By KATIE BORKOWSKI
CARROLL – A bucket list trip for Deacon Dave and Terri Prenger came sooner than they planned.
The couple from Holy Spirit Parish in Carroll decided to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when they found out about the trip last May.
“I have been taking spiritual mentorship classes put on by the School of Faith in the Kansas City Archdiocese,” said Dave. “Mike Scherschligt, who is the head of the School of Faith, is the one who leads the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I said something to Terri and she said, ‘We’re going.’”
The Prengers traveled with Scherschligt, Father Bill Bruning and others from the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., from Jan. 15 to 25. There were about 45 people on the pilgrimage.
They flew into Tel Aviv, Israel and stayed in Jerusalem for the first five days at the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame. This was next to the old city, so they could walk through the gate and be at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in seven minutes, Dave pointed out.
A big concern of people in the Prengers’ life before the couple left was the issue of safety.
“It was safer than walking through downtown Omaha,” said Dave. “Even when we walked by ourselves, I felt perfectly safe. They do a wonderful job of protecting and keeping everybody safe.”
Mount Calvary and Jesus’ tomb are both in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The group was able to visit this church several times.
“One morning we got up early and went over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Mass was going on, so the door was shut,” said Terri. “We were just outside praying until the sisters came out. Dave and I got into the tomb area – just the two of us – and that was pretty awesome.”
Terri explained the Holy Sepulchre Church is a huge church and was built in the 300s. There are four highlights within the church.
“One is the tomb, of course,” she said. “At the top of Mount Calvary, there are two altars. One is Greek Orthodox and that is built right over the spot where the crucifix was. Under the altar there is a hole where you can put your hand in and touch the rock where the cross was. Downstairs there is a window through which you can see where the earthquake split the rock at three o’clock when Jesus died.”
Down below, Terri added, there is spot where “they assume Mary stood to watch the crucifixion. That spot was very touching to me.”
The other altar at the top of Mount Calvary is the Catholic altar; Dave assisted at Mass there.
The group was able to walk along the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross, early one morning before the shops opened. Dave led the Stations of the Cross. They imagined what it would have been like for Jesus to walk through the narrow streets when the shops were open, Terri pointed out.
“It would have been like carrying the cross through the Iowa State Fair,” she quipped.
Time for meditation
Later on in the week, the pilgrims went to the Church of the Annunciation.
“We were there for the Angelus at noon,” said Terri. “We had about 40 minutes of prayer there. That was the difference between this trip and other pilgrimages we have taken. This felt more like a retreat. We had a lot of spiritual guidance, a lot of Bible study, a lot of explanation, but then they gave us the time for meditation.”
At the Rock of Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the pilgrims took time for an hour of eucharistic adoration.
“It was Thursday night; Jesus was there in the Eucharist and we stayed awake – unlike the Apostles,” said Terri.
They were able to visit and stay on the Mount of Beatitudes, which is on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. At the top of the hill, an order of sisters have a hotel. Dave pointed out not too far from this point was where the miracle of the loaves and fishes took place.
The couples on the trip were also able to renew their wedding vows while Mass was celebrated in Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. On the last day, the pilgrims went to the top of Mount Tabor where the transfiguration took place.
The couple purchased rosaries for their rosary group back home. The blessed rosaries traveled with them at all times and touched the altars, walls and holy sites, while the Prengers prayed for their friends’ intentions.
Mass was celebrated daily in the churches or at the sites the pilgrims were visiting. Dave was able to serve as deacon for most of the Masses.
“This was awesome,” said Terri. “The tomb of Jesus only holds three people. The altar is built over the tomb.”
Dave said being able to be the deacon in so many holy places was “amazing. It was very special to be deacon at all these different Masses.”
“As I look back on it, I don’t know why I was so blessed to be there,” he said. “I was the only deacon on the trip, so I didn’t have to take turns with anyone. When you are deacon, you have to keep track of what you are doing, so sometimes it is hard to get lost in how awesome it is.”
Upon their return, Dave was reflecting on how awesome it was to have walked where Jesus walked, sit where he sat and to see everything Jesus saw.
“After receiving Holy Communion, I thought, ‘I get to touch Jesus now,’” said Dave. “Over there, I was just touching the places he touched. Now I get to touch him. I have a greater awareness now of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist than I did before.”
The Prengers said they are on a “spiritual high” that they haven’t lost yet.
“We are forever changed,” said Terri.