Pilgrims to share Holy Land experience

Five Omaha educators are bringing their experience of a Holy Land pilgrimage into classrooms, staff meetings and other settings this year.

The June 12-22 trip, sponsored by the School of Faith, the faith formation program for teachers and administrators in archdiocesan schools, was another way to share the faith, organizers said.

"I feel like God is saying, ‘OK, I gave you this gift so now it is time for you to step it up and be more of a Jesus presence in all (you) say, think and do,"’ said Holy Name Principal Don Ridder, in a letter to donors in the archdiocese who made the trip possible.

Ridder was joined on the trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Capernaum and other sites by principals William Huben, St. Wenceslaus; Chris Nelson, Holy Cross; Roseanne Williby, St. Stephen the Martyr; and theology teacher Bart Zavaletta, V. J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School.

Keith Jiron, director of School of Faith in the archdiocese, also went on the trip, and he solicited funds for the pilgrimage from archdiocesan supporters of the ministry. The trip was not a vacation, but a chance to learn, grow in faith and prepare to share it with others, Jiron said.

"We can always go deeper," he said. "We do our monthly sessions, and they are effective." But School of Faith, which has offered similar Holy Land pilgrimages in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., has found it can offer additional experiences that broaden and deepen educators’ faith lives, Jiron said.

Another School of Faith opportunity in the Omaha archdiocese over the summer was a free, Aug. 3-5 retreat for teachers titled "Encountering Christ – the Teacher of Mercy," at the St. Benedict Center near Schuyler. It drew about 30 teachers and was a "huge success," he said.

With those successes, another Holy Land trip is being planned for next summer, and more retreats could be organized, he said.

Jiron said he had never been to Israel, and the sights and sounds brought vivid detail to Jesus’ birth, mission and death. "It’s really enriched my perspective," he said.

Huben said he had never visited the Holy Land, either, and in Jerusalem he was struck in part by how close one holy site was to the next – all within walking distance. He also appreciated some private prayer time one day in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the site of what was believed to be Calvary, where Jesus was crucified.

Based in part on his pilgrimage experience, Huben said he suggested and St. Wenceslaus faculty adopted this year’s school theme: "Growing in Our Faith."

Activities will include students writing down weekly prayer intentions, sharing them with their classmates and offering them up at weekly Masses. And the school is letting parents know the chapel is open to them for quiet prayer after they drop their children off for the school day, Huben said.

Ridder said he wants to share the grace he received, and one idea will be carried out in the school’s hallways: They will be painted through the school year with pictures depicting accompanying Bible verses, quotes from saints and other inspiring messages.

The school also will do more to explain the importance of Mass, sharing the faith and being reverent, Ridder said.

"We need to be more intentional about who we are and why, and do it 24 hours a day," Ridder said. "Don’t turn it off."


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