by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
LENEXA — Teaching about the life of Christ is one thing. Experiencing it — by tracing the steps of the historical Jesus through the Holy Land — is quite another.
This past spring, a group of area Catholic school administrators traveled to the Holy Land specifically for that purpose.
The pilgrimage is an annual event hosted by the archdiocesan Holy Family School of Faith Institute and coordinated by Holy Trinity parishioners Trudy and Rich Boynton of Lenexa. Trudy is the founder of Trinity Travel in Lenexa, which specializes in religious pilgrimages.
“I went to the Holy Land in 1997 when I was invited by the Israeli Tourist Board. However, it was very unsatisfying because I saw it the way they wanted me to see it,” Trudy said.
“Catholics need to see it in a particular way,” she continued, “walking in the footsteps of Jesus and personalizing it. That enhances their faith.
“My belief is that if we can get the teachers catechized, then the kids will be catechized and we’ll have a future church.”
The School of Faith was established by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to spiritually enrich Catholic school teachers, catechists and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
Each year, the School of Faith raises money to take approximately 35 area Catholic school teachers on the pilgrimage. This last trip was comprised of 51 area Catholic school principals and vice principals.
Typically, one or both of the Boyntons escort travelers, along with a Catholic theologian who provides meaningful instruction on the Holy Land and one or two priests who offer daily Mass and celebrate other sacraments during the trip. Other individuals — Catholic and non-Catholic — are welcome to join at their own cost. It is the School of Faith’s 14th pilgrimage, and one that never ceases to inspire, according to School of Faith executive director Mike Scherschligt.
“When you go to the Holy Land and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, when you walk the Stations of the Cross, stand on Calvary and touch the rock where the Cross stood, when you kiss the stone slab in the tomb from where Jesus rose from the dead, when you drink from the well in which Jesus met the woman from Samaria, or when you put your head under the waterfall on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John, you realize this is not just another story,” Scherschligt said. “Jesus is real.”
Trudy, who has volunteered as a catechist for both high school students and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program for 38 years, echoes Scherschligt sentiment.
“The point of the pilgrimage, for me, is that our faith be presented in an easy-to-understand manner,” she said, “that it be experiential, and that it be accurate.
“I want people to be inspired.”
Like Trudy, Rich said that no one who has ever taken the trip comes home unchanged. In fact, he said the inspiration is contagious. He pointed to examples of individuals and couples who have repeated the trip, often bringing their children and even both sets of in-laws in one instance.
One family even remortgaged their home, Rich said, because they felt it was that important to their family’s spiritual growth. Some travelers who were not Catholic were even inspired to join the church upon returning home, he said.
Inspiring is an understatement, according to Kansas City, Kansas’ Bishop Ward High School president Father Thomas Schrader, O.Carm. He attended the last pilgrimage.
“Having the opportunity to visit the Holy Land and be in the places where Jesus lived and taught and worked his miracles opens up the word of God to a another reality of perceiving the gifts of Our Lord to us,” Father Schrader said. “This makes the sharing of the good news more vital and real in proclaiming Christ’s paschal mystery to our students and staff.”
“As a priest and president serving in the high school setting,” he continued, “I know this first trip to the Holy Land will help to explain Christ’s life in even deeper ways during school Masses and faculty meetings and interactions.”
The Boyntons, who have been members of Holy Trinity for 21 years, said the pilgrimage changes the way you experience Mass as well. They estimate they’ve escorted approximately 1,000 faith educators and individuals to the Holy Land since 2011.
“We can’t pinpoint with GPS accuracy that Jesus stood on that spot, like on the Mount of the Beatitudes. But we know he was there,” Rich said. “Today, there are 1,000 people listening to the Gospel and thinking, ‘I saw that.’ It changes the dynamics of how they [participate in] Mass.”
The pilgrimages are so popular that the January 2018 trip is already sold out. The School of Faith helps teachers find funding for the trip by asking benefactors to contribute toward the overall costs. The $3,999 price tag for the last trip included airfare, meals, hotel, tours and tips for the 12-day journey.
The Boyntons said safety is rarely a concern, with the exception of the January 2016 pilgrimage. Because of some unrest in Jerusalem at the time, Trudy canceled the trip. Otherwise, Rich said he feels safer walking in Jerusalem at night than he does in parts of Kansas City.
In planning the trip and scheduling tours, Trudy and Rich work exclusively with Christian suppliers and operators, and only patronize Christian shops and restaurants.
And while the pilgrimage typically strikes a reverent tone, there are some lighthearted moments at times, Rich said. During the 2012 pilgrimage, which included Archbishop Naumann, one of the group’s flights was canceled.
When Trudy went to the airline to try and work it out, the rest of the group huddled around Archbishop Naumann, hoping for divine intervention.
“We all whipped out our rosaries and began praying,” Rich said.
They were not disappointed.
“Shortly thereafter,” Rich said, “they ended up finding a crew and reinstating the flight. The pilot told us that he had never seen a flight get reinstated after it had been canceled.”