Pilgrimage for Credit through LMU Extension: Syllabus

Syllabus: Early Christian World Pilgrimage 2011 (April 25-May 14, 2011)

This 19-day tour of Turkey is led by Msgr. Thomas Welbers in collaboration with Aydın Eroğlu, a Turkish guide with over forty years experience. Msgr. Welbers has wide ranging pastoral experience, as well as specialized education in liturgical theology and institutional management. He also brings an intense interest in Scripture, history, and culture. Mr. Eroğlu also is an expert in Turkish carpets and, as a devout Muslim, is deeply committed to interfaith dialogue and understanding. Arrangements for travel and accommodations are made by OrionTour, an Istanbul agency of long-standing excellent reputation, in collaboration with American Tours International, our local agent.

This will be the fifth pilgrimage of this nature that Aydın and I have led as a team. The first three, in the spring of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, were highly successful, and I am convinced that this would be a very beneficial experience for Catholic school teachers of all grade levels—and, through them, their students.

I realize that this may pose personal and logistical difficulties and hardships for both the individual teacher and his or her school. In order to to help alleviate concerns, I am able to offer a limited number of scholarships for Catholic school teachers who take the Pilgrimage for credit – $1,000 for the participant and $1,000 for the school to help defray the cost of a substitute teacher. An additional incentive is that preparatory resources early in the spring semester and the possibility of almost daily real-time internet communication will enable the students of the school to become “virtual Pilgrims” themselves.

Purpose and Desired Outcomes of the Early Christian World Pilgrimage

Why Turkey? Turkey has rightly been called “the other Holy Land” because of the great number and accessibility of its important early Christian sites, many dating back to the time of the Apostles. This journey is first and foremost a Catholic pilgrimage in which every experience will be viewed from the perspective of our Catholic-Christian faith, heritage, and interaction with other faiths. The accompanying itinerary reveals how wide-ranging and diverse these experiences are. The itinerary has been worked out specifically for the purposes of this pilgrimage—we bypass many standard “tourist” sites and visit some places that are unique to this tour. As we proceed, both Aydın and I talk about the background and relevance of the places we visit in much greater depth than the standard tour. The extended travel times on the bus are not wasted, and include viewing of relevant videos, music, as well as lecture and discussion. We not only probe the heritage of both Christianity and Islam, but we will have the opportunity to experience firsthand Muslim life, spirituality, and culture as it is lived in a modern secular state which is strategically a bridge between East and West. In this pilgrimage, we will not only celebrate Mass almost daily in historic locations and pray with the Scriptures and ancient Christian writers, we will also experience Muslim prayer and spirituality, including the “sema” of the Whirling Dervishes, a Sufi sect.

Why are we going in the spring, right after Easter? Having been to Turkey at other times, I am convinced there is no better time to take advantage of this experience. The weather is still cool (it’s blistering hot in the summer), and the masses of tourists have not yet arrived. During tourist season, a lot of time ad energy is wasted dealing with the crowds. We simply could not accomplish what we set out to do if we have to contend with crowds and heat. Furthermore the countryside is green and gorgeous (summer and fall are like southern California, dry and brown), wildflowers are abundant, and it’s the height of the tulip season. (Tulips are the national flower of Turkey, and they are breathtakingly magnificent.)

As I noted above, I realize this time poses a challenge for Catholic school teachers and administrators, but I believe it is an opportunity as well. It means taking nearly three weeks off from school, and all that entails, including the need for a substitute teacher. However, and this is the experience of teachers and principals who have already made this pilgrimage, there is so much to learn that, with creativity, can enhance almost every subject at every grade level. A teacher can include the students (and parents) in learning about the history, culture, music, art, geography, science and religion covered in this tour. While the teacher is away, it will be possible to follow her or his itinerary on the internet, virtually accompanying the teacher every step of the way.

The experience of this Pilgrimage has been likened to “drinking from a fire hose.” As one can tell from the itinerary, it is intensive and non-stop. It is not a vacation. A major goal of the experience is to whet the appetite for more, to inspire and motivate one to study more deeply into something that arouses interest during the trip, whether it be religious, historical, social, or cultural. It has also been described as “a life-changing experience.” One will not look at religion, the world, or life the same way after this Pilgrimage. Our Catholic faith will not be challenged by exposure to other faiths; it will be deepened.

Preparatory Activities

I will advise and assist all participants, especially teachers, with resources to enable them to gain maximum beneft from the experience. 

A word about travel arrangements: The Pilgrimage formally begins and ends at the hotel in Istanbul. Unlike many tours, round-trip air transportation is not included. Experience has shown that participants appreciate the opportunity to arrange their own transportation in whatever way they choose. This can be more economical and allows the flexibility to extend the stay or stop somewhere along the way. Since traveling alone can be somewhat daunting for some, participants are encouraged to form their own small groups for traveling together. Travel insurance is highly recommended, and can be arranged through internet travel sites or any travel agent, who can also assist in booking flights.

Requirements for CE Credit:

  • Participation in at least several preparatory sessions, or if this is not possible, completion of some background reading or exploration of pertinent websites under the direction of Msgr. Welbers.

  • Full engagement and participation in every aspect of the Pilgrimage itself.

  • Within two weeks of the end of the Pilgrimage, the submission of a brief but meaningful project on some aspect of the Pilgrimage pertinent to the curriculum and grade-level he or she teaches. This could take a variety of forms, e.g., a sample lesson plan, a classroom project, a descriptive essay, etc. The project should be approved beforehand by Msgr. Welbers.

Suggested Basic Reading: the Three or Four Most Helpful Books

If a participant read nothing else for preparation, he or she would get the most out of the following, all of which are readily available from major booksellers or online:

  • DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Turkey. Colorful, easy to read, not very deep, but with lots of useful information.

  • Mary Cunningham, Faith in the Byzantine World, InterVarsity Press. A concise, well-written and beautifully illustrated survey of the faith of the “Early Christian World.”

  • George Dardess, Meeting Islam: A Guide for Christians, Paraclete Press. Written by a Catholic deacon involved in interfaith dialogue, the story of his own journey of understanding.

In addition, becoming familiar with the Revised New American Bible Acts of the Apostles, Letters of Paul, and Book of Revelation, especially the brief introductions to each book and the map of Paul’s Missionary Journeys, will be very helpful. Participants are asked to bring a New Testament on the Pilgrimage, and will be given a copy of the Qur’an.

Rev. Msgr. Thomas Welbers, Pastor, Church of the Good Shepherd
505 N Bedford Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(909) 367-4592