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    Students Explore Christianity in the Middle East

    January 31, 2020
    By: Kathleen Wallace '23

    Over intersession, Kathleen Wallace, a student in the Class of 2023, traveled to Israel and Palestine as a part of her Christianity in the Middle East course alongside her peers and Father Azar. She shared her reflection on her experience with us.

    Over intersession, I went to Israel and Palestine with nine other University students for Fr. Azar’s course, Christianity in the Middle East.  This study abroad course was unique, as it was not only an academic trip but also a pilgrimage. Throughout the trip, Fr. Azar reminded us that “a Christian pilgrimage should not ignore the teachings of Jesus.” This philosophy explains why our ten-day pilgrimage focused not only on walking where Jesus walked but also meeting with Palestinian Christians living in the area today. 

    We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, celebrating where Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. We also saw the Israeli-West Bank Wall (a concrete barricade, over twice as high as the Berlin Wall, that was constructed by Israel and separates Palestinian villages). We worshipped with Palestinian Christians and then talked with them over dates and coffee about the ways in which Palestinians suffer injustices in the Holy Land, such as water to their homes being shut off regularly. We walked down into Lazarus’ tomb, meditating on the Scripture passage where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, and then spent time with residents at The Four Homes of Mercy, a home for the neurologically impaired.  (To learn more, visit fourhomesofmercy.com.)  

    One morning, we bent down to touch the star in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and in the evening, we walked back from Palestine to Israel through the checkpoint Palestinians must use to cross the border. Our trip to the city of Hebron offered a view of Abraham’s tomb and a look into the difference between Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages. Every day, we transitioned seamlessly between conversations about holy sites and about political issues, between visiting the old stones of church buildings and speaking with the living stones of the Church people.

    Looking back on the trip, I see one continuous theme connecting all the places we saw and people we met: God’s love. Stephanie Saldana, one of our chaperones and author of the Royal Read’s book, The Bread of Angels, A Journey to Love and Faith, spoke about how important it is for Christians to say, “I love everyone,” and not be abstract, because love is incarnate. I saw love incarnate on this pilgrimage. I saw God’s love in the way we were welcomed everywhere we went with incredible hospitality. I saw God’s love in the thousands of pilgrims coming to the Jordan river to celebrate Jesus’s baptism. I saw love in the way friends cared for residents at the Four Homes. I was reminded of God’s love when I prayed in the place where Jesus died and rose again. This pilgrimage showed me love in beautiful new ways, and I’m blessed to have been able to experience the people and places of Palestine and Israel on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Scranton friends.

    To learn more about our study abroad program at Scranton, visit: studyabroad.scranton.edu

    Kathleen Wallace, a student in the Class of 2023, traveled to Israel and Palestine as a part of her Christianity in the Middle East course alongside her peers and Father Azar.
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