03 Nov LIFE Runners in the Holy Land (Jer 1:5) by Jeff Grabosky
Going to the Holy Land – to specifically walk in the steps of Jesus – has been a dream of mine. I had saved up and was planning a trip about four years ago when I met my wife and decided to instead use the money to buy a ring and work on starting our lives together. Fast-forward a few years and we are married with two young kids and living our faith and loving life. During a Novena to St. Joseph, in addition to praying for work (which was eventually answered), I prayed to go to the Holy Land this year. I believed that God could make it happen. Sure enough, I got a call not long after that asking if I would be open to the Ministry of Tourism sending me to Israel to see Jerusalem and run in the Bible Marathon. The plan was to represent my LIFE Runners Team. I am blessed to be on the board of this global nonprofit. We build awareness for the sanctity of life, and we do this in a number of ways – primarily by wearing jerseys all over the world that say “REMEMBER The Unborn – Jer 1:5.” In 2011, I ran across America solo and unsupported, taking prayer intentions from people all over the world, and I planned to do the same for this trip. I would run for the sanctity of all human life, and an end to abortion, while simultaneously praying an Our Father and ten Hail Marys for each intention I received.
After a late arrival on Tuesday, I only slept three hours and walked about twenty minutes inside the walls of Jerusalem and went to Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at the Chapel of the Apparition where the Column of the Flagellation is preserved. After walking back to the hotel and grabbing breakfast, I met up with my small tour group of Italians and toured the city of Jerusalem. It was the Sukkot holiday for the Jewish people so the city was packed as tens of thousands of people crowded near the Western Wall. We had to jump over a gate and climb up to the top of a roof to get a view. We would eventually make our way back there later in the day to pray at the wall, but before that we took in a view of the city, walked the actual Stations of the cross, and toured the inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which encases where Jesus was crucified, died, was prepared for burial, and was buried. It was extremely packed with people so I made a plan to return again early the following morning.
I only slept about three hours once again, waking up to chat with my wife back home, who was seven hours behind, before heading out to go to the 5:30 AM Mass. The feeling was similar to that of waking up on Christmas morning as a child, but the gift this morning was the true body and blood of Jesus Christ only footsteps away from where Christ was actually crucified, buried, and resurrected. Knowing what had happened over 2,000 years ago in the very place I was made the experience that much more real. I believe in the true presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but this morning I felt it in a way more powerful than ever before. Since the Church was nearly empty, I was able to go up to the top of Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, and place my hand in the spot his cross stood. I lit a candle near it for all the intentions people asked me to pray for and took some quiet prayer time in that holy place. Beneath that spot is called the Grave of Adam, where you can see a split in the rock of Golgotha and many people place written intentions there. I also wrote down my personal intentions, to include the end of abortion, as well as those given to me by people who wanted me to pray for them, and placed it there.
Next, I knelt down next to the stone where the body of Jesus was anointed after his death as his body was prepared for burial. It is customary for people to rub religious items or articles of clothing on the stone to have a relic of Christ. I did this with my wedding ring, in a prayer that I can love my family as Christ loves his Church. I also did the same for my necklace and scapula. Given my mission was to pray for the unborn and promote the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death, I did the same with my LIFE Runners jersey. Finally, I prayed outside the tomb of Jesus and walked back to my hotel. After returning to my hotel and grabbing breakfast, I headed out with the tour group to get a view of the Dead Sea before heading to the Mount of Olives. From there, I saw a beautiful view of Jerusalem as well as the place where Jesus ascended into Heaven. We drove to Tel Aviv and on the way checked out some Biblical gardens. Then we checked into our hotel there before taking a quick tour of the city and grabbing dinner. It is a beautiful city and I was blessed to have a great view of the Mediterranean Sea.
I went to bed late and had a hard time sleeping, getting up at 3 AM to get ready for a 4 AM departure to the starting line of the marathon. It had been three years since I had run a marathon and about a year since I had last put in a 20 mile run. I was ill prepared given this race was a point to point race and significantly uphill. I gave an interview before the race and prayed for the intentions on my rosary ring in the early miles of the race.
The race was the most difficult marathon I have ever done and the only way I was able to get through it was through prayer and offering up the suffering I was experiencing for those intentions I was praying for. The scenery itself was beautiful as the race took me through what felt like mountains in the West Bank on the way to the ancient town of Shiloh. The course actually follows the route of a “man of Benjamin” who ran the distance thousands of years earlier to tell of a defeat in battle. I thought of it as a great opportunity to run in the steps of history, but this time, my run was to pray and to tell the world not of defeat, but of Christ’s Victory over death and the salvation He offers each and every one of us. After the race, we went back to the hotel and I took a short rest before walking to the Mediterranean Sea and putting my feet in the water. We had a nice dinner and I praised God I was able to survive the race.
Once again I got very little sleep and took a short stroll in the morning near the water. October 22nd marked the 10 year anniversary of my Mom’s death and I prayed a rosary by the Sea, as she was a woman who loved being by the water. We got a tour of Old Jaffa, the ancient city just South of Tel Aviv. After heading back to the hotel and grabbing dinner, I said goodbye to my Italian friends, who had signed up to be LIFE Runners! I then walked nearly 4 miles to St. Anthony’s to go to 7:30pm Mass. It was an incredible church and in front of where I knelt down were the letters “MA” scratched onto the pew, so I felt like my mom was there with me. After Mass, I introduced myself to the priest whose name was Fr. Angelo, and he happened to be from the Vatican Embassy down the road at St. Peter. He offered to give me a tour of the church and the Embassy. I got to see the beautiful church and also signed him up to be a LIFE Runner – which brings the total number of LIFE Runners to being in all 50 states and 29 nations! He was excited to hear about our mission and is going to try to help us build a chapter there at his parish.
I got up early in the morning once again and enjoyed the view of the Mediterranean Sea one last time before taking off for the airport. It was an indescribable trip and it is my hope to come back someday to see even more, such as Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee. For the time that I had, I used it well and spent a lot of time in prayer, reflecting on my life, and trying to witness and pray for the unborn. This was truly a special pilgrimage and God blessed my time spent in prayer, my conversations, and my goal of expanding the ministry of the LIFE Runners. As I reflected on my time spent in the Holy Land, I remembered thinking that I was so blessed to have the opportunity to go and I wanted to bring something back for my family as a small way of giving them a small taste of the experience I had. However, I realized the best gift I could give them would be my stronger faith and to imitate Christ in all things. It is my hope to do just that. I desire to walk in the footsteps of Christ, not only in the literal places where He walked, but in His holy ways.
All In Christ for Pro-Life!