By Theresa LaValla
Cardinal student newspaper contributor
Over Christmas break I was privileged to travel with six other Saint Mary’s University students, Brendon Dolan, Ellen Bergler, and students from Lewis University to the Holy Land. For 10 days, we were given the opportunity to not only experience growth in our own Christian faith but to also develop a greater appreciation and understanding for the other two Abrahamic faiths (Islam and Judaism).
Just mere days after Christmas, we found ourselves exploring the streets of Bethlehem and visiting sites such as the Church of the Nativity and Shepherd’s Fields, where the Bible says God first entered our world as an infant. While in Bethlehem, we teamed up with our sister school, Bethlehem University, some of its faculty, and a handful of their students. We traveled together in areas of Palestine and were given a more personal look at the social injustices occurring in the area.
We met with Palestinian women working with Catholic Relief Services to run their own businesses in hopes of providing for their families. We walked among the cluttered, crowded alleys of a refugee camp. We drove through checkpoints in “the Wall” to reach certain sites, and as Americans on a tour-guided bus, we were able to come and go between Israel and Palestine very easily. Our Palestinian friends, however, had to wake up hours earlier to cross through the checkpoints on foot, meeting us on the other side, with the constant uncertainty of whether they would be permitted to travel or not.
This was not the only instance in which we were allowed opportunities over the Bethlehem students. At one point, we had to leave our friends in the streets outside a temple because they were not allowed to enter, and there were Israeli soldiers stationed outside who would stop them if they tried. There was a pit in my stomach as we walked away from our friends. I didn’t feel privileged, I felt that I was being given more worth over another human being, and it made me feel sick and uneasy. It was difficult to see a land so revered for its religious significance to, not one, but three religions, in such contention.
In Jerusalem, we truly experienced the three faiths. We walked the way of Christ as we traveled the Stations of the Cross, ending on Calvary and reflecting on the suffering he endured in the crucifixion. We visited Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust museum, prayed at the Western Wall, and witnessed the joyous processions of young boys experiencing their bar mitzvahs. We woke early two different mornings in order to see the Dome of the Rock, and while we were there, we observed countless Muslims praying toward Mecca. It was such an incredible opportunity to witness such important places and practices of each religion.
From Jerusalem, we traveled north to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee where Christ began his ministries. We all enjoyed a beautiful boat tour in the waters where he called his first disciples and celebrated Mass where he multiplied the fish and loaves of bread. We read the Beatitudes on the mount where they were first preached and passed through Cana where Christ performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. We even ran into some Saint Mary’s University graduates who were also staying at our guesthouse! Before we knew it, our 10 days had come to an end, and we were making our long trek back across the Atlantic.
As I reflect on our pilgrimage, I continue to think how appropriate it was for us to end in the area of Galilee and Christ’s ministries. For as pilgrims and disciples of our Lord, we are called to continue spreading the teachings and word of Christ. It is our turn to take what we have learned over in Israel and Palestine and bring it back to the United States, to campus, and educate others, to spread the message of love and bring about the end to injustices in our world.