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It only counts if you bring it back with you

Los Angeles, June 4, 2020.

“Three seats for myself! Todá Israel!”, I wrote on a photo. The image framed a row of empty seats, the airplane window and in the background, the classic view of the airport. Very fitting for an Instagram Story. It was Sunday, March 1 and just like that, I completed my trip to the Holy Land. A combination of nostalgia, happiness and disbelief filled me. I had a hard time finding that word. Disbelief. The impossibility of believing that I had just spent 10 days in the Holy Land. If I’m honest, I have a very bad memory and History courses were never where I shone the most. However, I do remember listening to our guide and that everything sounded remarkable to me and at the same time it was difficult and unreal for me to understand that I was there. I think that no matter how hard I try I can’t explain its greatness. It has been one of the most wonderful countries I have ever seen, and I have seen many.

 

My trip to the Holy Land has been more an experience of personal satisfaction than anything else. I don't want to sound selfish, but I think we will all have a similar experience. You may have already experienced it: those unusual moments in life where you instinctively knew that something inside you was about to change. Those truly meaningful and incisive experiences that, when you remember later in life, make you say: "Yes, that's when everything changed." To begin with, it was a trip that I paid for myself. I love traveling and I’ve had the opportunity to live and visit many countries. But the vast majority of times have been for studies or work and once there, I took the opportunity to travel to other places. But this trip was the result of my effort since I started working as a freelance and entrepreneur. From there, the journey would mean a lot to me. Also, one of my best friends lives in Tel-Aviv and although we had talked about it, it really wasn't in my upcoming plans to go to Israel. When I heard about Saxum YPS, I was presented with a 2x1 opportunity, so I decided to go before for a few days with my friend and live a different Israel than the one that most likely awaited me with Saxum. And that's where I was wrong. Holy Land with YPS was an experience that I did not expect. It was not just a pilgrimage, which I highly recommend. It was not just a masterclass in history and culture, which it is. The Holy Land was richness.

 

Back in LA, I remember walking through LAX airport and thinking that the only thing that would make better this feeling of abundance would’ve been to return to my home in El Salvador. Here I have to pause and tell you about my life motto: Omnia in Bonum. Everything in my life has been for good. And this trip was no exception. Life has always been in charge of surprising me. I have my plans, but life, ah! Life has others. I, who wanted to go home to be with my parents, brothers and dogs, didn’t know what to expect when I returned to LA. Weeks later the shelter at home orders began due to COVID19 and I never imagined what my visit to the Holy Land was going to help me those first weeks.

 

It still astonishes me the fact that the timing of the trip was perfect. If the trip had been a few weeks later, we probably would not have completed it as Israel lifted its quarantine. A few weeks before and probably everything would not have been so alive in my mind and heart. I never thought that the revival of my faith and the friendships I would make in this journey would help me survive the uncertainty and despair of a pandemic.

I couldn't have imagined that my first trip to the Middle East would be to experience the Holy Land. My faith is something that has always meant a lot to me, and I certainly didn't need to visit Israel to adhere to it. That said, dipping my feet in the Jordan River, being where Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, singing Adeste Fideles in the Basilica of the Nativity added a whole new content to my life. And that is what the Holy Land does, it allows you to get into the gospel as one more character, because physically you have been there and you can concretely locate yourself in the scene while you are listening or reading it. It happens to me that now, even at the time of consecration, I can place myself where the Last Supper was. I am perfectly positioned and I find it striking to have the opportunity and be able to achieve that. And that is the wonder of traveling, and specifically of my trip to the Holy Land, it changes you, shapes you, but you bring that transformation back with you.

On the last day I mentioned this to the other young professionals, all great people, with whom we experienced together those days and it’s something that I’ve had very present with me. Another way that this trip has transformed my day to day is in the tranquility of not feeling alone. I have always strived to live my faith within my reality. I have never been a big fan of boxing myself and one thing that has always been a concern to me is how to live my faith without being closed-minded. I’ve had the opportunity to study, work and live with people from many cultures and paths of life. I live my faith in the way that it helps and assists me. However, this trip gave me a comfort that I had not felt elsewhere or in other circumstances. And it’s that I felt completely normal, around a group of normal young Catholics. Young professionals with their ambitions, dreams, concerns and that, at the end of the day, all of us who were there searched for and wanted the same. We pursue the same things. And that is a thought that I have every day: I am not alone, I am not "weird" and I have a group of friends who calm and quieten my heart every time they say "I’m going to keep you in my prayers".

 

While writing these words I felt a blend of familiarity, love, joy and happiness that could hardly be expressed in words, only a tingling that came out of my heart and watery eyes as I held back my tears. And isn't that what we all want? An experience, a trip near or far, that even without knowing how those feelings and impressions will change us, they definitely will.

Los Angeles, June 4, 2020.

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