Manistee residents make pilgrimage to Holy Land

The 11 Manistee residents are joined by the contingent from Charlevoix who recently made a trip to Israel. They are shown standing for a group photo in the Holy Sepulchre.

The 11 Manistee residents are joined by the contingent from Charlevoix who recently made a trip to Israel. They are shown standing for a group photo in the Holy Sepulchre.

“It was the trip of a lifetime.”

Those words were the unanimous consensus of 11 Manistee residents who recently made a nine-day pilgrimage to Israel. The local contingent traveled with a group of 20 people from Charlevoix to the Holy Land to take in the religious and historical aspects of the country.

Most said they were intrigued by the concept of going from the moment they first heard about it in the St. Joseph Church.Those who made the trip from Manistee were Sandy Cabot, Dick and Rosemary Swidowski, Brad and Joan Kolk, Diane Robke, Gary Sielski, Sue Franklin, Ed and Bonnie Cote and Kathy Zajac.

“Father Matthew Wigton from Charlevoix started putting the trip together with his brother Peter, the priest here at St. Joseph, and he asked if there was anyone from here who would like to go along,” said Brad Kolk.

Rosemary Swidorski said she spotted information on it in the church bulletin and was quickly intrigued.

Married members of the Manistee group renew their vows at at church in Cana as Frs. Matthew and Peter Wigton lead them through the ceremony. Shown (left to right) are Dick and Rosmary Swidorski, Bonnie and Ed Cote and Joan and Brad Kolk. (Courtesy photo)

Married members of the Manistee group renew their vows at at church in Cana as Frs. Matthew and Peter Wigton lead them through the ceremony. Shown (left to right) are Dick and Rosmary Swidorski, Bonnie and Ed Cote and Joan and Brad Kolk. (Courtesy photo)

“I thought, that sounds so wonderful that I think I will do this,” she said. “When I first told (her husband) Dick about it he kind of said ehhh…, but he ended up loving it. I thought we are getting older and this is something we should do now. This just sounded like such a great idea. You don’t know how wonderful it is until you have actually been there and seen it.”

Although Dick was a slightly harder sell initially, his interest grew with the help of Rosemary’s enthusiasm. Once they actually began to visit the well known Biblical places, Dick said what he saw is something that made a lasting impression.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I am surely glad I went and amazed at what we saw on the trip. I saw how it was tied in with the Bible. A lot of time you hear things and say that can’t be possible, but when they tie it in from Christ up to now, it was amazing the things that we saw and touched.”

For Sandy Cabot it was an opportunity to make her second trip to the Israel, but this one was quite unlike her first experience, which came around the time of the Gulf War.

“I had been there in 1991 and was praying for an opportunity to go back,” she said. “This was 25 years later and this just sounded like something that was good idea. These two priests did such an awesome job that I feel very blessed to have gone. The first time I went, there were soldiers with guns and it was much different this time.”

All of those who went said they really didn’t see any evidence of the Middle East tensions that bubble up in Israel and other countries in that area during their trip. They all felt extremely secure, and that they were never in danger.

Dianne Robke learned about the trip in church. What helped put her over the top to go was a neighbor who had made the trip twice and encouraged her to do it.

“From there my husband said you should and told me to call Sue Franklin. She had a roommate for me, who was her cousin from Chicago and I went,” she said.

Joan Kolk said she wanted to make a trip like this for some time.

This church was as Mt. Tabor where the transfiguration took place. (Courtesy photo)

This church was as Mt. Tabor where the transfiguration took place. (Courtesy photo)

“It has always been my dream to go to the Holy Land and walk where Christ has walked and to be in all the places he has been,” she said. “It’s hard for me to explain because its an emotional experience. When Father mentioned it as mass I always wanted to go, but before we had four kids and it wasn’t in the budget.”

Kolk laughed and said she planned on going even if her husband Brad wasn’t. However, as it turned out Brad was also interested in making the trip after hearing a presentation from Father Peter.

“It was a wonderful experience, and I am glad we got to share it together,” she said.

Brad said what intrigued him, besides the religious component, was the historical one.

“I have always liked history and thought this was an opportunity to take our faith and Christianity and go where most of this started happening,” he said. “I am a physical person who likes to see places to bring all of that together, and this was a great opportunity to say there is the map, the buildings, the places. Now listening to the readings in Mass it all clicks better for me.”

Cabot said what helped make that historical aspect happen was the people who took them around to the various places.

“We had an excellent Palestinian historical guide who was absolutely the best,” she said. “I didn’t expect the guide to have that much knowledge about things.”

The group spent three days in Tiberius at the Sea of Gailee and five days in Jerusalem. They spent time at a wide variety of places that moved all of them very deeply.

“At Cana the married couples had the chance to repeat their vows,” said Rosemary Swidorski.

Three couples from Manistee and three from Charlevoix took advantage of the opportunity at the site of the first miracle where Christ changed water to wine.

Mass was held in many interesting places daily, including the south shore of the Sea of Galilee.

“It was at Javagha where Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes,” said Rosemary Swidorski.

Rev. Matthew Wigton helps Sandy Cabot renew her baptismal vows on the shores of the Jordan River. (Courtesy photo)

Rev. Matthew Wigton helps Sandy Cabot renew her baptismal vows on the shores of the Jordan River. (Courtesy photo)

“That was kind of amazing because the church was built around this huge rock that was 10 or 15 feet long and eight feet wide,” said Dick Swidorski. “You could actually walk up and touch that rock. The altar was up front and we all sat around that rock.”

Most of the Masses were private for the group of 32 and were conducted by Father Mathew and Father Peter.

“Each day at various locations we had liturgy of the word and full Mass with full communion,” said Cabot.

Robke said another memorable spot where Mass was held was in Jerusalum, in the tomb where Jesus was buried.

“We walked down from the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem where we stayed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and we had to get there at 5:30 a.m. because that was our time to get in,” she said.

Brad Kolk said the size of the room where Mass was held was extremely small.

“The altar area was in an spot where you had to bend down three feet to get into the area of the tomb,” he said. “There was room for two priests and two people and that was it. We rotated one or two at a time from the Chapel of the Angel into the tomb.”

They had the opportunity to touch the area where Jesus was laid when he was crucified. It was the area where Mary Magdaline was met by the angel after he rose from the dead.

Cabot said that Mass was her favorite part.

“Everything we talk about brings up another good memory,” she said. “I don’t know how you figure a favorite part and I can’t tell you how many times I cried at Mass because I was so moved. It was overwhelming to me as I heard the gospel and the homily from Father and to know I was right there at that spot.”

All of those spots of importance now have churches or basilicas over them, as that is the only way they were preserved. Most said there were so many memories they found it hard to select just one as a favorite.

“You hear all the readings and you see those things — it is unreal to believe I was there to see it,” said Dick Swidorski. “There were so many that I can’t pick out a favorite one. When they talk about cities you imagine it as a city of today, but everything was rock or built out of sandstone.”

Joan Kolk said it is hard to select any one favorite spot, but if she had to it would be the slab of rock where Christ was laid after being crucified.

“It wasn’t just visual as the smell of the slab hit me as people pour expensive perfumes on the slab and then they soak it up and take it home and they use it for anointing,” she said.

All said they have no regrets and would go back if they had the opportunity to do it again.

By virtually seeing the Bible come to life before their eyes, all of them agreed that it truly was a trip of a lifetime and something they think everyone should experience for both the religious and historical aspects.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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