Vincent Restifo

Vincent Restifo

It was so fantastic to be hosted by the Sion sisters at Ecce Homo. The sisters were so warm, generous and eager for us to have a pilgrimage that made us aware of the different beauty’s, struggles, challenges and blessings facing Israel. The scholarship was such a precious gift that allowed for such an incredible opportunity. It has not only transformed my continuing studies in Theology but  my faith life as well. The impact this trip has had on my faith is overwhelming and one that is still touching me so deeply.

We were hosted at the Ecce Home Convent and Centre for Biblical Formation, in the Old City of Jerusalem, along the prominent Via Dolorosa. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion hosted us with the warmest hospitality, and over the following weeks, the group was treated to the most incredible sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of the Holy Land.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, having the opportunity to witness the timely liturgical celebrations of these major religious traditions unfold amidst the holy sites and through the pilgrims’ own experiences. Lectures and excursions were of incomparable quality, motivating and inspiring deep theological reflection and academic critique of the topics reviewed.

One aspect that I particularly enjoyed was the exploration of various pericopes in John’s Gospel, and then visiting these settings in a subsequent session. I found a uniqueness in being within this holy place and learning from the land itself as ‘the fifth Gospel’. Being part of the Palm Sunday processions, sharing in the ascent to Jerusalem, and examining the landscape that gave rise to Jesus’ sermons and parables were moments of profound beauty that left a deep imprint in my heart and mind. Other excursions and tours were equally captivating, particularly in seeing how the biblical lifestyle has evolved but also remained the same for centuries. Integrating ideas of the socio-political climate of Israel then and now brought an added depth and breadth to the journey.

My understanding of Scripture was especially deepened through the exploration of John’s Gospel, and in particular, the eucharistic discourse in chapter 6. It was a period for significant learning in unpacking the various layers of this text. My knowledge of Jesus’ homiletic style as the paradigmatic teacher and preacher, the praxis of absorbing Jesus’ flesh and blood into all parts of oneself so as to live ‘a eucharistic life’, and a new hermeneutic of having “life within you”, were extended beyond imagining and continue to play a part in my life today.

The program was full of highlights, but above all, the authentic encounters of humility and grace, mediated through the people we shared time with, revealed God to me in a new way. I was also grateful for the opportunity to communicate snapshots of my experience to colleagues at my workplace, many of whom expressly appreciated what was offered – some of whom were also inspired to undertake their own pilgrimage in coming years. Being a Religious Education teacher, many of my students also were engaged and moved to ask questions about my time in Israel, which was encouraging in yet another way.

In short, the gratitude I extend towards the BJ Hickey Foundation for Biblical Scholarship cannot be matched. It was the catalyst that absolutely enabled me to complete this program, and one which will never be forgotten.

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