WEST PALM BEACH | Father Mario Castaneda, full of excitement, was eager to share his pilgrimage story with the Florida Catholic, but also his new pledge going forward as a priest and shepherd of the Church.
Father Castaneda, pastor of St. John Fisher in West Palm Beach for the past nine years, traveled to Rome Oct. 29 with 38 pilgrims. The group toured the city and many churches and holy sites linked to apostles, saints and Christian martyrs.
“I saw myself surrounded by all these holy people, the foundation of the Church,” Father Castaneda said. “I was so inspired.”
The Rome trip included a general audience with Pope Francis. “Being able to see him and to talk to him in Spanish was amazing,” he said. “We sat in the first row. He was smiling. I had a chance to talk to him and thank him for being an inspiration to us.”
After three days in Rome and the Vatican, the pilgrims made their way to the Holy Land. There, they experienced the places where Jesus walked and performed miracles. They celebrated Masses in the most sacred Christian places, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was laid after the crucifixion. “We were right there. It was amazing,” Father Castaneda said.
The priest returned to Florida Nov. 9 recharged in faith and mission. “Today, when we see so many things going on in the Church, it re-enforces my love for the Church,” he explained, pointing to the crisis and scandals in the Church today. “It re-enforces my love for the priesthood. I came back with the knowledge that we are the ones that make the Church holy — each one of us. I came back to seek holiness.
“This trip was the most meaningful moment in my life as a priest. It was very good. It was amazing,” said Father Castaneda, marking 23 years in the priesthood and dedicated more than ever to Jesus Christ and his Church.