Twenty four students had a once-in-a-lifetime week in Israel, led by three staff and guided by Fr Henry.  In the words of one student, 'it was an unforgettable time, strange and overwhelming to think that we stood where Jesus had stood.'  Fr Henry - editor of the New Jerusalem Bible -  has been leading trips to Israel since 1973(!). He brings an unparalleled knowledge of biblical history and archaeology, added to a gently insistent style and a busy schedule, each day kicking off with 7am breakfast.  

Perhaps the highlights of the trip were celebrating Mass on the shore of Lake Galilee, and two days later at dawn in a tiny chapel in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, three yards from the site of Jesus' crucifixion on Golgotha.  Equally moving was our evening visit to the Western Wall, the only remains of the great Temple of Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and where Jews now pray with a devotion which struck the students powerfully.  Another highlight in Jerusalem was the descent down the tunnel of Hezekiah, cut through bedrock in 701 BC: barely 5 ft high in places, descending 1,700 ft from the Old City to the Pool of Siloam - where 700 years later, Jesus healed a blind man.  Then there was our hostel, the Maison d'Abraham, large and friendly, run by French Dominican nuns, commanding a stunning view over the Old City and echoing five times a day to the call to prayer of no less than four different mosques.

Most of our days were spent away from Jerusalem however.  A day in the Jordan valley, visiting the ruins of the Byzantine city of Beth She'an, then taking a dip in the river Jordan at the claimed site of Jesus' baptism, alongside a happy group of Armenian Christians re-enacting their own baptism.  And then visiting the 5th century Monastery of Saint Gerasimos, in whose church is a venerated pile of the skulls and bones of the 7th century monks martyred by the invading Persians.  Another day included an ascent by cable-car to the astonishing palace of Masada, towering 1,200 ft above the desert and besieged for three years by 15,000 Roman soldiers in 74 AD.  That same day included perhaps the most touristy visit, a 'swim' in the Dead Sea - more like a bounce, and an opportunity to cover oneself with mineral-rich muds.

Mention must also be made of 'the desert walk': a five hour descent from Jerusalem to Jericho through the Wadi Qilt, past goats and Bedouin shepherds and relieved half-way with the sight of the extraordinary Monastery of Saint George, clinging to the rockside, and accompanied by dozens of small hermitage caves, some dating back to the 5th century.  

Finally, there is the reality of modern Israel.  The students spent an evening on the lakeside promenade in Tiberias, eating candyfloss with hundreds of Jewish holidaymakers; and an afternoon in Palestinian-controlled Jericho, or walking through Silwan, a Palestinian township below our hostel in East Jerusalem.  They were acutely aware of the differences between the various inhabitants of modern Israel and Palestine and the complexities of their history, and were deeply struck by the barbed wire and armed guards at the separation wall through which we crossed into Bethlehem.