By Sister Sallie Latkovich
I had a friend who was studying for a year in Jerusalem in the mid 1980’s, and she invited me to join her there during my Christmas vacation. My mother became quite ill, so I decided not to go at that time, but I was determined to go when the next opportunity arose.
In late summer of 1988, I was speaking with another friend who was excited to tell me about a trip she would be making to the Holy Land early the next year, and she invited me to go. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for!
We left the United States on December 31, arriving in Israel on January 1; and arrived at Tantur, an ecumenical (that is, open for people of many faiths) study center founded by Pope Paul VI and administered by the University of Notre Dame. It is situated on the highest hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and we all went to the rooftop as the sun was setting. Lights began to flicker as we looked at Bethlehem.
We were silent as we savored the moment, until the silence was broken as someone began to sing:
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight
Goose bumps rose on my arms and tears streamed down my face as it was dawning on me that I was really here: in the land of Jesus.
It was a wonderful, powerful journey. Upon returning home, I was happy to share pictures with anyone who was interested. One couple said: “If you ever hear of another trip like this. . .Sallie, why don’t you take a group to Israel?” The next day, I contacted the travel agent, and the following day, we had dates and a brochure. That was the first of five groups I gathered to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Each group was different; and during each trip their was one place that was especially touching to me. How does one visit places so connected to our Christian history and not make connections to our own lives? Our own faith? I’d like to share just a few of my reflections from these special locations:
The Site of the VISITATION/ EIN KAREM: The place of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth brought my reflection of the dear women friends with whom I have shared life: my three blood sisters, my Sisters of St. Joseph, and women friends.
Sister Sallie with the
Statue of the Visitation
SHEPHERD’S FIELD: Adjoining Bethlehem in the town of Beit Sahour is a site where shepherds had traditionally watched over their flocks. On one of my first visits, I could look across the valley and see small caves in the mountains, and I felt sure that one of those caves was the place where Jesus was born. Today, the site is overcome by a large housing settlement.
Photos of Shepard’s Field
THE WESTERN WALL/THE WAILING WALL: As a Christian, I was struck by the fact that we celebrate everything in light of the Resurrection. So, it was touching to me to have a ritual place to weep over the sorrows and sadnesses of our lives.
THE FRANCISCAN CHAPEL of the CENACLE: This Chapel is a place to recall the Last Supper; the “upper room” can be visited very nearby. Behind the altar, there is a beautiful bronze sculpture of the Last Supper, with Jesus at the center, and the Tabernacle in his very body. To the right of this sculpture is a doorway to the Sacristy, and on the other side of the door is a sculpture of a woman looking on. For me, she represents all of the women of the Church, looking on to the table where only men preside.
Sister Sallie with the singular woman,
looking into the last supper
These special places are all in the area of Jerusalem; but if I were to go North to the Galilee or South to the Negev, I could share their own places of remembrance as well.
In 2009, I was invited to become Director of the Biblical Study and Travel Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. In this position, I have had the great privilege of returning to Israel eight more times! Along with returning to the holy sites, I have become friends with so many of the people I see there, with ever deepening understanding of their lives.
I am ever grateful for the gift I have had to actually see and feel our Scriptures come to life!
About the Author
Sister Sallie Latkovich directs the Bible Study and Travel Program as well as the Summer Institute at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As a member of the Bible Deptartment, she teaches Biblical Foundations of Spirituality and The Bible For Ministry. She enjoys music, plays, and movies; and loves visiting family and friends.