily livestreamed Mass (in English and Spanish) from the Magdala church Duc in Altum, as well as adoration and recitation of the rosary for peace. Fr. Eamon Kelly also records a daily reflection on the day’s Gospel in his Sunrise Stroll & Chat, while he walks along, and sometimes kayaks on, the Sea of Galilee each morning. You can find out more about Magdala at their website magdala.org.