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The future of pilgrimage travel 2024-2025

This article is courtesy of Select International Tours:

The Future of Pilgrimage Travel 2024-2025

A New Year is upon us again, and we are excited to see all that 2024 brings. We are seeing signs of hope for returning to Israel in 2024. Greece is becoming a very hot destination, and the coming Jubilee year in Italy is causing quite a stir. Read on to learn more.

Holy Land:  Signs of Hope

Of all the things we are hoping and praying for in 2024, the resolution of hostilities in the Holy Land is at the top of our list. Thankfully, we are seeing signs of life returning to normal in Israel, which makes us believe that travel there may be possible soon.

In the last few weeks, Israel has told citizens in the North to return to their homes after months living in hotels in and around Jerusalem. The northern checkpoint into Gaza has been opened, and people are returning to the area. Children returned to school, and hotels across the region reopened. Several European and Asian airlines have resumed regular flights in and out of Tel Aviv and US carriers have announced dates in February and March when they too will resume flights. Pilgrimage groups from Europe and Asia are on the ground and reporting having safe pilgrimages.

Encouraging Words from Our Guides in the Holy Land:  One of our chief guides, Hani Awwad, has been touring the US since January 1, speaking with Groups who are excited to return or visit the Holy Land for the first time. He tells us that he and other guides have been taking groups from Europe and Asia to most of the sites we regularly visit over the past month and a half or so. All the trips have been rewarding and without incident. The only major Christian sites still closed to tourists are in Bethlehem; however, they are expected to reopen in the next thirty days.

Travel to the Holy Land Resuming Shortly:  If you have a trip planned for May or later, plan on traveling. You will have an amazing experience as crowds will be reduced, and the people there will be very excited to welcome you to the Holy Land after being shut down for several months. If you, or someone you know, traveled to the Holy Land following the Pandemic, you will remember how easy and special it was to travel there before the crowds returned in force.

Greece: destination of choice for early 2024

Greece seems to be the destination of choice for early 2024. We have several groups departing to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul, and with good reason: the weather is mild, the scenery is breathtaking, the food is superb, and the places of spiritual significance are plentiful!

Next to the Holy Land, no place on Earth will change how you read the Holy Scriptures more than Greece. Most of St. Paul’s letters were written there. He spent a lot of time in the area ministering, and it is easy to imagine yourself standing alongside him as you tour through the well-preserved ancient cities mentioned in scripture.

If you’re looking to shake off the cold of Winter in the US, we have several trips to Greece departing this Spring and early Summer. Check them out HERE.

Italy:  New Property near the Vatican

We have just secured a new property in a Religious House within walking distance of the Vatican. This location will give pilgrims an incredible opportunity to explore and pray on their own during free time. Finding accommodations this close to the Vatican is always challenging, so we are very excited to offer another fabulous place to stay. A bonus is a garden, a private chapel, and dinners in restaurants, as the sisters are only serving breakfast at this time.

Just imagine stepping out the door of your hotel and strolling over to Saint Peter’s Square!

We are very happy about this new option for accommodations, especially with the lack of hotel space we are already seeing for travel in 2025.

2025 is going to be a Jubilee Year!

If you are hoping to plan a trip for 2025, Italy should be high on your list. 2025 is a Jubilee Year! What does that mean?

A Jubilee year is a “special year of grace.” The Jubilee starts on December 24, 2024 and goes until December 14, 2025. During the Jubilee, pilgrims who pass through the Holy Doors opened for the occasion have an opportunity to ask for a plenary indulgence. While the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica marks the beginning of the Jubilee, the Holy Doors of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and the Basilica of St. Mary Major will also open their Holy Doors for the Jubilee. Many of our tours will include an opportunity to walk through all four!

Shroud of Turin on Display?

Normally the Shroud of Turin, kept in Turin, Italy is not on display.  While no official notice has been given, we believe that the Shroud of Turin may be displayed during the Jubilee year. This was the case 10 years ago, during the last Jubilee. If this chance comes up again, you can be sure that pilgrims will be flocking to see it. It will be another experience that will make a pilgrimage to Italy in 2025 extra special.

Restrictions for travel in Venice:

Due to incredible crowds and large groups, Venice is taking new measures to restrict the number of visitors daily. New regulations are set to take place starting in June, limiting group size to 25 per group in addition to other restrictions. Florence, Portofino, and Rome are also in the process of announcing new restrictions.

Eucharistic Miracles:

Add to all this the fact that the Catholic Church is going through a Eucharistic revival, and Italy is loaded with Eucharistic miracles, like those at Lanciano, Bolsena-Orvieto, and Sienna! It has us wondering what God might have planned for this Jubilee year.

We already have trips in the works for 2025. You can see them HERE, as they open for registration….. but with so much happening in Italy in 2025, you might consider running a pilgrimage for your group or Parish. If you have a group of 20 or more people, give us a call at 1-800-842-4842, and let’s talk about planning your trip.

In Conclusion

There is a lot to look forward to in 2024 and 2025. But it all starts by saying, “Yes!” So assemble your family and friends, pull out a calendar, and start planning your pilgrimage trip! Remember, we only need 10 participants to start a group!

