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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: February 2024

Close Encounters with the Holy Spirit: Reflections on My 2019 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Erica C R Costello


  • Each unique and meaningful experience accentuates God’s grace and mercy.
  • The deep and significant connections to the scripture carry on beyond the pilgrimage.  
Close Encounters with the Holy Spirit: Reflections on My 2019 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Godong via Getty Images

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“And I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.” Ezekiel 36:27

In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to take a 10-day pilgrimage with my church in Indianapolis, Indiana to the Holy Land. As someone who regularly reads the Bible, I immediately jumped at this opportunity to see some of the many holy sites from scripture. In mid-May, I was part of a group of around 30 pilgrims who went to Israel on a journey which proved to be very memorable and life-changing for many of us.

The first stop of our pilgrimage was at the City of Bethlehem, said to be the place where Jesus Christ was born. Every Christmas, churches throughout the world celebrate Christ’s birth in this holy city. Our group traveled to a place called “Shepherd’s Field,” where shepherds reported hearing a chorus of angels proclaiming Christ’s birth. At this location, we entered a church and sang “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The effect of hearing the many voices from our group singing this song acapella as it echoed throughout the church was incredibly moving. To this day, each time this song is played during the holidays, it takes me back to this exact moment on our pilgrimage.

Another meaningful experience during our pilgrimage occurred at the Mount of Beatitudes, located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Gaililee. This place is said to be where Christ delivered the “Sermon on the Mount,” detailing the some of the central tenants of Christian discipleship. After attending Mass at this holy site, we were given some free time to walk around, pray, and reflect on our faith. It was wonderful to see how many people journeyed to this site while we were there. I was equally moved by both the beauty and simplicity of this site. We later observed the most amazing sunrise over the Sea of Gaililee—a brilliant and dazzling shade of orange creeping up over the surrounding mountains and water.

While we visited many holy sites during our pilgrimage, perhaps the most powerful experience I had was at the Jordan River, the site where Christ was reported to be baptized by John the Baptist. Our group arrived at this site in the late morning and received a blessing from Father Rick Nagel, a priest from our church traveling with us. After receiving this blessing, I took out my rosary to dip it in water, saying, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Out of nowhere, a white dove flew down and landed in the area where our group had congregated. Witnessing this dove come down to be with our group at the Jordan River was a unique and profound experience. Many of us took it as a sign of God’s grace and mercy.

Overall, the experiences I had in the Holy Land were deep and significant. It was a moment in time that could never be replaced. The following year, as the entire world shut down due to the global pandemic, I felt very fortunate to have been able to visit the Holy Land when I did—and even more now given the current crisis in the region. It was great to see pilgrims from other religions touring the Holy Land at the same time as our group. If you are ever able to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I would highly recommend going—and seeing where your feet and God’s grace takes you.