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Holy Land trip ‘life changing’ for religious educators

02 8.17.17_holyland.religioused PAGEPictured at Magdala Chapel in Jordan are, from left: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mill Valley, parishioner Frank Bannon; Marin Catholic High School theology teacher Michelle Fontaine; Mount Carmel parishioners Robert and Shelley Gurnick; St. Catherine of Siena Parish director of religious education Silvia Chiesa; Salesian Father Biju Michael; Susan Rowe Morison; Mount Carmel parishioner Adrienne Birmingham; St. Bruno Parish director of religious education Kacey Carey. (Courtesy photo)

August 17, 2017
Christina Gray

Three archdiocesan religious education teachers blessed this summer with joining a Holy Land pilgrimage through Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Mill Valley will return to their classrooms in the fall with a fresh perspective to share with their students.

“There is nothing like being where Jesus walked, lived and spread the Word,” said Kacey Carey, director of religious education for St. Bruno Parish in San Bruno.

She said “his humanity was evident” as they ate the foods he ate, walked the places he walked, prayed in the gardens in which he prayed and got a taste of the political drama of the day.

“The words of the Bible jumped off the page and came alive for us,” she said.

Carey, with Marin Catholic High School theology teacher Michelle Fontaine and St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Burlingame, director of religious education Sylvia Chiesa, were given places on the June 14-28 pilgrimage by previous participants.

Former Mount Carmel pastoral associate Mike Morison created the “Discipleship in the Footsteps of Jesus” pilgrimage four years ago in collaboration with Salesian Father Biju Michael, president of the Salesian Pontifical University in Jerusalem. Their program is an intimate, prayerful experience that includes private Masses in the holy places where Jesus was born, raised, preached, died and rose again.

The opportunity to experience what is sometimes called “the fifth gospel” – that is, the geographical and historical background of Scripture – was “life changing,” Fontaine said.

“Sure, we can read the Bible and know cognitively about Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem, but to be there physically makes Jesus’ incarnation all the more real,” she said. “Our God became flesh and dwelt among us.”

“I highly recommend this trip,” said Chiesa. “In addition to the moving experience of being where Jesus walked, taught and lived, I’m looking forward to renewing my experiences as I hear and read the Scriptures.”

According to Morison, when three spots remained open for the 2017 pilgrimage earlier this year, prayer led him to contact Social Service Sister Celeste Arbuckle, director of the archdiocesan office of religious education. Sister Celeste put the word out among the archdiocese’s religious educators.

“It’s a great opportunity for anyone, whether they teach children or adults,” said Sister Celeste.

Participation in the pilgrimage counts toward basic certification in the archdiocese’s master catechist program, she said, and makes teachers “better in the classroom.”

Understanding that the $3,290 cost of the trip would be a reach on a teacher’s salary, Morison wrote to alumni from the previous three years about what he felt was a “calling” to make it available to our religious educators. Collectively alumni donated the funds to provide three full scholarships to Carey, Fontaine and Chiesa.

Fontaine said the experience of watching baptisms in the Jordan River, praying together in Elijah’s cave and listening for “God’s still, small voice,” will enhance her ability to describe these geographic and cultural features to the students in her parish and school and in the adult faith formation groups she leads.

Morison and Father Biju plan a separate pilgrimage next year just for religious educators.

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