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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Everest Collegiate High School
Senior class trip to Holy Land was ´experience of a lifetime´


By Michelle Samartino

This article is reprinted with permission from the Michigan Catholic Newspaper, January 25, 2013.

Clarkston, Michigan— It was the best thing she’s ever done, said Gina Berishaj, a graduate of Everest Collegiate High School in Clarkston.

Berishaj, now a freshman at Oakland University, said her senior trip to the Holy Land last year was the experience of a lifetime, and one she’ll never forget. She and 14 fellow seniors, along with four chaperones, made the trip as part of Everest’s first-ever graduating class.

The Everest staff wanted the 17 students to have a memorable and meaningful senior class trip, and under the direction of Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC, that led to planning a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

His religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, was appointed administrators of the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center by Pope John Paul II in 2004, “so we had somewhere to go in the Holy Land,” explained Fr. Pajerski, director of formation at Everest.

“We want to set this as a tradition to last,” he said, adding that the school plans to repeat the trip with this year’s seniors and future graduating classes.

With the mission of Everest Collegiate in mind — to form Christ-like leaders and to help transform society — “our thinking was, ‘What better way to end their career here and get them closer to Christ?” said Fr. Pajerski. “A goal of our school is to develop a friendship with Christ, and then based on that, develop their intellect, sports, talents … with what God has given us. That was the spiritual thinking behind it.

“It was a way to get to know Christ and then to take them to the place where he lived,” Fr. Pajerski said.

With a cost of $2,500 per student, which included a seven-day itinerary, there was much to experience. “One of the beautiful things we did was that we spent the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which you can do in small groups,” he said.

“They close the doors of the basilica and what most students do while they are there is that they are in prayer, and they had the opportunity to go to
Everest Senior Class
The 2012 Everest Senior Class in Jerusalem. (Gina is second row bottom, right end, and Father is second row top, center.)

Having a tour guide was also an enormous benefit, he added.

“He was a Catholic from Nazareth, and he took us to the Church of the Annunciation. He guided us through different sites, and the students were very attentive. We went to Mass every day and soaked everything in.”

Students also visited Bethlehem and enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, along with a visit to the Mount of Beatitudes and the Garden of Gethsemane, Fr. Pajerski noted.

“These are places that the students read about since they were children, and then they were able to actually visit those places,” Fr. Pajerski said.

“They just lived it; it wasn’t so much that they missed going to the beach on their senior trip, but that they had a really religious and cultural experience as well. It was a good thing — I was impressed how delved into their spirituality as they were.”

Greg Reichert, principal and director of academic affairs at Everest, called the trip “instrumental in cementing their beliefs and reinforcing the Gospel stories and ideals that were taught to them in the classrooms, in the hallways, and in so many school-related activities that they enjoyed during their years in our school.”

“The students were truly able to understand and appreciate this experience as a culmination of the overall formation that was given to them during their years at Everest.”

Reichert echoed Fr. Pajerski’s thoughts on the trip, as well.

“This experience provided these young men and women not only confirmation and further knowledge of Christ’s Good News that we are called to embrace, but also a deeper understanding of the complex world that we are all called to work to transform,” he said.

Berishaj, 19, admitted she was a little surprised when she found out her senior trip would be to the Holy Land as opposed to a sunny, beachside destination. “But I was actually looking forward to it,” she said. Her fellow seniors were enthusiastic as well, she added. “I was excited to see what it was all about.”

Berishaj said the experience of being there and to have walked where Jesus walked was “hard to put into words.”

“It was very emotional. I tried to take everything in and I thought about the talks we had in class and how it put it all in perspective for me,” she said.

She laughed as she recalled “floating” in the Dead Sea. “Well, the bottom of it was really clay and when we walked into it, we sunk in because it was so mucky. But we did float when we were on our backs. It was very cool actually.”

Berishaj said more than anything, the trip prepared her for what might lie ahead, especially during her college years. “A lot of time in college, we’re challenged with religious aspects, so going (to the Holy Land) before college and being able to experience all of that, it just brought everything into perspective. It made me stronger in what I believe, and now it’s easier if I ever have to defend my faith … it was a perfect time to go,” she said.

Plans are already underway for the Class of 2013 to visit the Holy Land as well. Berishaj said it’s a trip the current seniors won’t ever regret.

“It was the best experience that I’ll ever have. I hope to one day go back, but even if I don’t, I’m glad to have already been there,” Berishaj said.



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