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With just a few days left before graduation, here is a look at the second half of the senior’s recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land recapping their final days there. The experience changed the group. They continue to share their memories and what an incredible trip it was.

The following guest post is written by Mrs. Kathie Nalepa.

2019 Holy Land Blog –  April 17

The first pilgrimage point the bus took us to today was Bethlehem, where we visited the Church of the Nativity – cared for by the Greek Orthodox Church – and Shepherd’s Field.   Our Mass this morning is held in the Church of St. Jerome, a 4th century priest who defended Mary’s virginity and translated the Bible from ancient languages to Latin (the Vulgate), and whose remains were first buried beneath the Church of the Nativity. As always, Fr. Thomas chose several students to read the Scriptures for Mass, and students selected and led the hymns. Our visit included each one of us being able to touch the revered birthplace of Jesus within the Church of the Nativity. Though we know this is holy ground, it is really difficult to appreciate, let alone comprehend, the enormity of this blessing.

On to Shepherds’ Field, where Hani explained to us the many references Jesus made to himself as the Good Shepherd, and to shepherding, and how his listeners would understand his meaning. When the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid”, this is only one of the 365 times these words are used in the Bible – “whenever you wake up and the Lord is with you, never, ever be afraid.” Here is a picture of one of the shepherds’ caves, where they brought sheep in at night or bad weather, then lay in the doorway as the “gate”.  Bethlehem is also where we did most of our gift shopping, to support the Christians in the Holy Land.

On to the Israel Museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed. We also saw the outdoor to-scale model of the Old City of Jerusalem and Temple. It was very cool and windy, but the site was fascinating. Hani told us we would soon have the chance to see the ancient Essene community where the Scrolls were discovered.

We got back on the bus to travel to the birthplace and home of John the Baptist, Ein Karem, near the City of Jerusalem. The Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist was first, then on to the Church of the Visitation – the site where Mary visited Elizabeth and proclaimed her Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). Hani helped us all to visualize Mary and Elizabeth together, and Zechariah as he was first struck dumb for his doubt then regained his speech upon naming his son John.

With those who had spent Tuesday night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – and the rest of us – pretty exhausted, we headed back to our hotel in Jerusalem (the Seven Arches) for dinner, sharing, and time to relax a bit. No exploring the streets of Jerusalem at night like we did in Nazareth!

2019 Holy Land Blog –  April 18

Our last full day in the Holy Land, and it was packed to overflowing!  Our bus took us to the West Bank, Palestine, to visit the site of the Essene community in Qumran that Hani had promised – where the Dead Sea Scrolls had been hidden for thousands of years, discovered in 1946 by local shepherd boys. Then we went on to renew our baptismal vows with Fr. Thomas at the Jordan River. And finally we arrived to the Dead Sea where the students can swim – actually, float, due to over 30% salinity – complete with skin-benefiting mud. Here we could also ride camels (even the chaperones did this!).  We ended the morning with a delicious lunch to celebrate our baptism renewal – all agreed it was the best food yet, and that’s saying a lot. Rodrigo even ate the hummus!

After lunch we were all ready for a siesta – instead we got the bus ride back to Jerusalem, where we took in the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (Caiaphas’ palace where Peter denied Jesus three times); the Holy Steps leading from Gethsemane to the palace, where Jesus walked the night he was captured; and the Sacred Pit, where Jesus was kept overnight awaiting “trial”. This last place may have been the most moving of the day, as Katelyn read from Scripture and Fr. Thomas encouraged us all to talk to Jesus and tell Him, “I am here for you, Jesus. I am with you.”

Then we left for Holy Thursday Mass at the Notre Dame Center – a hotel/welcome center run by the Legionaries of Christ. Josh, Mitch, and Shane were selected to represent the apostles at the Washing of Feet during Mass – the Bishop not only washed but kissed each person’s foot as a sign of humility, care, and service. It was a packed Mass, which just gave us all the feeling of being part of a world-wide community of believers, many parts but one body.

After Mass we finally had dinner . . . and yes, as Fr. Thomas promised, we could choose pizza!

The meal was delicious, but not traditional Holy Land food (pizza, burgers, or lasagna). After a week, we were all ready for something more like home.

Our bus driver, Rami, took us back to our hotel, where the guys got pictures with him – he loves driving for Everest every year. Then in to pack up, since we leave the hotel at 1:00 A.M. for the airport. No time to sleep before the flight, though some caught a cat nap after packing. It’s hard to believe our pilgrimage is coming to an end. Long days, but the time flew by.

2019 Holy Land Blog –  April 19

The flight home, with a welcome but brief stop in Frankfurt to stretch our legs, was long but thankfully uneventful. And we finally made it home to Pure Michigan!  While the pilgrimage has ended, we will spend our lives unpacking all the graces and gifts God gave us during this truly “Holy” week.

“Tourists pass through places, but pilgrims let places pass through them, allowing their hearts to be changed.”   (Rev. Peter J. Miano)