The entire group in Emmaus

Following are some final reflections from chaperone Christina Krogh on the Everest Collegiate senior trip to the Holy Land.

April 17, 2014

We had a crazy Thursday leading up to our all-nighter in the Holy Sepulchre.  We essentially traced Christ’s steps the night before he died, going to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the home where the Last Supper took place, and the church commemorating Peter’s (denial of Christ). After lunch we were given free time, so a group of us went through the walls into “Old” Jerusalem, entering through the Damascus Gate to shop in the Muslim-run market.  It was total insanity in there. Once we’d successfully bargained for our wares, we met up with Fr. Daniel for the unexpectedly long hike to the Dominis Flavit church (where Christ wept).  The walk gave us another priceless view of the city, but continued shredding my leg and back muscles seemingly beyond repair. That evening we enjoyed a longer Mass with the Vatican’s Nuncio to the Holy Land, and finally we made the 10-minute walk to spend the night in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

When I was a senior in high school, I was aware of an unseen community of believers in the world.  In part this was because, as the daughter of an Army officer, I was well travelled, and by way of living in Germany for several years I had seen a lot of Western Europe and learned about the history of my fellow believers that way.  But mostly (let’s be honest) it’s because I was folding a plastic bag one day (that shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me), and I saw printed on the bottom of the bag the words “John 3:16.”  I was so moved by that — the idea that a bag manufacturer somewhere out in the world had chosen to hide this little gem on every bag that left the factory. To me that was an unexpected connection; a sure sign that I was not alone out there.  When my parents moved last summer, I found that bag in my old closet, where I had placed it for safe-keeping. Fast forward ten years, and I am on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with seniors in high school!

I don’t know what their understanding was before about the community of believers, but by now it should be a vast and far more complex understanding than my plastic bag produced in me.  On this trip they have met Romanians, Scots, Germans, French, Ethiopians, Finns, and countless other nationalities as they worshipped and literally bowed down before our God day after day. They have seen Baptist churches, Greek Orthodox monks, Armenian priests, and Roman Catholic bishops, among others I’m sure I am forgetting.  These students should be very aware that they are not alone in their devotion to a God who first gave Himself to us.

Of course, this holy land which we have travelled by Mercedes Benz bus these last few days is not only sacred to Christianity.  We share this land with the Jewish and Muslim people as well.  How strange to be kneeling before the altar, trying so hard to imagine Christ in this spot, trying to call on the Holy Spirit to reach back toward you, crying out for your faith to be made stronger, and be interrupted by the Muslim call to prayer blasted over loud speakers outside.  Or to pass Orthodox Jews in the market in Jerusalem, and to know as you look in their faces and they look back at you that — while you share so much — there is something quite fundamental about your understanding of our very existence, and they do not believe it.  It is a vast and terrifying gulf to be on the precipice of, looking across at a life you simply cannot understand, being lived by a person for whom you find yourself wanting happiness and absolute truth.

As I type this, it is 3:00 AM in Jerusalem, and I’m huddled on a pew in a chapel inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where 23 of us have been bolted in for the night. I have my Bible, my prayer journal, and my racing thoughts to keep me company.  I am buzzing with exhaustion.  (Do you know that feeling? It’s when you’re so tired that it feels like tiny discs are spinning in your veins. Well, maybe you wouldn’t describe it that way, but you know what I mean.)  Scattered throughout the Basilica our students are praying, bonding, or simply succumbing to their own exhaustion.  I have heard the chants of Armenian Christians signing, and the clamor of Greek Orthodox priests as they wave incense through each room.  It is freezing cold in here, but I suppose that’s okay, since it’s keeping me awake.

Do you know what the Holy Sepulchre is? Basically, it’s a house of God which was constructed over three very important holy sites: the rock of Calvary (where Christ was crucified), the stone slab where His body was prepared for burial, and the tomb where He was laid briefly to rest.  In its original form, the Holy Sepulchre was completed in the year 325 by Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine. In its current form it is a jumble of rooms, architectural styles, and artifacts all shared (if not divided up by) different representations of the Christian faith. It is an honor to be allowed to stay here overnight when it’s such a holy day.

I consider this night to be my first real opportunity for quiet, uninterrupted reflection, and the perfect time to focus on prayer.  Looking back on the trip up until now, it has been one fascinating scene after another. I can’t wait to hear the kids’ reflections as we drive to the airport.

….I just did a walk-through, and there are about 12 students sleeping curled up on the floor behind the tomb.  They’re so cute.  They look like a band of homeless teens; it’s very Oliver Twist.

April 18, 2014

At the gate!  We should start boarding in a little over an hour.  My word, what a trip! …Unbelievable!

Today’s schedule was quite a bit lighter, which was necessary since we had about 22 “zombies” in our care.  We visited a couple of sites this morning, including the Pool of Bethesda (see the picture of St. Anne and Mary statue). We took a short trek through the Old City and out Herod’s Gate on our way back to the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center. We had a few hours of free time after lunch (which I spent sipping coffee and attempting not to move my poor legs). Our last stop as we left the city of Jerusalem was Emmaus and the Benedictine Monastery.  Finally, we headed to the city of Jaffa for dinner and a walk on the shores of the Mediterranean. Now we’re all settled in at our gate at the airport, ready to come home!