Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sightseeing and Service

By Whitney Schieltz

Last year I decided to relocate from my home in Dayton, Ohio, to Cincinnati in order to immerse myself in the Sisters of Charity community.  For the past ten months I have been living in an apartment building with three Sisters as neighbors, and in our foyer hangs a poster reminding us each day to practice “humility, simplicity, and charity.”  So when I announced my summer vacation plans, I doubt anyone was expecting Dubai, a Middle Eastern city known for luxury and extravagance, to be the first stop on my itinerary.  After two nights in Dubai, I would board a 15-night cruise bound for Oman, Israel, Greece, and Turkey, followed by a week in Italy—not exactly a humble or simple trip!

As an architecture student in college, I had spent many hours studying modern and ancient landmarks around the world and dreaming about some day standing in front of them. Even as I began discerning religious life, I was still captivated with the history and beauty of the sites that filled my architecture books.  As I looked ahead at the years of formation awaiting me, and the many restrictions and commitments that would accompany religious life, I decided now was my chance to live out my dream.

I realized that it would not be easy finding a travel companion for such a long, exotic vacation, but I finally convinced my dad, a retiree, to join me on this once-in-a-lifetime voyage.  Before we knew it, months of planning and anticipation had passed and we were on our way to Dubai, where we embraced the “go big or go home” spirit of the city.  During our stay, my dad and I were treated like royalty at a five-star hotel, attended high tea at “the world’s most luxurious hotel,” and viewed the futuristic city from the world’s tallest building.  It was difficult at the time to imagine returning to a life where my future included a vow of poverty.  However, through all the opulence, my heart continued to yearn for a life of service rather than a life as the served.  After only two days in Dubai, I was already beginning to miss the modesty of my apartment in Cincinnati and the simple task of preparing my own meal or making my own bed.  Furthermore, I was feeling guilty about the excess surrounding me when so many people in the world have nothing. I was struggling with a range of emotions; but I was relieved that I had not been distracted by the few days living in luxury, and I was confident that my call to religious life remained strong.

The adventure continued next to Oman, where we experienced a more traditional Middle Eastern setting, then to Israel, where we went on a journey in the footsteps of Jesus.  Our excursions included a full day in Jerusalem and another day exploring Galilee.  It was hard to truly absorb the power of the sites we visited in such large tour groups on rigid schedules, and at times I even began to feel jaded.  However, I knew that I was blessed to have the opportunity for such an amazing experience, so I did not want to take anything for granted.  Whenever possible, and especially when visiting the sacred sites of the Holy Land, I tried to find a quiet place to sit and put myself in God’s presence, even just for a minute or two, and thank Him for all His graces and the beauty of His creation.  After three more stops in Greece and Turkey, my dad flew home while I proceeded to Italy where two of my best friends were spending the summer.

Brittany and Tyler, now married, became my friends when I was in graduate school, and both played a significant role in what I consider my spiritual awakening.  Therefore, much of our time together in Italy included discussions of our faith and relationships with God—a perfect segue from my lavish odyssey to my return to humility, simplicity, and charity.  Our time together began with a day trip to Assisi and concluded with a weekend in Rome, where we explored the Vatican together and continued to share and nourish our love for Christ.  After twenty-four days overseas realizing my lifelong dream, I felt like the prodigal child when I returned to Cincinnati.  Looking through all my photographs, I once again counted my blessings for being able to have such a life-changing experience; but more than anything, I felt excited to be back home in community and continue my pursuit of a life in service of God’s beautiful creation!

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