By Peter Baugher
On Oct. 6, 2023, thirty-eight Franciscan students arrived in Israel to participate in the Holy Land Mission trip led by the Community of the Beatitudes.
The next day, Hamas invaded southern Israel, killing around 1400 people, according to the New York Times.
“We went to bed in Narazath on Friday night anticipating an ordinary pilgrimage experience. But on Saturday, we gathered as a group and were told the devastating news that a war had begun in the country we were standing in,” said junior Rebekah Hernandez after returning to Franciscan’s Austria campus from a mission trip in Israel.
Fortunately for the students, the fighting was concentrated in the south near Tel Aviv, around 70 miles away from the students’ location.
“The Galilee region is very beautiful and peaceful, so the students went on very local walks, had the opportunity to swim in the sea, and took time for daily Mass and prayer.” Said Franciscan
President Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, in the Student Life Bulletin.
According to Hernandez, the group continued their journey until Monday.
Hernandez recounts, “On Monday, the Holy Spirit guided our leaders, and we packed up all of our camping gear and went from camping on the beautiful shore of Galilee with the woods as our bathroom, the sea as our shower, and the ground as our table and bed to staying a beautiful Catholic Hotel in Magdala with the goal of ensuring our safety.”
Hernandez said the hotel, which had an adoration chapel, was connected to a 1st-century synagogue in which Christ likely taught.
The following day, the pilgrims traveled to Anam, Jordan, to spend the night.
Traveling to Jordan required the students to cross the Israeli-Jordon border, which, according to Rebekah’s estimate, took 4 hours.
While they waited, the students had a time of praise and worship and renewed their baptismal vows.
“It was a truly beautiful time. I am confident God used to witness to and remind those who were waiting with us at the border that He, The Emanuel, was present among us as we fled danger and sought safety.” Said Rebekah.
After crossing the border, the students rode on a two-hour bus tour through the “beautiful country” of Jordan, led by a Jordaen Christian man whom Hernandez did not name.
According to Hernandez, the man “gently but firmly reminded us to have deep gratitude in our hearts for the safety we are blessed to live within The States.”
Hernandez continued, “He described that when he was 13 years old, his father watched two mistles fly over his head as he was playing. He said that this week, his 13-year-old boy was playing as missles were flying over the countries bordering his.”
Hernandez said that one of the “greatest fruits from the pilgrimage” was “an invitation to more zealously, fervently, and sacredly respond to the call to pray for peace in our world.”
On Oct. 11, the students took flights to Vienna, Austria, and returned to the Kartause.
Sophomore Maria Brown recounts her experience after landing in Vienna: “When we got back to Vienna and the sisters and some others met us, we were so relieved to be back…. We all got on a bus and found that they had brought a bunch of snacks and had made 120 cookies to welcome us back.”
The University offered counseling services to the students upon their return, according to Pivonka.