“The Bible was born here!
The world pivots here!
We are reinvigorated here!
Welcome everybody to the untiring novelty of our daily sunrise over the Sea of Galilee!”
Father Eamon Kelly, LC, arrived in the Holy Land nearly 17 years ago, where he was assigned to help at Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, a pilgrimage guest house in the heart of Jerusalem entrusted to the care of the Legionaries of Christ by the Holy See. But from the beginning of his time in the Holy Land, Fr. Eamon has been involved in the development of the Magdala Center, a unique Holy Land site built at the location of the hometown of Mary Magdalene on the shores of Galilee, from where he has been sharing his reflections on both nature and faith in a daily video series called Sunrise Stroll & Chat.
Originally from County Clare, Ireland, Fr. Eamon joined the Dublin Novitiate in 1974 and was ordained a priest in 1987. From 1898 – 1999, he worked to found Legionaries of Christ communities in Germany, Austria, and Hungary, and up until 2007, when he moved to the Holy Land, Fr. Eamon served in various positions in New York and as chaplain at Northern Kentucky University. In 2007, the Vatican Secretary of State assigned him to Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center as vice chargé of the Pontifical Institute, where he served until late 2017. For the past seven years, Fr. Eamon has been living and serving in Magdala as the Vice Director, accompanying pilgrims, assisting with pilgrimages, welcoming the many visitors from a vast diversity of faiths that the Magdala Center attracts each year and helping them discover the blessings waiting for them there.
Construction at Magdala began in 2009, under the direction of Fr. Juan María Solana, LC, who was the papal appointee in charge of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center at the time, and the Magdala Center was inaugurated in November of 2019. However, just a few months after the Magdala Center officially opened its doors to pilgrims around the world, the Covid pandemic brought a halt to all travel and in-person pilgrimages. As a response to this, Fr. Eamon and the rest of the pastoral staff at Magdala began seeking ways to bring the experience of Magdala to people at home, live-streaming online pilgrimages, moments of prayer, and reflections. Fr. Eamon noticed that despite the lack of face-to-face interaction, a valuable and uplifting online community grew from these virtual pilgrimages. “Over time, the livestream participants began noticing each other, and when one posted about a close relative going in for surgery or other significant concerns, it was beautiful to see how the others responded with an encouraging word or prayer. This became a great treasure to many folks during lockdown.”
At this time, it was a natural fit for Fr. Eamon, who is an avid hiker, to create his own daily video series, Sunrise Stroll & Chat, where he walks along the shores of the Sea of Galilee reflecting in an organic and sometimes unexpected way on both the landscape surrounding him and the scripture of the day. For the past three years, every day at sunrise, Fr. Eamon has taken a stroll along the shore, noticing the sights and sounds around him – new flowers blooming, a tree that has suddenly become uprooted, a not-so-friendly goat, or a pair of Egyptian geese and their three growing goslings. As the sun rises and the sky changes, Fr. Eamon talks about the daily scripture readings, connecting their message to the world around him. These strolls are approximately 15 minutes long, and are livestreamed on Facebook and then posted to YouTube. Fr. Eamon also posts a shorter version of the reflection, of about two to four minutes, to Instagram.
And Fr. Eamon’s daily Sunrise Stroll & Chat videos are precisely that: a stroll along the lake while chatting with a friend. “Some people take Sunrise Stroll & Chat as a devotional,” shares Fr. Eamon in a blog post he recently wrote. “But it is not a lesson or a homily or preaching or teaching or lecturing or a prayer group – it’s just a friendly chat! It is spontaneous, easy, simple, and tries to be kind, gentle, peaceful, inspiring, and encouraging. I want to give testimony of faith more than big explanations.”
An important element of the daily videos is that they are unplanned and unscripted, inspired by what Fr. Eamon calls “the two books God gave us”: creation and scripture. Fr. Eamon allows the world around him to guide his thoughts and words, and so his videos are a stroll in both nature and faith, reflecting on the freshness of both the sunrise and the scripture, the two new each day:
“Strolling in nature gets almost equal voice to scrolling the scripture as God speaks to us in both. We delight in nature and scripture and their interplay. Our cosmos of beauty and truth alight in each day’s fresh sunrise suggests to us that behind this gift there is a giver!”
In a busy world that often feels made of metal and concrete, Fr. Eamon’s Sunrise Stroll & Chat provides a much-needed daily breath of fresh air, an opportunity to enter into the serenity of both nature and scripture. Fr. Eamon’s relaxed pace, where he stops to admire a caterpillar, points out the cows with their calves on the distant hillside, remarks on the change in the light and the heat as the season shifts, or literally stops to smell the roses, is an opportunity to pause and reflect on the newness of each day. These virtual strolls also offer a space where people of all faiths and at all stages of their spiritual journey – Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostics and atheists – can walk together in community, learning from and praying for each other along the way.
Over the past three years that he has been producing his Sunrise Stroll & Chats, Fr. Eamon has heard from an enormous variety of people who have enjoyed and benefitted from his daily reflections; some start their morning walking with him along the shore, while others turn to it as a quiet pause in an otherwise hectic afternoon, or watch his videos to bring some peace at the end of a long day. “Those who participate and follow Sunrise Stroll & Chat encourage and inspire me – pilgrims, guides, travel agents, artists, bishops, priests, seminarians, moms and dads, grandparents, teenagers, retirees, college students, specialists, and experts. It’s humbling really to see how this little sunrise activity touches very different people in their own unique way!”
To find out more about the Magdala Center, which includes a guest house, an archaeological park, and a six-chapel church called Duc in Altum, visit their website at magdala.org. If you would like to help promote the Magdala pilgrimage ministry, consider making an online donation or sponsoring a tile in the Magdala Mosaic, which is a beautiful tile map of the region, or sign up to become a full-time volunteer for one month or longer!
All of Fr. Eamon’s videos that he has posted over the last three years are all available online on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. These are now also being posted to the Magdala Facebook page and the new Magdala English YouTube channel. You can also be added to a WhatsApp group to be notified when videos are about to go live and of any upcoming special opportunities.