Notre Dame’s Theology Department and the Office of Campus Ministry took 20 undergraduate students on a Lenten pilgrimage to the Holy Land over spring break.  The pilgrimage began at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  On their travels, the students waded in the Jordan River, watched the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee, and clambered up and down the Mount of Transfiguration.  The Tantur Ecumenical Institute, situated on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, housed the students for most of the week.

Throughout the week, the students practiced a method of prayer known as Lectio Divina, where they read Scripture passages aloud at the locations of events described in the passages.

“The Holy Land is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel because the land itself is revelatory.  In traveling across the land where the Gospels occurred, we encounter Christ in that way,” Program Manager of Campus Ministry Brett Perkins said.   Perkins led the pilgrimage with Lewis Hall Rectress Layla Karst and PhD student Hannah Hemphill.

“The pilgrimage provided an opportunity for students to engage in prayerful Lenten meditation on the life of Christ by visiting the sites associated with his earthly life, death, and resurrection,” said Karst.

“For Christians, pilgrimage is not a mandatory component of our faith, and in a sense we believe that Christ comes to us in every time and in every place, especially in the Church and in the Eucharist,” Karst explained.    “On the other hand,” she continued, “there is something very significant about visiting the same places that God chose to visit in his earthly life.  Visiting those places can tell us something about who our God is and what God might be doing in our world.”

Many students recalled specific moments of transcendence associated with particular holy sites.  “These fleeting instances of grace are rare and must be treasured like flowers in the desert,” said Father Fergus, a priest of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land who led the Notre Dame group through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Fr. Fergus explained that since humans do encounter these moments often, they must learn to recall them during times of trial.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was of particular interest to several students who are minoring in Peace Studies at Notre Dame.  They met with Palestinian professors and students from Bethlehem University, a Catholic Christian university founded in 1973.  A committee lead by Archbishop Pio Laghi founded Bethlehem University in response to Palestinians’ desire to establish a university in their homeland.  Besides participating in the Latin Catholic traditions, the students prayed at the Western Wall on the Sabbath, listened to Armenian Vespers, attended Divine Liturgy at a Melkite Church, and spoke with the Imam of the Bethlehem Mosque. These experiences were designed to build solidarity with other faiths.

Nick Mancinelli traveled to Jerusalem on this pilgrimage.

He is a senior astrophysics major and likes to play with fire. If you have any spare matches, contact him at