A group of 23 Notre Dame community members made a pilgrimage to Israel to explore biblical locations and examine their own faiths over spring break.
The group of students, coming from diverse faith and academic backgrounds, were led by Lewis Hall rector Layla Karst, Campus Ministry program manager Brett Perkins and theology graduate student Hannah Hemphill.
Karst said the pilgrimage allowed students to explore the origins of their faith through the connections the University has in Israel, especially Pantur, Notre Dame’s campus in the Holy Land.
“It was an effort, given Notre Dame’s resources in the area, to take advantage of them and give our students the opportunity to travel to the places where Christ lived and died to reflect on the mysteries of our faith together in a community and to particularly have that journey be during Lent,” Karst said.
Students visited Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was crucified and entombed, the site of the nativity in Bethlehem and the Mount of the Transfiguration. The group also saw the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River and the Dead Sea along with the cities of Capernaum and Nazareth.
For sophomore theology and Arabic studies major Jackie Bacon, visiting the Sea of Galilee was a highlight of the trip.
“I’ve never been to a more beautiful place,” Bacon said.
Sophomore economics and Program of Liberal Studies major Pablo Muldoon said he enjoyed seeing the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.
“It was incredibly green and there were flowers everywhere,” Muldoon said. “Just being there, you could visualize Jesus teaching on peace and love. It was incredible.”
In addition to visiting major biblical sites, the students were exposed to different sects of Christianity by attending services in the Syriac Orthodox, Charismatic Catholic and Armenian Apostolic traditions, Karst said.
Karst said the students gained a greater insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the Holy Land by meeting with several peace-builders working in the region, including a professor at the University of Bethlehem and a human rights lawyer.
Despite the ongoing conflict in the region and the recent uprisings in neighboring countries Egypt and Jordan, Muldoon said he did not fear for his safety, even while in the volatile West Bank.
“The conception that you hear from the media that the West Bank is full of extremists and terrorist organizations … is not at all what you encounter on the day-to-day,” Muldoon said. “The people are very friendly and incredibly welcoming.”
Karst, having been to Israel twice before, agreed the media exaggerates its reports on the state of the country.
“The events that are reported are the events that are the exception or the dramatic events,” Karst said. “[However,] going in you always know that there is the possibility that you might have to change your plans for the day.”
Bacon said she never felt in danger, but admitted she was unnerved at the sight of the young armed members of the Israeli guard who monitored the area.
“It was strange to see kids our age with big machine guns, but I did not feel unsafe ever,” Bacon said.
Despite the constant threat of security issues, Muldoon said the trip had a profound effect on his and his fellow travelers’ faiths.
“Having so much of a steady reflection on who God is and what He did for us impacted all of us,” Muldoon said.
Karst said the students developed a greater sense of Christ’s humanity and a side of Christianity they could relate to.
“The students said that many times on the trip they were struck by the humanness of Christ and the humanness of our faith,” Karst said. “They went on the trip expecting to encounter the Jesus of 2000 years ago but instead they encountered more often the Jesus of today.”
Karst also said that the trip made the story of Jesus real for the students.
“The places look a lot different 2000 years later than they would have then, and the communities that have been built up around these places proclaim the faith of 2000 years ago but it’s a very living place,” Karst said. “You get the sense that Jesus wasn’t just someone who lived 2000 years ago but that he’s someone who continues to be alive and working in the world today.”