By Michelle Samartino
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.
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.
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
|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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
“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.