Greece: In the Year of St. Paul
In the New Testament, believers can read about the extraordinary journeys of St. Paul as he traveled thousands and thousands of miles to spread the Good News through lands today presently known as Israel, Syria, Turkey and Greece. By land and by sea, the saint, known as "the Great Evangelizer," made his mark through his letters and preaching.
For a group of 38 diocesan pilgrims, those journeys came alive during a recent pilgrimage to Greece led by Bishop Serratelli. The June 20-29 pilgrimage commenced to mark the Year of St. Paul observed worldwide by the Catholic Church from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009.
Coordinated by Great Experiences Inc., an Oradell-based travel company, the pilgrimage took the faithful pilgrims, which included 11 diocesan priests, to sites relevant to the life and ministry of St. Paul. Following in the footsteps of St. Paul, they visited Philippi, Thessaloniki, Corinth and Athens - places all mentioned through Paul's letters or in Acts. The trip also included a cruise through the Greek Island with visits to Ephesus in Turkey where the House of the Virgin Mary is located and Patmos where St. John wrote the Book of Revelations.
The Epistles of St. Paul come alive
Msgr. Thomas Trapasso, retired diocesan priest currently residing at St. Virgil Parish in Morris Plains, felt a deep connection to his faith during the pilgrimage. He said, "A motivating force for me to go on the pilgrimage was to travel to the places where St. Paul preached the Gospel. It made the Church come alive and to visit these places we've learned and read about for years, it's amazing to see where it really happened. It was a wonderful experience."
The majestic beauty of Greece also added to Msgr. Trapasso's experience. He called the sites "spectacular."
For Janice Bezold, a parishioner of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Lake Hopatcong, the pilgrimage experience was a new frontier she's never traveled. "This was my first pilgrimage and I didn't know anyone. But I walked away with so many new friends," said Bezold, who also attends Mass at St. Ann Parish in Parsippany.
Bezold was especially inspired by the bishop's teachings at each of the sites. Bezold said, "He is so knowledgeable about the Scriptures. I learned more about the Bible and the readings, which made me get closer to my faith."
The bishop's teachings also inspired Patricia Chobrda, a parishioner of St. Vincent DePaul Parish in Stirling who traveled with the bishop on a previous pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in 2008. "I very much enjoyed the last pilgrimage," said Chobrda, "The experience of a pilgrimage feels like what traveling would have been like in the early days of the faith with a small group of Christians. We were a group of Jesus' followers learning about him."
Chobrda found it especially inspiring that 11 priests made the pilgrimage to Greece. "We had wonderful Masses everyday," said Chobrda.
The priests on the pilgrimage in addition to Bishop Serratelli and Msgr. Trapasso were: Father Hernan Arias, pastor of St. Margaret Parish, Morristown; Father Nick Bozza, pastor of St. Michael Parish, Netcong; Msgr. Mark Condon, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Angels, Little Falls; Father Kevin Corcoran, priest-secretary to the bishop and diocesan assistant director of vocations; Father Peter Filipkowski, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Newton; Father Stefan Las, pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, Passaic; Father Sal Panagia, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish, Paterson; Father Patrick Rice, pastor of St. Catherine Parish, Mountain Lakes; and Father Geno Sylva, Vicar for Evangelization.
Msgr. Trapasso said, "The group was warm and friendly. You can see the faith and warmth of this group and in my brother priests."
Under blue skies, the diocesan pilgrims traveled throughout Greece and its islands visiting Lydia's River where St. Paul met the women praying on the Sabbath, Phillipi where he first preached the Gospel to Europe and Corinth where Paul resided for 18 months. In the same measure, the pilgrims witnessed firsthand the places where St. Paul wrote his epistles.
First time visitor Father Sylva said the pilgrimage to Greece gave him "a whole new perspective on how to understand the Scriptures and how to feel more powerfully the words of St. Paul."
Father Sylva said, "I kept thinking I'll never preach again on St. Paul in the same way. You see Ephesus, you see Philippi, you see Corinth and you're now able to visualize where he stood. It adds a whole new dynamic so it was unbelievable."
Like many of the Apostles, St. Paul's mission in order to proclaim the Gospel gave Father Sylva a great sense in the enormity of sacrifice and selflessness St. Paul had.
"We did so much traveling and at times we would be tired on the bus and here, St. Paul got to all these different places on foot allowing the Word to come alive in so many parts of the wold," said Father Sylva.
The House of Mary
While visiting Greece and walking in the footsteps of St. Paul moved the pilgrims, the highlight for all the travelers interviewed by The Beacon was Ephesus, particularly the House of Mary, the last residence of the Blessed Mother before her Assumption into heaven. It is believed St. John the Apostle, whom Jesus entrusted to take care of his Mother, took her there so he could preach to the people.
Bezold said, "Ephesus was the most moving. I have a pair of rosary beads I held onto while there that belonged to my mother (who passed away in December 2007). I hope to give it to Father Martin McDonnell (pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Hawthorne) who was close to my mother."
About Ephesus, Father Sylva said, "There was something so mystical about being there. During our liturgy, people kept joining our group to pray with us. It was such an example of the universality of the Catholic Church. People who didn't even know English joined us. That was a really touching experience."
Upon returning to the United States, many of the pilgrims were clearly changed by the pilgrimage in Greece. Both Bezold and Chobrda hope to travel on the next to once again walk in the same footsteps as some of the greatest teachers in the Catholic faith.
Msgr. Trapasso said, "All of what I believed in all these years and seeing them come alive was wonderful and just the beauty of the mountains. Very impressive."