Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
Be “Merciful like the Father.”
I had not done much for this Year of Mercy — at least by my own estimation — when summer arrived and I realized that I was letting this moment of grace pass by me. This entire extraordinary jubilee year was inviting me to draw close to Jesus by becoming “merciful like the Father,” and yet I felt in my bones that the Year of Mercy to me was still just an event in the life of the Church, not a lived reality.
I needed to encounter Jesus in a deeply personal way, and so in August I listened to the whisper of the Holy Spirit and decided I would go on a Year of Mercy pilgrimage. But I needed to encounter the Lord’s mercy by going back to the “beginnings” of our salvation history in the Holy Land — specifically the Kingdom of Jordan. I had visited the country briefly in Oct. 2014 covering the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, but not as a pilgrim, and I knew the Lord was calling me here on pilgrimage.
Why the Kingdom of Jordan? For many reasons, but first you must know that the Holy Land covers three nations along the Jordan River, which is why whenever the popes visit the Holy Land as pilgrims they go to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. The Holy Land is sometimes called the “fifth Gospel,” and like an open book, it has the Jordan river as its spine, running from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and two sides — Israel and Palestine are on Jordan’s west bank, and the Kingdom of Jordan is on the east bank. Only when you experience both “pages” of this Fifth Gospel, do you get the whole experience as a Holy Land pilgrim!
So I took the opportunity to make by Year of Mercy pilgrimage by joining fellow Catholic journalists on a tour of Jordan’s holy sites sponsored by the Jordanian Tourism Board. I had been blessed to have a similar opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the holy sites in Israel sponsored by the Israeli Tourism Ministry and cover Pope Francis’s historic visit in May 2014. Jordan is a very safe country in the Middle East, and so this gave me a much longed for chance to really encounter “the rest of the story” so to speak, both as a Catholic journalist and pilgrim.
But I’m just at the beginning of this tour, which lasts from Oct. 7 through Oct. 15. Jordan is where our Lord showed his mercy and love in both the Old and New Testaments. In this beautiful desert land, Moses led the people of Israel during their 40-years of purification before they could cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land. The prophet Elijah also walked here. St. John the Baptist was martyred here by Herod, and here Jesus the Messiah cast out demons into swine, and began his ministry with his baptism by St. John the Baptist. But Jordan is also a land of living faith, with Christians as the “living stones” who have lived here since their ancestors received the Gospel from the Apostles.
If you have not gone on pilgrimage yet during this Year of Mercy, I invite you to make the time to do so before it ends on Nov. 20. I decided to begin my pilgrimage by entering the Holy Door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, seeking the Year of Mercy plenary indulgence, and asking that the Lord help me to understand how to be “Merciful like the Father.” I plan to make my Thanksgiving at the Holy Door of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, N.Y. when I return.
But I wanted to invite you as the reader to join me in prayer, and come along with me on this Year of Mercy pilgrimage to Holy Jordan, as I post blogs and pictures, and hopefully some video, so you can experience it too.
Our tour to Holy Jordan lasts from Oct. 7 through Oct. 15 — and you can follow me on this blog and the Register’s social media (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) with the hashtag #HolyJordan.
I’m leaving the combox open just for those who would like to ask me to pray for their intentions on this pilgrimage. Please pray for me on this Year of Mercy pilgrimage. Enjoy the pictures below!
I began my pilgrimage in New York City by visiting St. Peter's Church in New York at Ground Zero. I wanted to enter into the spirit of the Year of Mercy for my pilgrimage, so I started here because here the firefighters laid the body of Father Mychal Judge on the steps of the high altar. On 9/11, he gave the last full measure of his life to show what it meant to be "merciful like the Father." I prayed morning prayer using the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham, which uses traditional Prayer Book English. The book is opened up to the Gospel canticle, where I thought upon the line "through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us ..." (I'm a member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, but any Catholic can pray the liturgy of the hours in this way).
Next stop was St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Here I began my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, passing through the Holy Door, seeking the plenary indulgence for the Year of Mercy. I thought this was a great way to start my pilgrimage to Holy Jordan by bringing the Lord all my prayers, petitions, and the intentions that others have asked me to pray for, and asking for the grace to encounter the Lord here, and become "merciful like the Father." When I get back to the States, I plan to make a thanksgiving for my Year of Mercy pilgrimage by going to the Holy Door at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Rochester, N.Y.
Finally, I arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan on Oct. 7, back among the wonderful and hospitable Jordanian people. A large Jordanian family was there to give one of their sons a massive homecoming with drums, bagpipes -- the sound of bagpipes thrill the Scot in me -- and singing. We had dinner with our group that evening. Now the main part of the pilgrimage begins!