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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Tri-Campus Thursday: A break abroad

The students gathered at Temple Mount

As the week of February 27 drew to a close, students flocked to beaches, hurried home to their families, or eagerly awaited some peace and rest as the tri-campus emptied around them. One group of students, sponsored by the Sorin Fellows Program and de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, had a spring break unlike most others. The group touched down in Tel Aviv Friday, March 4, embarking on a pilgrimage that would take them around the Holy Land, allowing time for spiritual growth and expansion of knowledge regarding the geopolitical forces of the region.

The trip was run by Passages, an organization whose mission states, “Theorigins of both ancient Biblical faith and of a present-day nation — rich with culture, diversity, beauty, and challenges—are in Israel. The land and the people of Israel have a story to tell.” Passages brings Christian students to Israel to strengthen their faith and improve their understanding of the politics, culture and people who reside in modern Israel. 

“Path to Peace,” a mosaic wall on the Gaza Strip

Preparation for the journey included a crash-course of readings, videos, and quizzes from Passages to begin students’ engagement with ideas they would encounter throughout their trip. Nicole Becker, a fifth-year senior in Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame’s dual degree program, had a unique period of preparation leading into the trip. Students were already unsure if the trip would ever happen, as the Covid-19 pandemic maintains its grip on international travel. But, Becker had an even more unclear path to this pilgrimage. 

“I was not intending to go on this trip. I was originally supposed to go with my family to go snow skiing over spring break, and when those plans fell through, I just kind of scrambled.” Becker said. 

Still, Becker had been doing her own spiritual preparation, as she had been listening to Father Mike Schmitz’s “Bible in a Year” podcast. While studying the Books of Kings and Chronicles, she made note of locations around Israel that she would soon have the chance to see in person. 

It was that moment of realizing that the land in front of them was the land that Jesus had once walked upon that spoke to many of the other students on the journey, too. 

Notre Dame senior Dora Leonardo, a psychology major with minors in Education, Schooling and Society and theology, had spoken with her best friend about their longing to visit the Holy Land before graduating. Fulfilling that wish over spring break, Leonardo found herself enamored with the Holy Land. 

“It’s difficult because yes, everything has been touched. Everything has a church on it, so nothing is exactly the way that it was when Jesus was walking around,” Leonardo said. “But the one thing that never changed was sunrise and sunset. Being able to just watch the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee and be like, ‘Wow, this was something that he would have seen at some point,’ was really touching.” 

Mt. Tabor, at the site of the Transfiguration

The itinerary was packed with masses, speakers, tours, and visits to as many temples, churches, and holy sites as one can imagine. Having the time constraint of spring break to complete their journey, the group experienced what Mary Frances Myler, a Notre Dame senior hailing from Traverse City, Michigan, called “liturgical whiplash.” Nevertheless, there was ample time to connect with one’s faith more deeply in the most profound settings. Another Notre Dame senior, Elizabeth Self, expressed how it felt to lay eyes on the lands so many people have only read about.

“I think a lot of people worry that they’re going to be frustrated if they can’t pinpoint the exact spot where things happen if they’re really, you know, laying their hands on the right rock,” Self said. “ I mean, odds are, they’re not, you know, but it’s really cool to be looking into the valley, looking over the hill that Jerusalem’s on and just knowing that everything we’re talking about happened in that space” 

While being in Israel allowed students to physically connect with what they have read in scripture, it also conferred a deeper appreciation for practicing their faith not just back on the tri-campus, but anywhere in the world. 

Journeying to the Western Wall, the group had the privilege of witnessing deeply devoted expressions of other faith traditions. Knowing that so many other people had made long pilgrimages to achieve such closeness with God, Leonardo was struck with gratitude for her own faith. 

“As a Catholic, you get to receive the Eucharist anywhere you are in the world, and that’s the closest that you can be to God,” Leonardo said. 

Myler, too, reflected on the Eucharist. 

“I think it was just a really beautiful experience to find so much similarity between Catholicism in the Holy Land and these beautiful places, these churches and all the holy sites, to find something that is so familiar there,” Myler said. “Tradition is what unites us but also to realize that the Eucharist — it was there in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s also in all of our dorm chapels.” 

The Via Dolorosa, where the students prayed the Stations of the Cross at dawn

After this whirlwind of a spring break, it came time to return to the tri-campus. Students, just completing a spiritually intense and physically exhausting week of travel, would soon be met with the tri-campus community, once again. The journey to Israel and back, however, was not just another spring break vacation. It was a pilgrimage. 

“You’re always going to have a longing to go back. The fact that it’s your first love’s home and the fact that it‘s Christ’s — it’s your home too,” Leonardo said. “I’ve come back from trips and I’ve been very happy to be back, and  I don’t think this longing in my heart will just disappear. I think I’ll have to go back at some point. Yeah, it wasn’t a trip. It was definitely a pilgrimage.”