Diverse LMU Group Heads to the Holy Land

CAMPUS MINISTRY | On the outside, the group traveling together could not be more diverse, each distinguished by religion, gender, age and ethnicity.

Uniting them is the Loyola Marymount University mission, their drive for adventure and their instinct to understand.

“It is no accident that LMU’s mission statement speaks of the ‘service of faith’ and not, say, of the ‘promotion of Roman Catholicism,’” said John Sebastian, LMU’s vice president for mission and ministry. “Our institutional commitment to serving faith requires us to engage in dialogue between the great religious traditions in keeping with the direction set for the Catholic Church by the Second Vatican Council.”

This interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land was organized by LMU’s Campus Ministry, Jewish Student Life, and the Muslim Student Association. The troupe includes eight students, a mix of Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and agnostic, and six members of LMU’s faculty and staff guiding the expedition: John Flaherty, associate director of Campus Ministry; Father Paul Vu, assistant dean for student affairs; Amir Hussain, professor of theological studies; Kelly Nelson, campus minister; and Rabbi Zach Zysman, campus rabbi, director of Jewish Life and LMU Hillel. Zysman said their intent is to explore the religious pilgrimage sites of three religions and to learn a little bit about each other and each of their histories. Also, to eat lots of delicious hummus and to have a ton of fun.

As they began the trip Jan. 2, Hussain prayed this Jewish prayer, one of his favorite tefilat haderekh or prayers for the road: “May we leave in peace and safety and return in peace and safety, may we bring out the best selves of the people we meet and may they bring out our best selves, and protect us from the wild animals of the road.”

Their itinerary will take them to Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, and Tel Aviv. They will visit a laundry list of historic and significant sites, such as the Mount of Olives, the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, El Aksa Mosque, Temple Mount, Via Crucis and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Museum – Masada and other places.

“By asking important questions about the nature of God, the demands of justice, or the call to love one another,” said Sebastian, “our students will not only deepen their understanding of other religions; they will also grow in their appreciation of their own faith traditions. They will also be better equipped to see faith as a tool for, rather than an obstacle to, navigating the differences that divide the global human family.”

As they say in the Holy Land: Peace, shalom, salaam.