Jesus, Mary and the apostles did not live in never-never land or some amusement park. Rather, they walked the streets of Jerusalem, of which some portions are now excavated. They passed the same hills, drank from the wells, ate the fish and bread, drank the local wine, and followed the rhythms of the seasons, harvests, and religious feasts that pilgrims can still observe in the land.
That’s what Fr. Mitch Pacwa hopes people realize when they read his newest book, The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage. Travelers who are privileged to make a personal pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to walk the sandy roads where Jesus walked, experience the familiar biblical sites first-hand, breathing in the salt air from the Sea of Galilee and tasting the local foods.
But for those of us who cannot travel there personally, Fr. Mitch offers the next best thing: a beautifully illustrated guided tour through the holy places we’ve learned about in the gospels, with Fr. Mitch’s commentaries explaining the site’s role in salvation history.
As Pope Francis departs for his historic trip to Jordan and Palestine, I’ve been savoring the images and the commentaries in The Holy Land.
Because of the pope’s travels this week, I paid special attention to the places he’ll be visiting: Bethlehem, the Jordan River, the Cenacle (the Upper Room), the Holy Sepulchre. There’s so much more, though. The Holy Land is a coffee table book to enjoy again and again.
Because of his extensive experience leading pilgrimages to these sacred spaces (he’s led thousands of individuals on more than 50 pilgrimages), Fr. Mitch arranges his “armchair pilgrimage” geographically–the way pilgrims would actually make the trip, meandering through the Holy Land–rather than chronologically as the places are introduced in the gospels. So he leads the reader from Bethlehem and Ein Karem, on to Jerusalem and the Old City, the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, Western Galilee, and on to the Sea of Galilee. The full-color maps are especially helpful in understanding the relation of one biblical site to another.
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Fr. Mitch tells a humorous story about one of his first visits to the Holy Land early in his ministry, before he was himself a tour guide. The guide for that trip, who was not a Christian, proudly (and wrongly) explained that “this is the site where Mary committed suicide.” The misinformed guide had greatly misunderstood a statue of Mary, her heart pierced with seven swords.
There’s none of that ersatz reporting in Fr. Mitch’s book. An acclaimed Scripture scholar, Fr. Mitch understands the local customs, the art, the geography, the history, and explains each setting in the context of the great mystery of God’s presence in time, and God with us today.
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FATHER MITCH PACWA, S.J. is a respected Scripture Scholar, Author, and popular EWTN Television and Radio Host, as well as the founder and President of IGNATIUS PRODUCTIONS’ www.fathermitchpacwa.org – a teaching and media apostolate. He received his B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Detroit, summa cum laude. He was ordained a Jesuit Catholic priest in 1976 with the Society of Jesus and then continued his studies. He received his Master of Divinity and S.T.B. from the Jesuit School of Theology of Loyola University, magna cum laude. At Vanderbilt University, he received his Master of Arts, Ph.D. in Old Testament.
Father Pacwa has taught at the high school, university, and seminary levels. He has lectured at hundreds of conferences and churches around the world and is best known for his appearances on EWTN.
Father Pacwa is fluent in twelve languages and has a unique understanding of the peoples and cultures of the Middle East. He is respected for his knowledge on Islam and the Qur’an. Father Pacwa serves as Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and has led thousands of pilgrims to holy sites around the world. He is also has the privilege of being bi-ritual, which means he can also celebrate the Maronite Mass of the Eastern Catholic Church.