Traveling abroad is a common experience for University of Richmond students. But not everyone has the opportunity to explore his or her faith in an international setting.
The Office of the Chaplaincy has organized pilgrimages to France, Poland and Morocco this year, Craig Kocher, the university chaplain, said. The trips to France and Poland will take place during Spring Break and the Morocco trip will be in mid-May.
The pilgrimage program was created to carry out the mission of the chaplaincy, which is to create opportunities for students to live out their faith by sharing and learning from others who come from different places, Kocher said.
Senior Perry Lowder went on the France trip in 2012. The group visited the Taize community, which is about a two-hour train ride from Paris, and spent a week in a monastery. The group joined the Christian monks in their daily prayers and meal times.
Adjusting to the monks' simple diet of bread, soup and fruit was the hardest part of the experience, Lowder said.
"I was used to eating a big tray of food at D-hall and then went to have limited quantities of food," he said. "It made me question what I really need and was a good lesson in simplicity."
In Poland, however, the trip was more of a social and cultural experience, said Lowder, who also participated in the 2013 pilgrimage there. Instead of the isolated self-reflection that occurred during the France trip, the group traveled around Poland and met various people.
Lowder said the weather in Poland had been freezing in early March. One of the group's stops was at the Auschwitz concentration camp, which Lowder said had been an emotional experience for everyone. But the cold weather made everyone more aware of the harsh realities faced by Holocaust victims.
"Trudging through the mud in boots and three pairs of socks, people didn't have those things during the Holocaust," Lowder said. "It made everyone a little more sensitive to the suffering that went on there."
Lowder said the experience had been a good chance to learn how Christians helped their Jewish neighbors and how different faiths could bond in such harsh circumstances, which was part of the trip's multi-faith focus.
Sophomore Margaret Legerton attended a similarly focused multi-faith trip to South Korea last May. Students explored the relationships between Christianity and Buddhism, the two main religions that are practiced in the country, Legerton said. For three days, she and her group lived in a monastery where they ate rice and spicy cabbage at every meal. Their stay fell on the date of Buddha's birthday, which is the Buddhist equivalent of Christmas, and the group participated in a traditional Buddhist celebration.
Although the France and Poland trips have been done before--a sign of their past success--Kocher said the plan was to host a variety of locations to compile a "portfolio" from which the chaplaincy will be able to choose each year. Morocco, which Kocher described as a "crossroads of the world" where Muslims, Christians and Jews all live, has not been part of the chaplaincy's pilgrimage program before.
About eight to 10 students have attended each trip in the past, with about twice as many having applied, a number that has increased since the first pilgrimage in 2011, Kocher said. Although the cost of each trip is primarily covered by endowments and gifts to the chaplaincy, students must pay between 20 and 25 percent of the trip's overall cost, Kocher said.
To help combine the pilgrimage and academic experience, as well as build camaraderie among the groups, a half-unit class taken before the trip will be required for the first time this year, Kocher said.
The application deadline for this year's trips has already passed, and the essay questions, recommendation letters and interviews with the candidates help the chaplaincy choose the best possible "team members" who will bring the most to each experience, Kocher said.
"We like to say that this isn't religious tourism," he said. "We expect a high level of commitment, and students who will return to campus ready to be ambassadors for what they learned."
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