Brothers and Sisters,
It’s great to be back with you after visiting the Holy Land! I can’t wait to see all of you this Summer, especially as I approach my Ordination to the Diaconate in Sitka! I ask you to please pray for me as I ready myself to serve directly upon Christ’s altar—it’s a blessing nearly eight years in the working—and this trip to the Holy Land has only confirmed my desire to serve you as a Priest of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
I enjoyed the Holy Land immensely because the opportunities were never ending: we biked around the Sea of Galilee (all 40 miles of it), we prayed all night in the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (where Christ was crucified and resurrected), and we heard Mass in Hebrew, Arabic, and Greek (showing us the universality and Catholicity of our faith). We renewed our baptismal vows at the Jordan River! We lived a life beyond imagination for nine weeks in the Holy Land – praying, studying, and walking in the same footsteps as our King.
My entire class – all 38 seminarians from around the United States – were blessed to spend nine weeks visiting Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem. For those of you who are curious to see images, please go to my Facebook page (James Wallace – Roman Catholic Diocese of Juneau). I posted regular updates and will continue posting in the coming weeks. My class was so blessed to pray at the Sea of Galilee for our canonical retreat (preparing for Diaconate Ordination), right on the Sea of Galilee. We skipped rocks on the water and prayed right in the areas where Jesus and the Apostles prayed. We spent hours meditating at the Mount of Beatitudes, and the city of Capernaum where St. Peter lived. You could spend all day at the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy (where Jesus appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection at the Sea of Galilee) and this was Galilee alone!
We were able to celebrate and have Mass in virtually every Catholic Church in Israel! I’m not kidding you: We celebrated Mass at the Mount of Beatitudes, the Jordan River, the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Stella Maris in Carmel, on and on. I wish I could put that to words – hearing Catholics recite “Allah,” in the context of God, and singing the Responsorial Psalms in Hebrew. The local Christians were so happy to host seminarians, especially because certain places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem have seen the Christian population drop from 30-40% (back in the 1950s) to 1-2% today. It has been a difficult time for the Palestinians and Christians living in the region, and I ask you to offer prayers for peace in the Holy Land.
It was an amazing experience, and my brothers and I learned so much – about the universal church, about Palestinian Christians, about the holy sites of the Old and New Testament – and especially about ourselves and our vocation. I can’t thank you enough for your prayers, support, and your encouragement to pursue this vocation to Priesthood, because it’s what truly sets me free. It’s pilgrimages like these which amplify our relationship to Christ and help us to shout exaltations to the Lord. It makes me think of Psalm 150:
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre, Praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe,
Praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
And I’m glad to announce that I’ll be leading pilgrimages in the future! This May, I’ll be leading parish groups to Italy and Rome, and will continue making pilgrimages to the Holy Land and abroad. I look forward to extending these invitations to Alaska and would love to serve you in the future. God Bless us all in our journeys closer to Christ.
James C. Wallace
Diocese of Juneau, Alaska