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Living the religious life in the Holy Land: Two Americans share their stories

On the day when the Church celebrates the World Day for Consecrated Life, CNA met with two Americans who followed God into religious life and now live out their vocations in the Holy Land.

Father Peter Vasko, a Franciscan friar of the Custody of the Holy Land, and Sister Naomi Zimmermann, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, a congregation born in the United States 50 years ago, both live in Jerusalem and continue to say “yes” to the Lord through the works entrusted to them.

“I had all that I wanted — girlfriends, money, a good job, I traveled around the world — and one day I just said: Life is very empty,” Vasko told CNA. He said he began spending some weekends at a Trappist monastery.

“One day I asked the Lord, “show me what you want me to do.’ I picked up a Bible — it was the Jerusalem Bible — and I saw the five crusaders cross [the symbol of the Custody of the Holy Land]. I knelt down and I just started crying, because in that moment I knew what the Lord wanted.” 

Since that day, Vasko’s life has completely changed.

“I sold everything and gave to the poor — I had two homes, I had a car, a lot of clothes — and I became penniless,” he shared. “I gave everything away to be with the Lord, and I’ve been very blessed. I’m not perfect, but I try to love the Lord and to love the people each day.” 

After a period of discernment, Vasko, who called Brooklyn, New York, home, joined the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land and moved to Jerusalem. 

In the Holy Land, Vasko, who recently turned 80, has led numerous groups of American pilgrims and founded (and continues to direct) the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land in support of local Christians. Since 1987, he has served as the chaplain for the U.S. Marines stationed at the American embassy in Jerusalem.

“We get together maybe once a month, we have dinner together, we have a big Christmas program, and we celebrate Mass together for Christmas and Easter, even if not all of them are Catholics,” Vasko told CNA. “I started out with four Marines; today they are 17. It has been such a joy to work with young Americans, to assist them in their difficulties as young people.”

2024-02-08T07:21:55+00:00 February 8th, 2024|Categories: News|