Seminarian reflects on 'wonderful' Holy Land visit - Catholic Courier
Seminarian Tony Amato stands outside of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth during his recent visit to the Holy Land. Seminarian Tony Amato stands outside of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth during his recent visit to the Holy Land.

Seminarian reflects on ‘wonderful’ Holy Land visit

GREECE — Thanks to the trip of a lifetime, Tony Amato will no longer lean on his imagination nearly so often when reflecting on events and places in the Bible.

Amato, 28, a diocesan seminarian, made his first-ever journey to the Holy Land July 12-27. During the pilgrimage he toured and prayed at numerous locales around Israel mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, particularly those representing moments in Jesus’ life and ministry.

"There’s no doubt that I’ll never be able to read Scripture again without being able to think about how I walked in these places," remarked Amato, a native of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish.

His trip was sponsored by the Eastern Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Catholic order of knighthood. Amato was selected by Bishop Salvatore R. Matano as the lone representative from the Diocese of Rochester, joining 19 other seminarians from New York and surrounding states.

Among the notable stops on Amato’s itinerary were Capernaum, the village where Jesus performed much of his public ministry; the Mount of Beatitudes, in the area where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount; Mount Tabor, where Jesus’ transfiguration took place; the Mount of Olives, which Jesus visited often and is the area of his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane as well as his ascension into heaven; and such noted biblical communities as Jerusalem, Nazareth, Cana, Bethlehem, Jericho and Bethany. Amato also went on a boat ride in the Sea of Galilee, and swam in the Dead Sea when it was 107 degrees outside.

Amato said that since all these sites have such profound histories, it was difficult to spend adequate time reflecting on what he was experiencing.

"I was advised just before I left to take a journal with me, and I found that was very, very valuable — to write down what I saw and how I felt," he said.

Then again, certain events remain so clear in his mind that no journal is necessary. For instance, Amato was selected by his group to read all of Chapter 6 in the Book of John — in the same place where Jesus declared "I am the bread of life" as depicted in that chapter.

Also highly memorable was the grotto at the site of the Annunciation: "Here the word became flesh," Amato said, repeating the opening words of John 1. He noted the intensity of being at the same spot where the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the mother of Jesus, saying, "I was kneeling there and everybody was crying. That was pretty profound."

Profundity also was the rule at Calvary (Golgotha), the site of Jesus’ crucifixion; and the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb in which Christ was buried. At both places Amato and his contingent took part in Mass, and one night he and a few other seminarians stayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for an all-night prayer vigil. While kneeling at the tomb, Amato recalled, "Immediately the words from the Gospel came to me — ‘He’s not here. He has risen.’"

Yet another biblical quote came to mind while at the Sea of Galilee, on the same site where Jesus appeared to the disciples after he had risen, as recounted in John 21.

"You can picture Christ saying, ‘Do you love me?’ and Peter answering, ‘Yes, I do,’" Amato said, adding that he silently felt himself having the same exchange with God as it relates to his impending priesthood.

Amato recently completed his pastoral year at St. Mary Parish and St. Mary and Martha Parish, both in Auburn, and has begun his third theology year at Theological College at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In the spring of 2016 he will be ordained a transitional deacon, with his priestly ordination to follow a year after that.

A return to the Holy Land after entering the priesthood is a strong possibility.

"I think if I had an opportunity, I’d like to lead a pilgrimage or be a priest on one — have the opportunity to say Mass in the places where I attended Mass," he said.

In the meantime, Amato will continue to bask in the spiritual high of his first trip to the Holy Land.

"Joyful, prayerful, wonderful … I use the word ‘wonderful’ a lot," he said. "Also, tiring — we were exhausted at the end, but it was a good exhausted."


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