With over 100 trips on our website, and more being added each week, there are plenty of opportunities to travel somewhere extraordinary. We hope you’ll join us and we can’t wait to see you out there.

Note from the Catholic travel guide:  We like the idea of these restrictions in Rome, Venice and elsewhere.  It means smaller crowds and more access to the sites you want to visit…not to mention helping to preserve some of these precious sites.  Just be sure to book with Select International for the best group travel possible!

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Pilgrim from USA Decides to Stay in Bethlehem and Serve

Editor’s Note:  We wanted to re-post this email from Select International tours for your interest.  In addition to providing excellent Catholic tours, Select International actually helps support Christians in the Holy Land with its charitable foundation:  The Select to Give Foundation.

The article below is written by Elizabeth Wellendorf.  Elizabeth is a traveling nurse turned volunteer who works with Children at Hogar Nino Dios in Bethlehem.

Greetings from Hogar Nino Dios in Bethlehem:

In the summer of 2022, I went on a pilgrimage with Select International Tours to the Holy Lands. It was a trip of a lifetime with countless blessings and a birthday present that changed the trajectory of my life. My 26th birthday happened to fall on the day that we were visiting Bethlehem. After descending into the grotto of the nativity, I kissed the star that symbolized the place where Jesus was born, and I heard God say, “Happy Birthday, Elizabeth, welcome home.” It was one of those moments I couldn’t brush off as something that was just in my head. So I said, “Make a way”.

That night, we had a representative from Select to Give Foundation speak with us about how we could help support the Christians in the Holy Lands. One of the organizations the foundation supports is a home called Hogar Ninos Dios: Home of the God Child. With my nursing background and experience with children and adults with disabilities, I knew this was the perfect fit.

The path was rough with obstacles, but with my resilience (and pestering) the calling became a reality. Select to Give made it all possible and flew me back to Bethlehem in December of 2022. I spent December until April volunteering in Hogar Ninos Dios, and everyone there, including nuns, children, international volunteers, and employees, became family. The nuns of the order Servidores de la Verbo Incarnato chose the name Hogar Ninos Dios because in each of the 35 special needs children (and adults) that they serve are faces of the child Jesus. The children are either abandoned, or their families do not have the resources to take care of them. Over here, families are trying to put food on their table and don’t have the time or money to give these children what they need. They give them to the sisters with the hope of a better life. The sisters provide not only a home for the children but also a school on-site and medical care. They rely on providence to provide everything. They have generous international donors and volunteer groups, as well as locals who do what they can to help. Select to Give Foundation is one that continuously provides for the home. In March, they even sponsored my mother’s volunteer trip here. She is a special education teacher and was able to bring sensory tools and communication devices for the children. She was also able to work alongside the teachers in the school to exchange ideas.

Through the months of volunteering, I fell in love with my little Bethlehem family. I came to help them, but I know that God put them in my life to help me. As I neared my “end” date, I knew that He had more in store for me here. I went back to the United States and procured a Volunteer Visa that was valid for one year. In late August, I was finally able to come home. My time back started off typical Hogar style with a party and greetings from everyone. I got to experience some beautiful highs like walking with one of our children for the first time (17 years in a chair!!), being surprised by literally running into a friend at church, and spending an hour in the Grotto of the Nativity after hours with only 4 other volunteers. I did not know it then, but God was preparing me for what was to come because a little over a month after I got here, war broke out.

War broke out on October 7th, and despite countless people trying to talk me into going home, I never wavered in my decision to stay. God called me here at this time for a reason. His timing is always perfect. After my family realized I was unwavering, some suggested I would be useful on the front lines, helping as a nurse. This was a thought I was having myself, and I felt guilty for not doing more in this time of war because I have the skills. God reminded me that there were many times when He shut the door to nursing missions, but He opened the door to this home. He called me to be steadfast in love like a mother. If I just look at my body, it reveals my purpose. I get to be the arms that the children find safety and love in. I get to speak comforting words or shower them with kisses. I get to walk with them through this time of uncertainty. Even though we are not in the war zone, that could change in a moment, and I need to be here for them. It is beautiful that even though they are not children of my flesh and blood, I get to love them like my own. I am not afraid of losing my own life, but the thought of one of our helpless children getting harmed because there were not enough hands to help scares me more than anything.

After a few tense days, life in Bethlehem went back into a new normal. We are all on our toes in case we need to bring the children to a safe place, but life must go on. At home, our children still go to school in the mornings. In the afternoon, we play, or I stretch and exercise the children. One girl had an operation at the end of August and still needs intense physical therapy multiple times a day to maximize the benefits of this surgery. I know she is one of the many reasons why God called me back.

The biggest changes since the beginning of the war that I see are not in our house but outside our walls. The streets, once teeming with tourists, have gone quiet, and the Basilica of the Nativity is empty in the afternoons. The people of Bethlehem rely on tourism, and now there is none. The locals who work in Israel cannot cross the border to go to work and, therefore, do not have the money to spend locally. The people here were finally getting back on their feet after the detrimental effects of COVID, and now this happened. I find consolation in the strength of the faith of the people, especially the Christians. This is the place where Jesus physically entered the world, and they will keep practicing the faith despite all the hardships they face.

