It's an old story. Folks have taken a pilgrimage and they are changed. Returning to their home, the familiar surrounds seem different and somehow off-kilter. The people are about the same, but you are different.

You recall your first pilgrimage and its surprising impact on your being. We went to Fatima because at the time we were living in Portugal. Our friends said we simply had to go. It was not our type of thing. In Portugal one gets used to outward shows of faith. Roadside devotionals were common. On the bus we were moved by the faith of the pilgrims. We saw people climbing stony steps approaching a shrine on their knees. We were bound for the field where three children saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1917.

When we read Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," we had vague ideas of sinful people telling their woeful stories and trying to save themselves. Seeing Martin Sheen in "The Way," wakes up the possibility of change in our modern lives. "The Way" in the movie is the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James. It is a walking path from France to a shrine in coastal Spain. In the movie, the main character meets three other pilgrims and they form their bonds and reveal their secrets. No matter what mood bereaved father Martin Sheen harbored as he set out, his journey changed him.

And then, there is "Next year Jerusalem." Does it imply a rendezvous? Jerusalem is, of course, the central site of many faiths. However, try using the words "The Holy Land." Many shake their geographic heads and give a blank look. A journey to Israel is, however, like no other. Traveling on a tour bus with 30 other Christians offered companionship while we listened to Scripture readings and prayed at holy sites. Others had told us of the disputes between various Christian groups, so that each denomination has its own altars: the Protestants, the Syrian Christians, the Greek Orthodox. They have also written of the bloody history of the cities and valleys. There are Armageddons and sacrifices; there are beheadings and crucifixions.

The New World comes with the birth of Christ. We followed the sites where He was born, was baptized, preached and performed miracles. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" is no longer just a Christmas carol. In Nazareth, with its colorful history, the town where Jesus spent most of his life, we walked where He might have walked. Famous as the site of the Annunciation, Nazareth shows strains of the historical twists of power. The Romans, the Byzantines, and later the Crusaders came along and made it an important Christian site. After Muslims retook control in the 12th and 13th centuries, Christians were banished. By the 18th century Franciscans were able to acquire the basilica and maintain a presence to modern times.

A boat trip on the Sea of Galilee was aboard a replica of a first century fishing boat excavated from the sea floor. An outing allowed for song and Scripture readings. Later we were able to collect shells and rocks from the spot where Peter and the sons of Zebedee moored their boats by the shore.

A surprising highlight is the Holy Land's harsh deserts. A village springs up. Caves form in groups, some natural, some man-made. One imagines the cave where Jesus was born. We saw one of the caves in which a Bedouin shepherd, in 1947, looking for his lost goat discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately, he used some of the pottery containers for target practice before reporting one of the greatest historical finds of all time. As he entered the cave he noticed jars containing seven ancient scrolls and over the next two decades fragments of some 800 more were found in 11 caves. The scrolls had been written between the 3rd century BC and 68 AD by a sect of early Jewish monks at Qumran. Some contain the oldest existing versions of biblical scripture. At the Israel Museum the Dead Sea scrolls are further explained and exhibited.

We followed the Passion from the Church of the Agony, the Garden of Gethsemane to Kidron Valley to the House of Caiaphas. We walked the Via Dolorosa winding through the busy markets on the ancient stones of old Jerusalem. One early morning as our group was following the path of the passion, Stations of the Cross, Palestinian Catholics school girls, wearing red plaid skirts and carrying back packs and scurrying up the steeps steps, touch the hole at the 8th station, where Jesus consoles the Women of Jerusalem. Their hands quickly touched the spot, made the sign of the cross and then rushed up the steps. They shared girlish laughter on their way to school.

Our guide tells us of the sacrifice they make daily to remain Catholic and Palestinian in Jerusalem. Theirs is a difficult life. His wife does not shop in the local Arab souks or markets for fear of verbal abuse or worse. His children are the object of ridicule if they pass by stalls in the city. A pickpocket makes off with our wallet, using a small boy as a distraction. Our group was heckled by a local vendor. This is life in a city under tension.

Yet, we hope the very presence of pilgrims helps stabilize the region. We are among the many pilgrims who are a source of considerable income. As well as holy places, we are able to visit archaeological sites. One is Megiddo, a fertile valley where armies and more armies fought and died in horrible carnage. The Book of Revelation portrays this as Armageddon, the site of the final battle between Good and Evil at the end of the world. Geology is destiny here where ancient tribes and caravans carried on their trading and armies followed earlier battle sites. Perhaps it will be the final battle site.

When we recall favorite places, there are so many. Where else to renew baptismal vows than the river Jordan? Where else to renew wedding vows but at Cana? We are fascinated by Jericho, the oldest known human settlement in the world. Students of the Bible are familiar with names such as Capharnaum, the Land of Zabulon and Galilee. Now for us they take shape in our minds as real places where real events occurred.

Every pilgrimage is only partly travel and discovery. Frederick Buechner said "Religion points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage." Visiting the holy sites of our faith sets off internal well springs. The journey changes the travelers so that things never look the same. Before this travel, we expected heads of state to solve geo-political strife. Now we know that politics will never settle the world's ills. Rather faith is the only solution. It is Jesus who redeems.

"The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; the dispersed of Israel he gathers."

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.

Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...