Monday, April 22nd, 2024 Church Directory
FR. BACKER PERFORMS MASS inside the Tomb of Jesus Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. (Submitted Photo)
FR. BACKER ‘stands on the waters’ of the Sea of Galilee. (Submitted Photo)

Easter holds deeper meaning after pilgrimage to the Holy Land

By Penny Leuthard, Delayed two years because of the pandemic, in late 2022 Fr. Backer from Clearwater’s Church of St. Luke was finally able to complete his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, experiencing the life and death of Christ in an intimate, personal way

Along with others from the area, including six parishioners from St. Luke’s, Fr. Backer spent 10 days experiencing the land and sites important to the Christian faith, including Christ’s birthplace and tomb. 

“Some of the sites are exact,” said Fr. Backer. “You can’t move a sea or river. Others are known as ‘traditional sites,’ such as where Christ was born or where the Sermon on the Mount took place because there’s nothing to mark the exact spots.”

Along with Christ’s birthplace and tomb, the group’s pilgrimage included Mary’s house, the well where she was told she would bear the Christ Child, Joseph’s house, the site of the transfiguration, the Sea of Galilee, the Wailing Wall, the Jordan River and the baptism site of John the Baptist, the Dead Sea and the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the road Jesus walked on Palm Sunday, the Garden of Gethsemane and the rock where Jesus wept, and the tomb of King David. Some sacred sites, such as Jacob’s well, were too dangerous for the group to visit due to violence in the area.

Most sacred sites had a church built over them and visitors ventured underneath to experience the actual sites. 

Cities visited included Tiberius, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Cana, where the married couples in the group were able to renew their wedding vows. In Jerusalem, Fr. Backer said prayers over Oskar Schindler’s grave. 

The anticipation and then the realization of walking where Christ and his disciples walked and experiencing Biblical sites was overwhelming at times. 

“The history of our country goes back to 1776,” he said. “The history of Israel goes back to BC.”

Fr. Backer had two main goals on the trip, to stand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and to perform mass at Christ’s tomb. He was able to accomplish both.

“Just standing on the shore was a powerful moment,” he said. “As was the realization that I was standing in Jesus’ tomb. Another significant moment occurred when I stood in the Crusaders Church and read the gospel of the Road to Emmaus. I broke down just thinking about where I was. I’ve always wanted to be on that road with Jesus.”

The group held mass daily at the sites they visited, with Fr. Backer and Fr. James, another priest in the group, alternating the leading of it.

Accompanying Fr. Backer on his journey were his mother’s rosary beads. She passed away in 2011.

“My mother gave me my faith,” he said. “I had her rosary with me at all times. I dipped them in the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, sat them on the altar when I said mass in the Tomb of Christ, and touched them to the star marking the birth of Christ in Bethlehem Church of the Nativity.”

The pilgrimage has given the message of Easter even more meaning to him than before.

“Holy Week is different for me now that I’ve been to some of these places,” said Fr. Backer. “Don’t go from Palm Sunday to Easter, there’s so much that happens between them. You won’t truly experience Easter joy if you don’t experience Holy Week. It gives the empty tomb meaning; without it, the resurrection loses its triumph.”

“Easter loses its meaning if you take away the cross.”