By Beverly Behan
Mary Magdalene holds a special place in the hearts of many young Catholic women. We are inspired by her strength and compassion - standing at the foot of the cross and witnessing His torment and refusing to leave Him until His last breath on earth. We are in awe of how she is not chained by her stained past and are captivated by the mystery that shrouds her. We relish her tenacity in following Joseph of Arimathea to the sepulcher; Mary Magdalene was a determined woman with a plan – to return with spices and oils two days later and give her Lord a proper burial.
But her plan was about to go sideways. As she headed out that Sunday morning in the darkness, Mary Magdalene could never have imagined what she was about to find when she arrived at the tomb. Pope Francis alluded to her story in his first Easter Vigil homily as pope, noting that Mary and her companions find “something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole lives.” The Pope uses her story to illustrate that “God is the God of surprises.”
A young Catholic woman from Colorado, Rachel had been teaching in El Salvador for four years. Despite her parents’ initial concerns - they gave Rachel their full support as she boarded her flight to Ben Gurion.
“I can’t even count the many deeply spiritual experiences I had while volunteering at Magdala,” Rachel recalls. “From spending a night in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to shepherding flocks on our Gospel Farm at Magdala to daily meditations on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Almost every experience in the Holy Land can speak of Jesus!”
Yet amidst all of these, God had another surprise for Rachel: A handsome man from Mexico who was also volunteering at the archeological dig at Magdala; he planned to travel to Italy thereafter for a post-graduate diploma in world religions. As both had been teachers serving abroad, Rachel and Carlos quickly found common ground in a shared understanding of the experience of living in different cultures.
Carlos arranged a special mass when the pair revisited El Salvador to be said and surrounded by friends, he pulled Rachel up in front of the altar, dropped to one knee and proposed. They were married in Magdala a year later.
Beyond its historical significance, Magdala intends to honor women. The Women’s Atrium, constructed last year at Magdala, bears this inscription: “In this holy place, the church gives thanks for the feminine genius of women, for their eternal dignity and for the great works God has done through them throughout history for humanity.” The Magdalena Institute will also become an international hub to discuss women’s issues.
Every saint has a past, right? And in this case, Magdalene's is being unearthed in dirt, sand, sweat, and tears. It's time to look forward to the future, though, and we want you to come along...