Through this experience, I’ve learned to appreciate what we have at home in the United States. There, we have the security of power, food, water, and even life. Right now, none of that is guaranteed here. I do have a beautiful love here, and it is a love worth giving up everything for.

I do not know what my future holds, but I know that He holds my future. With that being said, I do have something to ask of you; first and foremost, we need prayers for peace and safety. Prayers are the only thing that can change the hearts of the people and end this war. I would also like to ask for providence. The Select to Give Foundation supports not only us but many Christians in Bethlehem. If you are able to donate, the American dollar goes a long way and will help provide for the basic needs of the people. Finally, please hug your family for me tonight because some of us over here do not have that luxury. Many in Gaza have lost parents or children in the war and will never be able to do so again. As for those of us who are safe, distance separates us from the ones we love. I thank you for your prayers and continuous generosity, and continue to pray for you as you do for us.

Since the terrorist attack on October 7, 2023, Select to Give has sent $61,000 in direct aid for Christian families living in the Holy Land and Gaza.

Individuals use this money to feed their families while out of work and without government assistance. They donated $ 25,000 to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which is using the funds to help Christian families in Gaza with humanitarian aid during the horrors they are facing there. Note:  there is one Catholic Church in Gaza City that has welcomed refugees of all faiths.

This is in addition to the continued support Select to Give provides for organizations like Hogar Nino Dios and Ninos Dios, which need our help to continue operating.

Select International has paid their guides and drivers for the cancelled groups (something we don’t readily think about, but when a group is cancelled, that means they do not earn the money they need to feed their families).

Select International hopes to be able to continue sending funds for food and medicine to the Christians of Gaza and Bethlehem in the coming months.

This year, please consider donating to Select to Give. Every penny donated directly assists Christians in the Holy Land. Their organization is 100% volunteer-administered and transparent. Receipts are provided by the donors and posted on their website, so you know where your donations are being sent.

Learn More and Donate Today

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15 Days—3 Countries–One Big Lesson!

As the Marketing Manager for Select International Tours and Cruises, I can often be found behind a desk, in the digital world. I get to watch more than one-hundred pilgrimage trips a year, and occasionally, I get to travel. Our company President encourages all of our staff to experience pilgrimage, and this past October, I traveled for 15 days, to meet three of our pilgrimage groups in France, Austria, and Italy. Along the way, I learned that while every pilgrimage is unique, there is something familiar in all of them that binds all pilgrims of all times together.

Paris

I arrived in Paris early. I dropped my bags at the hotel and walked out into a brisk October morning. My first destination stood in the distance atop butte Montmartre, the tallest point in Paris’ city limits. With a baguette and espresso in hand, I wound my way through 7 kilometers of streets and alleyways toward the butte.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacré-Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is an astounding building. It’s a relatively new minor Basilica, having been consecrated in 1919. However, there has been perpetual Adoration of the Holy Eucharist above the Altar there since 1885. Sacré-Cœur is the second most visited location in Paris, which was apparent as I climbed the seemingly endless stairs to the Basilica with hundreds of other tourists. A funicular—a tram of sorts—takes many others to the top, and that was where I was meeting Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio and his group of pilgrims. Sacré-Cœur is a beautiful site, and a popular stop on many pilgrimages to France, but our destination lay behind the immense Basilica.

 

Saint-Pierre Church in Paris
Saint pierre Church

The Saint-Pierre church began in 1133 and was consecrated in 1147, although rumors of Marian devotion at its location go as far back as 200s with the first chapel being erected in 475 to commemorate the location of the martyrdom of Saint-Denis from which the place now takes its name: Montmartre, the Mount of the Martyr. Our group celebrated Mass there before exploring Sacré-Cœur.

The juxtaposition of my ascent up the 270 steps, from the street to the Basilica—with hundreds of travelers snapping selfies—to the quiet and reverent group of pilgrims preparing to celebrate Mass at Saint-Pierre was dramatic. It immediately reminded me of how different a pilgrimage is from a vacation.

Toulouse

I spent the next few days with the group, first exploring Paris and then taking the bullet train to Toulouse where we celebrated Mass at the Jacobin Convent, where the relics of Saint Thomas Aquinas are housed.

The Jacobin Conent in Toulouse: Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass
The Jacobin Conent in Toulouse: Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass

The Jacobin Convent in Toulouse has a history that is far too long to recount in this post. But it is important to note that the local government now owns the church and it functions as a museum. However, they still allow groups to celebrate Mass there. If that sounds confusing, you should have seen the visitors’ faces when Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass.

The acoustics of the room made every word, every prayer, and every response swirl around you. It was difficult to tell where the sound originated, and it struck awe in everyone in the room. People who had come to a museum were observing a Mass that spoke vividly to the mysteries of the Faith, and many stood there, mouths agape, at the beauty of it all.

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