(SNR) – Two diocesan priests led a pilgrimage in Greece and Turkey May 23 – June 3, “In the Footsteps of St. Paul.”
The tour included sites where St. Paul preached and the priests on the tour celebrated Mass each day. At Philippi, the first European city where St. Paul preached and converted people to Christianity, an outdoor Mass was celebrated next to the river where Lydia was baptized, his first convert.
The pilgrims visited Kavala, the first European city to accept Christianity as a whole, and saw the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul. They visited the place where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation, on the (Greek) Island of Patmos.
During the tour of the earliest Christian churches, the pilgrims also saw ancient stadia and gymnasiums showed where games were played, challenging athletes to the early forms of Olympics.
In Smyrna, at the Church of St. Polycarp, the oldest church in ancient Smyrna, the pilgrims were privileged to meet the current Bishop of Izmir (pictured below). After Mass, he invited the group to listen to a convert from Islam to Catholicism.
An envelope of prayers for the pilgrims’ friends and loved ones were placed at the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ephesus, where she was brought to live by the Apostle John, after the Resurrection of Christ. St. Paul lived in Ephesus for two years, and the tomb of St. Luke is located in Ephesus. The pilgrims also saw the Basilica of St. John, erected over his grave in the 6th century A.D., by the Emperor Justinian.
In Istanbul, the tour sites included the Hagia Sophia Museum (a Basilica built by Emperor Justinian), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the Blue Mosque of the Sultan Ahmet; a Roman Hippodrome built in 203 A.D., and Topkapi Palace, the residence of Ottoman sultans from the 1400s and to 1800s.
“At no time during the entire trip was there ever a concern of danger,” said pilgrim Ellen Jirovsky, “a feeling of fear, or any harassment by the people of the countries. We felt completely at ease throughout the pilgrimage.”
To realize that they traveled in St. Paul’s footsteps, she said, and saw where he preached, where he was imprisoned several times, why he wrote his letters to the people that became part of the New Testament, and to see that the new Church was spread through one man in a very large area of Asia and the Middle East, and Europe, “it makes our Catholic Faith come home to us as real history, real life, real love of Christ.”