For 11 days in May, a Marymount University group led by Father David Sharland, YA, director of Campus Ministry, and Meg Dalmut, associate director, traveled the Holy Lands, walking in the footsteps of Christ. Father Jack Peterson, YA, assistant chaplain, also accompanied the group. From Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee to Qumran, Bethlehem, and Jericho, they celebrated Masses, prayed, and reflected on Jesus' life and how it informs and guides their own.
For Brant Maggard '11, a Theology major from Springfield, Virginia, visiting the Sea of Galilee was a profound experience. "Our guide told us to forget the buildings and the trees and to look at the landscape," Brant explains. "He pointed out, 'It's exactly the same as it was 2,000 years ago!'" Another powerful moment for him was "being at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and seeing the Latin inscription in the Grotto, Verbum caro hic factum est -- Here the word became flesh." This made the life of Jesus very real for him.
Shannon Gough '12, a Business Administration major from Chester, New York, vividly recalls Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. "It was our first Mass held outside, and it was breathtaking. We could see the Sea of Galilee behind the priest and the town of Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene) beyond," she says. "This was the first moment on the trip that I felt a real connection with the land and the people."
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the Hill of Calvary (Golgotha) touched each of the pilgrims. Father Sharland recalls "celebrating Mass at the tombstone of Jesus" as a special highlight. Eight of the group chose to spend the night of May 19 in vigil and prayer at the Church. Shannon remembers, "Going up to Calvary where the crucifixion took place was the most intense moment and really overwhelming. It totally brought me to my knees. I needed time to process the experience before returning again at 3:30 a.m. We had time to pray and talk together, but also time alone for prayer and reflection."
Dana Conlon '11, a Fashion Design major from Madison, Virginia, adds, "It was definitely challenging but also awesome to devote eight hours to prayer. When I was praying on Calvary, it was dark and quiet and I found myself sitting in awe of the suffering and pain that Jesus went through, in that very spot, for me!"
Through the night, they could hear others at prayer, as well, reminding them of the many faiths for which this land is holy. Shannon says, "Armenians were chanting at the tomb; Greeks were on Calvary lighting hanging candles. Meanwhile we could hear the Muslim call to prayer from nearby."
Another highlight for Dana was "celebrating Mass in some pretty awesome places." She points out, "We held Christmas, Holy Thursday, and Easter Mass all in one week!" Father Jack Peterson gave a homily during the Christmas Mass in a shepherd's field in Bethlehem that really resonated with Shannon. She explains, "He told an amazing story about how at Christmas a few years ago, his seven-year-old niece asked him to play marbles with her. He agreed, got down on the floor, and they had a wonderful time shooting marbles and laughing. She was amazed that her Uncle Jack would play with her like that. Father Jack used the story as an analogy with Jesus, saying that Jesus became one of us; He came on our level and played marbles with us. It was an amazing analogy and set the tone for the rest of the trip!"
The pilgrimage brought some surprises. Both Dana and Shannon remarked on how touristy most of the sites were, and the way they were often rushed through them. Dana says, "It was hard to remain in a prayerful state to appreciate the significance of each site and not just snap a picture and move on." Shannon agrees, adding, "It took concentration to put tourist stuff out of my mind. The real, modern world is there, too."
Shannon also was saddened by the palpable hatred between Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land. She points out, "I better understand Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem. It was not just for those times; the discord is still going on 2,000 years later."
Brant was surprised to see how many of the visitors to the Holy Land were older - making the pilgrimage later in life. He says, "I'm so glad that I could go now!" That feeling of gratitude for the opportunity was pervasive. Dana echoes Brant, saying, "I feel very blessed to have this experience, especially at my age."
After traveling the Holy Lands with the students, Father David Sharland remarks, "Walking in the footsteps of Christ was transformational for their spiritual journey and growth." The students readily agree. Shannon set out on the trip with an expectation of hope. She explains, "I never would have gone on a trip like this without Father David, Father Jack, and Meg Dalmut to inspire me. I had a huge leap in my faith this past year." She adds, "I wasn't anticipating another life-changing moment. But it happened; I came home with so much peace! I'm closer in my relationship with God and more comfortable sharing that with others." Dana, too, returned with a new passion for her faith. She says, "The pilgrimage definitely put a spark in my faith life." Brant came back with a deeper appreciation of the Holy Lands and the pilgrimage sites that have been venerated for centuries. His outlook on life has also changed. As he puts it, "I'm more joyful!"
Photo 1 - Father David Sharland, YA, and Father Jack Peterson, YA, concelebrate Mass on the Mount of Beatitudes with the Sea of Galilee in the background
Photo 2 - left to right: Fatima Estorninos '11, an Interior Design major from Ft. Washington, MD, Father David Sharland and Father Jack Peterson pray in the outer chamber of the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the Hill of Calvary
Photo 3 - Father David Sharland reads from the bible at the River Jordan
Photo 4 - left to right: Father David Sharland, Meg Dalmut, Dana Conlon '11, a Fashion Design major from Madison, VA, and Father Jack Peterson with Jerusalem in the background
Photo 5 - Jo Ann McLaughlin '11, a Communications major from Pittsburgh, PA, looks out over the Sea of Galilee