From left, Isaiah Schick and Dan Tracy are sailing on the Sea of Galilee. For Tracy, it was a time to reflect on his own journey of discipleship, particularly during the six years since his reversion to the faith. He said it was also a special moment because it had been a favorite spot for his mother when she had travelled to the Holy Land with a group from their hometown of Superior in 2008. He noted the “marvelous job” the Catholic Church has done of preserving so many of the important locations in the life of Jesus and the role they have played in helping “so many pilgrims activate a deeper love and commitment to the Lord.” (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Pope Paul VI described the Holy Land as the “Fifth Gospel, which is not written on ink, but written on stones.” Diocese of Superior seminarian Dan Tracy agrees, “because of how it makes the four Gospels of Holy Scripture come to life in a new way.”

Tracy and fellow Superior seminarian Isaiah Schick made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with their classmates from Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in January. With approval of the seminary’s board of trustees, seminarians travel once every two years to either Rome or the Holy Land.

“I know that the way I pray with the Bible now will never be the same,” Tracy said. He was grateful for the opportunity, both individually and as a group, given that many of those on the pilgrimage will serve as priests throughout Wisconsin.

Schick relished the abundant time for prayer they were allotted at each of the holy sites. While many tour groups would spend just long enough to take a few photos, the seminarians were able to spend close to an hour or more, “to simply sit in the presence of the Lord and meditate on what went on at the place in which we were.

“As busy as seminary formation – and life in general – can be, it was almost a retreat-like atmosphere at times with some much needed prayer opportunities,” Schick added.

One place in particular that moved Schick was the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

He recounted the minimal number of images in the lower church and how it draws your focus to the little grotto in the center.

“There is a star with an inscription that reads “Verbum caro hic factum est,” Schick explained, noting that is Latin for “The Word was made flesh here.”

For him, it was “an incredibly powerful mystery to meditate on,” sitting in the very place where the Incarnation happened, “where my God took on human nature so as to save us from our sinfulness in his abundant love and mercy.”

Tracy also mentioned the Marian sites provided some of his most intimate moments of personal prayer.
He experienced one of these moments of grace at the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem. In the crypt chapel believed to be the site of the Virgin Mary’s birth, he sang “Ave Maria” to Our Lady, finding himself alone for a few moments.

For both seminarians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was a paramount highlight.

After celebrating Mass inside the tomb of Jesus Christ, Tracy prayed the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary at a small side chapel. Under the altar, there is a pillar that is supposed to be the one Jesus was chained to during his scourging.

“Kneeling on the marble floor, I felt a great closeness to the Lord in his suffering and passion as I prayed for the conversion and healing of all sinners,” he shared.

Schick described the church – which he called his favorite place in the world – as “chaotic” at times, “especially later in the day, when the hordes of tourists descend in a noisy and camera-flashing cloud.

“However, there’s a strange quality to the air; a strong sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

He said, “It even feels like I have been there thousands of times before. It feels like I’m at home where my soul belongs, like every Mass I’ve ever been to is happening at one moment and in one place.”

In the building housing both Calvary where Jesus died and the tomb where he was lain, Schick felt the past and present merging.

“It is like a really strong foretaste of heaven, with people there from every corner of the world who speak every kind of language all gathered in one place because of Jesus Christ, their one Lord and their one love.”
Schick encourages anyone with the opportunity to visit the Holy Land, “don’t hesitate to jump on it! It makes the life and Paschal Mystery of Christ come alive in a concrete way, which is probably why the place is often called the ‘Fifth Gospel.’”