This summer, 13 students from Divine Savior Holy Angels (DSHA) High School went on their first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Led by DSHA theology teacher Daniel Pavlovich, the school’s Director of Salvatorian Service Stephanie Monson, and parent chaperone Tim Dunne, the group spent eight days walking in the footsteps of our Savior and his Apostles.

The trip was the first of its kind for students in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and a labor of love for Pavlovich, who pitched the idea to DSHA school administration, and spent two years planning each aspect of the pilgrimage.

“I wanted to provide the girls at our school with an experience that would make the faith more real to them,” Pavlovich said. “Everyone involved in the approval process was supportive of that effort and helped to make it a reality.”

After flying into Tel Aviv, the group made the hour and a half drive north to Tiberius and spent their first three full days around the Sea of Galilee tracing the early days of Jesus’ public ministry. While in Lower Galilee visiting the Wedding Church at Cana, the group happened upon a private service where three couples were renewing their vows and were invited to witness the Mass with them in Spanish.

Pavlovich made plans for the girls to attend daily Mass in certain churches throughout the trip, but remained open to the movement of the Holy Spirit to guide them to unexpected celebrations of his sacrifice, like the traditional site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes in Tabgha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

In Nazareth, they visited The Basilica of the Annunciation, in Haifa, the Stella Maris Shrine and the Bahai Gardens.

“The land is so natural, and it looks a lot like how you’d expect it to have looked when Jesus was there and I think it took all of us back,” Monson said.

In Tabgha, the group had time to sit in quiet prayer around the rock where Jesus and Peter ate fish after his resurrection and one of the girls told Monson how powerful it was for her to be in that spot and think about what the apostles would have felt knowing they were going to have to go out and preach the Gospel. Monson said, “She made that connection that she is supposed to do the same thing they did, that she has to go home and preach the Gospel in this crazy world, even as a 17-year-old.”

They were led by a local tour guide, Maurice Oddes, who ended up with the group by Divine Providence after their originally scheduled guide was reassigned. Pavlovich said, “We left Israel with not only a much more profound love and understanding of a very often misunderstood region of the world, but also a new and very good friend, who I hope to see again one day.”

The group spent time inside the ancient Jaffa Gate, surrounded by the walls of the Old City exploring the shuks and experiencing the many cuisines and cultures that exist there side by side. “I think it was a positive shock to us all, and the girls jumped in with both feet, and for a lot of them, it was their favorite part of the trip,” Pavlovich said.

Each night the group gathered together, prayed and reflected on their day. “It was a great time to get together and process everything we saw,” Monson said. “I didn’t expect to hear such profound internal reactions to the scriptures from such young people.”

Pavlovich is overjoyed that his dream for his students’ pilgrimage exceeded his highest expectations, and he’s confident that they’ve returned home able to celebrate the Mass more fully than they did before.

“I wanted the stories that we read about in the Gospels to come alive. I wanted them to understand the lay of the land, the topography, and get a sense of what it was like for Jesus to journey from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem, and to have the wilderness experience he did. I think that happened for each one of them.”

Pavlovich was approved to lead the Holy Land pilgrimage every three or four years so that all DSHA students will have the opportunity to participate. He said, “We’ve got the support, and the students are excited about it. I can’t wait to see what these experiences do for the souls of our girls and their commitment to Christ and His Church.”