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A personal experience of our True Life in God Holy Land Pilgrimage
I give thanks to God for He is good to us and His Love is everlasting. Night and day I thank God, reminding myself how by grace He lifted me to entrust me with His message of True Life in God, giving me full responsibility of its contents.
It was our God who gave Jonathan the courage to want to organize once more in the Holy Land the international gathering of the groups of TLIG for an ecumenical meeting, starting from Bethlehem. Many others from our groups came to his help and collaborated to put up this whole meeting. I would say like St. Paul: 'we are not trying to please men, but God.' We know how our Lord is asking us through His messages for prayers that the Church reconciles and brings forth unity; but reconciliation does not stop there, we pray for the reconciliation with God, meaning that those who rebel against God come to peace with God, reconciliation in separated families, reconciliation in countries that have war and so on.
We did not plan to be in the Holy Land at the same time as the Holy Father, but our program coincided with that of the Holy Father's; in fact, we had programmed it before we ever heard of the Holy Father's decision. Once God told me that the word 'luck' does not exist in His vocabulary, so I believe that our Father in Heaven wanted all of us to be there at the same time. On this occasion, our TLIG in the Holy Land managed to get special passes for some of our priests to be able to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father on the Beatitude mountain on the 24th March. This gave them great joy and we praised the Lord for giving us one more gift.
I had to arrive in the Holy Land 2 days before the groups, to meet at Beit Sahour (the Shepherd's Field) the mayor Mr. Hanna Al Atrash. A dinner was arranged for us at that site under a big tent, which was a restaurant but was giving us a feeling we were living at the time of Jesus. We talked a lot about the messages and the mission our Lord had given me.
This time, in the Holy Land, we expected more than 400 people to come from abroad from more than 50 countries. With us we had more than 60 clergy, from abroad, and a few more had come to join us from the Holy Land. We had the honour to be accompanied by Mgr. Luigi Accogli from Rome who during our stay in Bethlehem paid a visit at the Catholic Patriarchate, telling them of our activities. Along with us were also Mgr. Julio Teran Dutari, auxiliary Bishop of Ecuador, Mgr. Jaume Gonzalez-Agapito from Barcelona and Mgr. Julio Urrego Montoya from Venezuela. We were happy to have from the Armenian Church Bishop Zakarian from Lyon. We had by the grace of God, eleven Church denominations with their priests and pastors as well. Namely Roman Catholic Church, Greek, Russian, Bulgarian, Armenian Orthodox Churches, Syriac Church, Coptic Church, Lutheran Church, Anglican Church, Baptist Church and the St. Thomas Church.
The day of the 15th March, first day of the pilgrimage, started rather early with a solemn procession of all the priests and ministers from all the Churches that accompanied us. A majestic Kyrie eleison chant accompanied the procession and each one of them introduced himself telling us the country he had come from. Later on I introduced one by one the countries and the lay people stood up while being introduced waving their country's flag. There was a lot of cheer and joy in the atmosphere.
Immediately after, our opening Mass was held in the Nativity Roman Catholic Church in Bethlehem in which I was asked to carry Baby Jesus with the procession of our priests and place Him below the altar. I felt that Jesus was already spoiling me because this same baby Jesus is being carried every year in the great feast of Christmas eve for the midnight Mass and everyone sees Him on the Euro-news. On the way out I saw the Greek Orthodox priest, Fr. Spyridon whom I met just after and who kindly took me around by my hand to show me everything from the Orthodox Nativity Church. Later on he joined all of us for supper that same evening and TLIG messages were introduced to him. He gladly took a book and met some of our priests.
The program was set so that not only would we visit the Holy places, but that we have a two day symposium in Bethlehem. The day of the 19th March, first day of the symposium, started also with the solemn procession of all the priests and ministers from all the Churches that accompanied us, accompanied whith the majestic accents of the Kyrie eleison chant. In the symposium, the speeches of a half hour were varied, very rich because the participants were from different Churches. This raised our hopes for unity. We could tell from everyone how each one in his speech felt thirsty for unity and reconciliation. For my part, I had taken three themes in my speeches. The first one was: the nobility of the Cross. The second one: we are all called to be gods by participation and the third one: Unity, let us be one in the Divine Trinity.
