May 09, 2012 - Less than two weeks until graduation, seniors don't have many steps left as students of Everest Collegiate High School.
Everest seniors gather in the Middle Eastern sun during their week-long visit to the Holy Land. Photo provided (click for larger version)
The steps they'll probably remember most, they made half a world away.
"Holy Week was a really incredible thing," said Don Allen, one of 15 students from the boys and girls schools to travel to Israel last month for their senior trip. "It was a really intense and moving experience, more than I expected. It's changed who I am a little bit."
"It's what you believe come to life," said classmate Patrick Nalepa. "Now, when I hear the Gospels, it's not just words. I've been to all those places."
The trip brought the students together as a class, said senior Fabiana Diaz.
"It's a good way to end high school – we really bonded," Diaz said. "I'm honored and proud of how far we came. It prepared us for the next part of life."
They visited the Garden of Gethsemane, Calvary, the Tomb, Mount of Olives, Temple wall, and other sites in Jerusalem,
"We walked the Way of the Cross, the whole thing," said student Mary Smith. "It was cool to know Jesus walked the same road."
"People lined the streets," Nalepa said. "It was narrow and packed, just like it was then. It made me feel some of what Christ must have felt."
They also visited Cana, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, and other locations in Israel.
"Our goal at Everest Collegiate has always been to bring the students closer to Christ," said Fr. Daniel Pajerski, one of four chaperones on the trip. "We accomplished that in a special way by being in the very same places that Jesus lived."
The trip to the Holy Land, home of three world religions, gave them a different perspective on their faith.
"It's a place where Christians have to fight for their faith," Diaz said. "We take it for granted. We don't really appreciate how we can go anywhere and find a church where you can go anytime."
"It was really astonishing to see everyone there, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, all as observant as they could be," said Jacob Staffor, senior. "They were so passionate about it."
On their first day, their tour guide told them Jerusalem is their home, Allen said.
"I've never thought of the Middle East as my home, but it's where my faith started," he said.
The group returned home in time for Easter.
"I'm grateful for the chance to go there and experience the land Jesus walked on," Diaz said.
"It really brought the Gospels to life," said Smith. "To stand in the same tomb where Jesus was, instead of just hearing about it, made it more real and personal."
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.