More than 30 Sydney Catholic Schools Principals and Assistant Principals—together with Jacinta Collins, Executive Director of the National Catholic Education Commission, and Dallas McInerney Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW—are undertaking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome this April.
Led by Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP, the pilgrimage is a valuable opportunity for our school leaders to engage with, share and deepen their faith, and to take these new spiritual learnings back to their schools and communities.
Follow along as our pilgrims journey throughout the Holy Land and retrace the footsteps of Jesus.
After walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land and St Peter in Rome, our pilgrims enjoyed a short stay in enchanting Assisi, the home of St Francis. The first stop was the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, on the plain where St Francis spent most of his life, before the group celebrated mass in front of St Francis’ tomb at the Basilica of St Francis.
They also visited the Basilica of St Clare, where the Jesus spoke to St Francis from the crucifix, the Church of St Damiano, where St Francis heard Christ’s call to rebuild the church, as well as the Hermitage where he spent many hours in prayer. They also paid a special visit to the Santa Maria Maggiore, the resting place of the recently beatified Carlo Acutis. Before departing for home, our pilgrims celebrated one final mass together in Assisi, where the Archbishop called on our leaders to spread their new spiritual learnings throughout their school communities.
Our pilgrims journeyed to Rome, the Eternal City, where they began discover the foundations of the church as we know it today. They first visited the awe-inspiring St Peter’s Basilica, together with the nearby Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The group were also treated to a fascinating Scavi tour of the ancient excavations and catacombs that lay beneath the Basilica. Our pilgrims then celebrated a special ANZAC Day mass at Domus Australia, together with dignitaries and Australian seminarians.
Rising early in the morning, the group then returned to St Peter’s square where the Holy Father Pope Francis hosted a general audience with pilgrims from around the world. Visits to some of Rome’s most grandiose basillicas followed, including St Mary Major Basilica and the St Basilica of St John in Lateran, the first papal residence. The group continued in to the Basilica San Clemente to celebrate mass.
The following morning, the day began with an intimate mass at the Tomb of St Peter in the Crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. The group then traveled beyond the city’s walls to the Basilica of St Paul, to give honour to the church’s greatest evangelist. Before farewelling Rome and heading north to Assisi, our pilgrims entered the most visited attraction in Rome and the site of many Christian martyrdoms, the Colosseum.
As the sun rose, our pilgrims commenced the Stations of the Cross, retracing the steps Jesus took before his crucifixion, before celebrating a Solemn Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a full circle moment for Archbishop Fisher, who some 40 years ago had first visited the Holy Sepulchre as a young man who was discerning his vocation.
The group also visited Ein Karem, the birthplace of St John the Baptist, as well as the the site of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Our pilgrims continued on to celebrate mass at the Church of St Anne, said to be built over the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.
A visit to the historical Masada was next for our pilgrims. They climbed to the summit via cable car before enjoying a tour of Herod the Great’s fortress and the Zealot’s last stand. The group then drove to Jericho, the oldest inhabited city in the world. Here they saw the Mount of Temptation, the site of Jesus’ fast of 40 days, before celebrating mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd. En route back to Jerusalem, the group took the opportunity to float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth!
As the group departed Jerusalem, they stopped at Emmaus, where the Disciples recognised the risen Jesus at the breaking of the bread, to celebrate mass for a final time in Israel. Before departing for Rome, our pilgrims also visited Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church, where they prayed the rosary together.
On what was our pilgrim’s final day in Galilee, the group visited the summit of Mt Tabor, where Jesus’ divinity shone forth in the Transfiguration. They then traveled to Nazareth and to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where they celebrated mass on the site where the angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to the Virgin Mary.
Before the group departed Galilee and headed south to Jerusalem, they celebrated mass at the Mount of Beatitudes where they were able to ponder the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ message of happiness. On arrival in Jerusalem, our pilgrims listened to the moving stories of two people from The Parents Circle – Families Forum, a joint Israeli-Palestinian organisation of over 600 families, all of whom have lost an immediate family member to the ongoing conflict.
On the group’s first full day in Jerusalem, they began at the Mount of Olives, where they visited the Church of the Pater Noster, commemorating the site where Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer. Continuing on the Palm Sunday road, our pilgrims then celebrated mass at the Dominus Flevit, the church built on the site where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. They then visited the Garden of Gethsemane, where they entered the Church of the Agony containing the bare rock upon which Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest, before continuing on to the room of the Last Supper and the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu.
They ended the day with a special Solemn Entry to the Church Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. Solemn Entry is reserved only for groups who include Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre – His Grace Archbishop Fisher is the Grand Prior is the Grand Prior of this Order in Australia. Here our pilgrims were able to walk the stairway to the actual site where the Cross of Jesus once stood, as well as entering the Edicule containing the tomb where Our Lord rose from the dead.
Our group journeyed north to the crusader port of Caesarea Maritima, where the Centurion Cornelius was baptised by Peter, becoming the first gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10). They continued on to the city of Haifa, to visit the Stella Maris Monastery on the slopes of Mount Carmel and celebrate mass in the Chapel of the Holy Family.
The group then arrived in Galilee, the home of many of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. Our pilgrims first visited Capernaum, the centre of Jesus’ healing and the home to Peter the Apostle. They then set off traditional sailing vessel where they were able to take part in one of the most memorable highlights of the pilgrimage so far – a private mass floating in the centre of Lake Galilee. Our pilgrims ended the day by visiting Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, before an important stop at the Church of the Primacy of Peter, where Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you really love me?’
The group traveled across the border to Bethlehem, the City of David, with the first stop being a special visit to the Holy Child Program which serves as a sanctuary of safety for the families of the region. Our pilgrims learnt of the extraordinary work being done by the program and were left inspired by the students, and their kindness, resilience and hopefulness.
The group also visited Bethlehem University, a Catholic co-educational institution in the Lasallian tradition, to hear about students’ experiences of studying in the West Bank. Our pilgrims then visited a local cave at Shepherds Field which commemorates the appearance of the angels to the shepherds on that first Christmas night (Luke 2: 8–16).
Before leaving Bethlehem, the group visited the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Here, our pilgrims were able to descend into the Grotto of the Holy Manger where a silver star in the floor marks the spot where Christ was born. Led by Fr Lewi, the group were also able to celebrate a special, intimate mass in the Grotto of St Jerome.
Our pilgrims began their journey in Jordan, celebrating the first daily mass of the trip at the Matrys of Jordan Chapel in Amman. They then travelled through the biblical land of Edom (Judges 11: 17-18) to the ancient trading city of Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Here our pilgrims celebrated mass in the city’s Byzantine Church, which was originally built in the fifth century.
On what was a cold and wet day, the group then travelled to the biblical Mt Nebo, the site where Moses looked over into the Promised Land (Joshua 1: 6-9). From there, the pilgrims visited and celebrated mass at nearby Bethany Beyond the Jordan, believed to be the baptismal site of Jesus by John the Baptist.