Seventeen students joined theology teacher Chris Boyle on a maiden voyage this June to Bosnia/Herzegovina, where they swam in the Adriatic, served local farmers and witnessed one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimages in Europe.
One of five BERSI (Blessed Edmund Rice Solidarity Initiative) trips this year, the Bosnia trip gave students a taste of a lesser-known corner of Europe, said Boyle, and a glimpse into small-town life in the mountains of a former war-torn country.
"This was a great group of students who impressed me by being so open to new experiences," said Boyle, whose father Arthur Boyle, a development director for the Archdiocese of Boston, also traveled with the group.
Starting in Dubrovnik, the group walked the ancient walled city on the Adriatic and toured the nearby countryside. They traveled to Makarska where they swam at one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. Finally, they arrived in the small town of Medjugorje, where in 1981 a group of six children are believed to have had visions of the Virgin Mary.
While immersed in the daily cultural and spiritual life of the predominantly Catholic town in Bosnia, students got to know the locals, ate local fare and learned a few phrases in the local language.
"It was an unbelievable trip," said Dennis Medeiros '13. "It was great to do some very spiritual things but also to have fun seeing things we wouldn't normally see."
Including hiking a mountain - barefoot. Medeiros and others left the hotel in the dark of night and walked barefoot up Cross Mountain - considered an extra sacrifice by the faithful. As the sun set, they prayed together at the foot of the pilgrims' cross there, with hundreds of other pilgrims from around the world.
Junior Casey Hamel had experienced nothing quite like it, despite having traveled to Rome with another BERSI group last summer. "This was definitely a more spiritual trip," he said, "and I definitely got a lot more out of it. Going to church every day there, and praying out loud, it was definitely a new experience for me."
"Other trips are just about sightseeing, but this was about finding new experiences and sharing those experiences with others."
As students met other tourists from around the world, worked together to help elder farmers in a local village, or chatted with locals at the cafe near the hotel, they got to know each other better, too. "It was a great group of kids," said Medeiros.