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  • Reflections: Student & Alum Pilgrimage to Holy Land


    Master of Divinity Students & Alum, SeattleU STMThis past month, two current Master of Divinity students and a 2013 alumnus traveled to the Holy Land with the school's Episcopal partners. Here below are photos and reflections from the trip from both students and alumnus.


    From student Eliacín Rosario-Cruz: 

    "Thanks to the generosity of The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of the Diocese of Olympia; Alissa Newton (current student), Alfredo Feregrino (alumnus) and myself had the blessed opportunity to join 32 other Episcopalians in a pilgrimage to Holy Land (January 15-26). Our pilgrimage started in Galilee, where we stayed for 3 days. Galilee is a lush region, full of green hills and bountiful valleys. As pilgrims we visited Mount Tabor, the Mount of the Beatitudes, sailed across the Sea of Galilee and celebrated Eucharist at the site of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.


    Eliacin.jpgFrom Galilee traveled up to Nazareth to worship at Christ Church Episcopal Church.  Having enjoyed the hospitality of the brothers and sisters in Nazareth we continued our pilgrimage by crossing the Wall of Separation to the West Bank in our way to Bethlehem, where we stayed two nights. In the area we made the pilgrim way the Church of the Nativity, visited with Lutheran Pastor and Theologian Mitri Raheb, Palestinian Christian and President of Bright Stars of Bethlehem. We were also welcomed at Bethlehem University where we listen to students share about their faith and life under occupation. However, for many of us the highlight of the time in Bethlehem was walking in the streets, talking with the locals, and hearing their stories.


    Eliacin1.jpgFrom Bethlehem we went to Jerusalem where we stayed four days. On our way to Jerusalem, we visited the Palestinian town of Hebron. In Hebron we visited the Cave or Tomb of the Patriarchs, where tradition holds that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel are buried. There is a sacred energy in such an ancient place of veneration and religious history. However, the experience was one of dissonance caused by the political tension and military presence in the area.


    Alissa.jpgAmong the many we sites visited were the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Church of Saint Peter Gallicantu, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall, Jacobs Well, Jericho, Abu Gosh, Nablus, and the Old City of Jerusalem.


    While I am still processing the richness of the experience, one theme that kept emerging for me was how human the Holy Land really is. I experienced a vibrant and raw sense of life in the land of the Holy One. I noticed a captivating juxtaposition between grit, roughness, deep beauty and sacred presence. The best way I can describe it is that the sense of life did not seemed polished or numb. I imagine that living in a place of such turbulent history and palpable tensions drive one to embrace life with all it complexities.


    Alissa1.jpgI was struck by the fact that the holy sites are made holy by the stories, the feelings, and the prayers poured into those places. There was nothing objectively visible about the Holy Places to make them remarkable, but simple stories of sacred events that shared through generations makes visiting them rich with meaning. So there I was in the Holy Land, joining the many pilgrims from ages past in consecrating the places by entering and participating into the Holy Stories, the stories of the place, the stories of it people and my stories too. As pilgrims, we joined the tradition of participating in journey toward the Holy that is everywhere. Now we are back home, where the pilgrimage continues."



    Alissa2.jpgFrom student Alissa Newton: 

    "The bells for morning prayer in Bethlehem began to ring at 4:00 a.m. They woke me up my first morning in that city, and I couldn't get back to sleep. So instead I said my own prayers, got up, and decided to start my day early. In the lobby at our guest house I found another pilgrim who was up and about and we set out to explore the city. The contrast between the sweet floral mornings in Galilee and the gritty sounds and smells of pre-dawn Bethlehem is sharp.  Eric and I dodged litter and stepped around scrawny herds of cats as we made our way through stony winding streets and staircases in search of a good place to watch the sunrise. Meanwhile prayers rang out across the city. In the end we had to go down the hill to find a good spot, a lone patch of grass that we had to do a bit of climbing to reach. The sun arrived, we watched and listened.


    Alissa4.jpgLast year, as part of a class project I did prayers 5 times a day, the way that those who follow Islam do. The point of exercise was to experience in some way a religious spirituality that was different than my own. I am reminded now of what I learned then: that we are not that different after all. This morning I was especially grateful both to be a pilgrim and for the tradition I have found myself a part of.  Episcopal spirituality is embodied and sensual. We understand that it takes more than words to make a prayer.


    Pilgrimage, it turns out, is also a way to pray. As it is listening to the prayers of those who live here behind the fence while we stand, hearts open, and wait for the rising sun. Now I am back, and when jet lag wakes me up at 5:00 am I sit in the silence of my own home and remember the calls to prayer that kept me company in predawn Bethlehem. As their song echoes in my memory I discover that the prayers of pilgrimage have followed me home."


    Alfredo.pngFrom 2013 alumnus Alfredo Feregrino:

    Alfredo1.jpg“Seeing the Holy Places has been wonderful but for me this trip has been about the struggle for justice and the call from the Gospel to bring peace. We just went to Hebron a few days ago and I am still processing what I experience there. I was impacted by the sense of violence and pain in the life of a people living under military occupation. It was incredible to see the oppression and injustice people experience in the place where tradition holds as the birthplace of the Abrahamic faiths. Now it is up to me to pray and reflect on how I am going to act informed by this experience. I am now more convinced than ever that I am called to be a peace maker in this world.”




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