I had asked our Lord Jesus to help me write them down. As I know myself, I do not know how to write one word after the other without His divine help. And so I found myself typing out these themes without any difficulty and even at one point when I was searching to find the right word, the word was given to me with a loud voice. Since it was a word I never used, I had to look it in the dictionary later on, and of course it couldn't have been more exact. The second day of the symposium four late arrivals appeared, who were Mgr. JulioTeran Dutari from Ecuador and Mgr. Jaume Gonzalez-Agapito from Spain accompanied by Fr. Salvador, newly ordained priest. Last but not least came the Greek Orthodox Archimandrite from New York, Fr. Eugene Nicolau.
That afternoon Fr. Eugene, was the last one to address us. I was sitting there in my corner watching quietly; finally, I was thinking, God has sent us one Greek Orthodox Archimandrite who is as eager as all of us here for reconciliation and unity, s-i-n-c-e-r-e-l-y.
There he was, in front of me, declaring what Jesus had been telling us for years now on unity, there he was almost quoting the passages of TLIG without him ever reading them. The Holy Spirit was putting in his mouth the same words. With zeal and without fear he opened his heart to all of the Churches sitting in front of him and I saw in their faces that they were struck with awe from what they were hearing from a Greek Orthodox Archimandrite. Every word he uttered was like the morning dew, refreshing us. One could feel the breeze of the Holy Spirit in the crowd. He was offering his heart to them.
Immediately after his speech, the choir sang an oriental song and the crowd still aflame with Fr. Eugene's words, ran towards him to embrace him and the priests of all Churches and the ministers as well ran towards him like children running towards their father. Fr. Eugene was snatched left and right from embrace to embrace. All of us were rejoicing and dancing as heaven must have been rejoicing and dancing. We were one. Glory be to God, who knows His people and gives them now and then some refreshing breeze from the Holy Spirit.
And from that moment we knew what a Jubilee Heaven would have the Day of the Unity....... God, in His compassion had given us this time in the Holy Land the grace of a foretaste of what unity will be like when the Church decides to become like a child again. Fr. Eugene had prepared a lengthy written speech but at the very last moment, when he faced the crowd, he decided against it and so placing the heap of papers aside he addressed us directly with power and with a flavour of wit.
This was only the beginning of the good surprises our Lord kept hidden up His sleeve for our group.
God did not stop there pouring His graces upon our TLIG group, but had planned and had foreseen everything. We tasted the power of His Spirit because no one could explain such tremendous openness from the Greek Orthodox side in the Holy Land! On the 17th an Orthodox Father Archimandrite from the Holy Sepulchre, invited all of us to a Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, (Holy Communion) where everybody could receive Holy Communion.
After the Liturgy the Fr. Archimandrite came out to meet me personally, and he wanted to have a picture taken with me. He could not have been more than Jesus' age. He then invited me to his house and I had to confirm the date. What a Jubilee! The same thing happened up in Mount Tabor on the 22nd March where permission was given that all of us without exception receive the Holy Communion in the Greek Orthodox Church of Transfiguration. The priest was there as well and it was Fr. Eugene who celebrated the Liturgy. Three Orthodox priests, one was Bulgarian, the other two from the Russian Church, gave the Holy Communion.
I phoned the Fr. Archimandrite and fixed to meet him the following night to go over to his house. That night I found myself walking with 2 friends in the private quarters and courts of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate heading for the Fr. Archimandrite's house. Everything seemed like a dream. I am only used to persecution. Yes, persecution is my daily bread since the day God came to speak to me. And now, I am invited...
I went to his house and the Fr. Archimandrite wanted to hear from me how everything started. I witnessed. I then spoke of the unity Christ is so eager for us to perform and he said to me that he too was very eager for reconciliation and unity. He said that he knew me already since two years before and wanted very much to meet me ever since. Then he said, 'count me as one of your group'. A feather could have knocked me down upon hearing this. Then he got up to show me the rest of the courts, and I found myself walking on the terrace where one can look from above the entrance and yard of the Holy Sepulchre.
