When I had arrived home for summer vacation, my mother suggested attending the Holy Land Festival on July 16 at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington, D.C. She had visited the Holy Land about 18 years ago.
She leaved the planning of the day trip to me. I added attending daily Mass at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception because I didn’t want to miss celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She later wanted to visit the St. John Paul II National Shrine. Fortunately, all three sites were minutes from each other.
I had hoped to see my fellow seminarian Jeremy because his family lived outside D.C. But our schedules couldn’t work.
The day before the trip, my mother raised the concern that I might be too tired to drive back. She suggested packing a change of clothes just in case we had to stay at a hotel for the night. If that backup plan was given days before, Jeremy and I could have arranged a meeting. Oh, well. I prudently packed an extra set of clothes.
The two of us headed out about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. The drive went without incident as my mother shared very familiar stories about our family.
We arrived at the St. John Paul II shrine a few minutes before opening. The interior was bright and welcoming. We visited the Luminous Mysteries Chapel and the Redemptor Hominis Church. I was impressed with the mosaics in both chapels. The shrine didn’t have any special exhibits at the time so we visited the permanent exhibit on the saint’s life. I was impressed with the artifacts in the collection including some of the pope’s skiing equipment and liturgical vestments.
My mother bought a book on John Paul II’s pontificate at the gift shop, which had no postcards. We were about to leave when I remembered that the shrine had a relic of John Paul II. The lady at the information desk said that a vial of his blood was set beneath the cross in the Luminous Mysteries Chapel. We revisited the chapel and found the cross. We had completely overlooked it.
Next stop was the basilica. There were no more handicap parking spots so I dropped my mother off at one of the doors and found parking across the street. Entering through the main doors, I found the Holy Door. That raises my total of entering Holy Doors during the Jubilee Year of Mercy to four.
I had visited the basilica to attend the Vigil Mass for Life in 2015. But I didn’t have time to look around. This time, the Upper Church had scaffolding for a mosaic installation on the Trinity in the last undecorated dome. I would’ve taken pictures. But my cell phone somehow failed to charge completely the night before. I had to rely on my battery pack to charge my phone during the basilica visit.
My mother and I reunited outside the Crypt Church. We entered in time for the rosary. The priest celebrating the Mass was from Brooklyn. This Queens boy just couldn’t escape from his Brooklyn influences.
The gift shop had a wide variety of items. A white T-shirt with Pope Francis on it? Yes, please. I bought another T-shirt and postcards.
For lunch, my mother had already packed her meals. She urged me to find a restaurant to buy lunch. But I suspected that the Holy Land Festival would have food. A hot, humid morning of driving and walking, I was relieved to buy a plate of chicken shawarma, rice, beans and salad at the festival.
My mother was surprised at how small the festival was. Fewer than a dozen booths lined the courtyard offering wares, food and info on the Holy Land. Passing one of them, I saw Brother Jay, a Franciscan seminarian I had met at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., this past school year. We chatted a few minutes.
After lunch, my mother and I entered the church in time to join a tour. Franciscans built the church in the late 1800s to offer accurate reproductions of sites in the Holy Land and Rome. But there were authentic artifacts such as a piece of the stone rolled over Jesus’ tomb. The bones of two Roman martyrs (a soldier and a boy) were displayed.
Another stop at a gift shop increased my stack of postcards to send to friends.
I felt good enough to drive back. My right leg ached because of the constant switching between brake and accelerator in the stop-and-go traffic to the highway. But the pain went away once we reached the highway. I was alert throughout the drive. Rain had already left a New Jersey rest area when we stopped for dinner.
Fifteen hours after leaving for D.C., my mother and I pulled into the driveway. My mother commented twice how much she enjoyed this road trip. For me, this was the best of the three road trips with her. I was surprised by the good timing on this drive. Someone must have been looking out for us.