I remember studying the middle eastern countries in high school, and to me, it was one area of the world I did not want to ever visit because of all the war and conflict over there. I remember saying to my friends, Mary: “I would never visit Israel. I would probably get myself killed over there.”
Several years later, I found myself signing up for a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land lead by my parish priest, Fr. Martin. I had been taking a lot of bible studies and was learning about scripture and the story of salvation, something I never quite understood as a child. I did not have the privilege to study at a Catholic school like my parents did. They both attended catholic elementary-middle schools as well as catholic high schools. My father even attended a Catholic college. Even though I did receive religious instruction at my parish and received my sacraments, I still felt like I had a lot of catching up to do when it came to understanding the whole story and my place in it.
I was learning a lot and the opportunity to visit Israel seemed to come at a perfect time. It was like the Lord was calling me to go. Once I made my decision to go, I got a lot of mixed reactions from people. My mother’s comment was: “Don’t get shot over there.” I signed up to go in May of 2014 and then in October of that year, headlines all over the news broke out about people getting killed over there. My mother kept saying: “I think your trip to Israel is going to get canceled.” Yet the trip was still on. People kept telling me that I was crazy for wanting to go and I would say something like: “Look if I get killed over there, what better place is there to die?”
As the time of departure moved closer, my mother kept reminding me: “Stay with the group” and “Stay away from ISIS.” I let her comments go in one ear and out the other. I wasn’t worried because I had talked to many who had visited Israel and assured me that I would be safe.
I left for Israel on February 18th and returned on March 1st. It was a wonderful experience, and I got to visit all the places where Jesus walked, such as Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, Mount Tabor, Mount Zion, Mount of Olives, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem. I also visited Caesarea, the Golan Heights, Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea. I traveled with a nice sized group (there were 16 of us all together) and we all felt completely safe.
When I returned everyone asked me about my trip and my experiences and it was difficult to give a summary. In fact, I plan to post some specific experiences on this blog since it would be too challenging to describe it all in one post, so stay tuned!