A group of young Catholic pilgrims to the Holy Land asked God to keep them safe and lead them home during the recent terrorist attacks in Israel and the nation’s declaration of war.
Their prayers were answered and their eyes were opened.
“Seeing all of this unfold throughout the Holy Land should really push all of us to strengthen our faith,” said Dylan Durbin, a member of St. Mary Parish in Shelbina, who was on a Holy Land pilgrimage when the hostilities broke out.
“We can’t be afraid to seek more,” he stated. “If we want to get to heaven, then you’re going to have to do more.”
Mr. Durbin, a sophomore at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, was one of 38 students on a pilgrimage led by Father Anthony Ariniello, founder of the Community of the Beatitudes.
The students were on a 10-day break from classes.
“I knew I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity because I’ve always wanted to go,” said Mr. Durbin.
The group began by visiting holy sites in the northern part of the Holy Land, including the Road to Emmaus; the place where Mary said “yes” to being the mother of the Savior; the synagogue where Jesus prayed while growing up; the Sea of Galilee; the mountain where Jesus preached the Beatitudes; the place where he fed the 5,000; and the place he stayed whenever he visited Capernaum.
“Seeing where the angel appeared to Mary was truly a life-changing moment for me,” said Mr. Durbin.
The group launched into spontaneous praise at various locations, invigorating one another and those around them.
“I think I was most aware of God’s presence when we all came together in praise and worship,” said Mr. Durbin. “The biggest thing for me was watching the faces of bystanders and seeing them react to whatever we were doing in a positive way.”
A time to trust
Mr. Durbin knew little about the conflict between Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority prior to the pilgrimage.
People in the group did notice fighter jets flying overhead and tanks being transported on semis, “but we didn’t really notice any tension between people at all,” he said.
The pilgrims were camping near the Sea of Galilee on Oct. 7 when Fr. Anthony gathered everyone around to tell them about the deadly bombings in the southern part of the country.
“At first we all were a little shocked, like ‘How could this be?’” Mr. Durbin recalled.
He went with his default response to anxiety: “just putting my full trust in God.”
“Whatever happened, I knew I was in his hands and that everything would be okay,” said Mr. Durbin.
He was disappointed that the pilgrimage had to be cut short, “but I think it was the smartest move we could have made,” he said.
It meant missing out on Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where so many important moments in Jesus’s earthly mission had taken place.
“But, we were in the best hands the whole time, and everything we did was for our safety, so I was okay with it all,” Mr. Durbin stated.
The pilgrims resigned themselves to staying put for a while, since most commercial flights out of the country were canceled.
But as urgent prayer requests circulated among their friends, families and fellow students, the pilgrims began to see their horizons open up.
“The prayer warriors did so much for us, and it was helping tremendously,” Mr. Durbin stated.
The pilgrims packed up their camp, boarded a bus and spent the night in a hotel.
The next morning, they crossed over into neighboring Jordan after waiting for several hours for security screening at the border.
While they were waiting, Fr. Anthony heard Confessions and renewed each of the pilgrims’ Baptisms.
“It was very beautiful,” Mr. Durbin recalled.
In Jordan, the group proceeded to the airport in Amman and boarded planes to their various destinations.
“The whole time, everything went perfectly and we could tell God was right there with us,” Mr. Durbin stated.
Friendships in the making quickly solidified.
“I went into this trip knowing hardly anyone on the pilgrimage, but I can now say they are probably all my closest friends,” he stated.
He said visiting the Holy Land and getting to know some of the people there left an indelible impression on him.
“It really changed my perspective on my everyday life and not taking anything for granted,” he said. “I recognize that death is more real than I ever thought, especially when we were in the country of a horrible war.”
He recalled listening to a man on a tour bus talk about how fear and perpetual vigilance are a normal part of life for him and his children.
“I thought about how sad that is because they don’t know life that isn’t consisting of war and terror all the time,” Mr. Durbin stated.
A new perspective
Mr. Durbin hopes to return to the Holy Land someday after the conflicts are settled.
In the meantime, he asks everyone to join him in praying for peace in Israel and for the people who live constantly with the threat of violence and war.
“It’s more real than I ever thought,” he said. “I’ve never seen or even thought of war, so I think being there really put a new perspective on it for me.
“We all need to rally together,” he stated, “because the Rosary can end wars.”
Mr. Durbin is majoring in business administration at Franciscan University and spending this semester in Austria.
He enjoys studying abroad and continuing to practice his faith.
“I’m Catholic, and being Catholic means to be a member of the Church that Christ himself started,” he said.
“Being Catholic brings forth happiness because you know truth,” he said. “No matter where you go in the world, you can celebrate the Liturgy because it’s always the same. That’s what makes it so beautiful.”
Mr. Durbin’s family and the larger community back home helped shape him into a devout Catholic, especially his mom, Amanda Durbin, who as parish youth director encouraged him to stay active and connected to the Church.
“We all have the ups and downs of the faith, but that doesn’t mean give up on it,” he stated. “Keep striving for and asking questions if you’re confused on something.”
He noted that being Catholic means loving everyone, “even your enemy,” and striving for holiness and sainthood.
“Faith alone won’t get us into heaven,” he noted. “That’s why I try daily to do as many works of faith as I can toward others, and everyone needs to do that.”
Mr. Durbin loves the Eucharist and can’t imagine life without it.
“It’s the heart of the Catholic faith, where we consume the real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, not symbols,” he said.
He tries to receive Christ at Mass daily.
“What better way to complete your day than having Christ at the center of it?” he stated. “As John Paul II said, ‘Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure!’”