What a gift from Jesus, I thought, I don't deserve so much and yet He spoils me and He continues to spoil me undeservedly. Then while I was watching above the stars I heard Fr. Archimandrite calling me from across the terrace. There was a tiny chapel up there. We went in and prayed. Then he showed me on the left side of the chapel a little window showing the Holy Sepulchre dome. I looked at Jesus on the icon and told Him that if He continues to surprise me in that pace, He will eventually give me a heart-attack. Jesus, without fear of me having a heart-attack, continued. Fr. Archimandrite took me to his office and asked me whether I travelled often. I said that I did. He said, "can I join you when you travel and travel with you sometime?" I promised him to send him the calendar where I have fixed the travels and he could choose. With this I got up to leave and he asked me a favour. He asked from all of us prayers. We should pray for him. I promised to announce this to our group and I did.
One of the priests of the Patriarchate who had heard of this gathering, and was invited to join had refused saying that I was not to be considered part of them as I was not approved by a blessing from the Greek Orthodox Church. God must have heard him, for unexpectedly I was invited at the Patriarchate to meet with Fr. (...), who seemed to be rather open for the charism I have. I went there accompanied by Fr. Eugene Nicolau and Niels Christian Hvidt who introduced us to him. Before exchanging any conversation He invited us to go in a large office where behind the desk was the Metropolitan Vassilis. He is the second man after the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Again, I could not believe I was invited.
The Metropolitan spoke perfect English and seemed very friendly. Fr. Eugene explained the reason he was in the Holy Land which brought immediately the subject of the Pope in the Holy Land. Then Mgr. Vassilis said to Fr. Eugene that this division in the Church is not good at all for the Church and that it was time that something was done to break up this division, whereupon this Fr. Eugene totally agreed. He went on saying that the 'heads' blocking did not behave properly and that it is time that they should come down and perform unity. I was saying inside me, 'praised be the Lord!' upon hearing this it explained to me the openness of the two Liturgies..... Then Fr. Eugene talked about the mission and the charism I had and I completed by showing him the album where all my trips are mentioned and gave him a glimpse of my bibliography as well. I told him that I was sent by Christ to christianize a de-christianized society. He looked at all of this and encouraged me to continue my work. Then he turned to me, lifted his hand and blessed me. So I received the blessing of my Church. Fr. (...) asked me to send him all the Greek translated books of TLIG. And so I did.
We should not also forget that already the Pope had given me his blessing too and has also blessed the TLIG books no. 10 in French as well. Glory be to God! The only one we did not meet was the one who opposed me in the beginning, but lo and behold, while we walked out and stepped in a place where they were still constructing, we stumbled almost on him. So we met him as well and I had the opportunity to speak a bit with him. I offered him the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit booklet. Let the Holy Spirit do the rest of the work.
What more could one ask? We had on the 25th a day for all the TLIG people to give us a short report of their activities in their land, and of their prayer groups and of the Beth Myriam projects. Projects of opening a place, flat or house, to feed the poor a warm lunch once a day and if possible have a room or two or more, depending, for retreats. A chapel is also desired. Today there is a place in Bethlehem on its roof is a statue of our Lady of Palestine with open arms. There is already a place in Venezuela and others in Bangledesh, Phillipines, Peurto Rico and Wales. There are preparations for these Beth Myriams in Poland so far. And all of these are run by volunteers and through donations.
The other new project is that Fr. Richie from the Philippines is to promote a youth TLIG group and call it TLIGY. Already many young people are eager to join this group and even travel from place to place and meet the others. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that such development is being made and being spread and for this we do believe that God is on our side.
The last day in the evening I gave my last speech of how to progress in evangelizing by using the rich messages of our Lord and then I pleaded the Roman Catholic Church to do as we, Orthodox who joined them, do. And that is to learn more about Orthodoxy as we have learnt about Catholicism. To lean towards us and our traditions as we have leaned towards them, learning their prayers to recite them with them and learning all about their Mass. No one among them have felt any difference on us but even some who did not know us mistook us for one of their own. We were so intertwined with them that no one felt any difference. The Lord had given me a vision of three iron rods, representing the main Churches and He asked that unity will be done only when those three rods' heads leaned altogether towards each other to join. So let us all make an effort and be one. Let us be one heart.
Mgr. Julio Teran Dutari gave us after that a final speech, concluding the evening and praising our Lord who had brought us from the four corners of this earth together, giving us all a foretaste of Unity.