Peekskill priest safely home after church group was caught in Israel

Their trip was supposed to be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but it ended with some fear and a rush to get out.

Veronica Jean Seltzer

Oct 14, 2023, 2:18 AM

Updated 187 days ago

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A Peekskill priest is now safely home after being stuck in Israel with a group of nearly 60 parishioners.
Their trip was supposed to be a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but it ended with some fear and a rush to get out.
The group's third day in Israel was supposed to be about helping a Bethlehem school for children with disabilities.
"Just the fact that to see their faces, changes your life," Father Esteban Sanchez said.
"They didn't ask for money. They didn't ask for that kind of support," he explained.
All the American Franciscan Sisters running the school requested were supplies, and their visitors came through with more than 20 suitcases of notebooks, crayons, pencils and pens.
Everything changed, though, when Father Sanchez learned about that morning's horror just an hour away in Gaza.
"You could hear in Bethlehem the sound of the rockets... Everybody panicked. Everybody got upset. Some people cried," he said.
Thus began frantic efforts to get out. The group spent two days trapped in Bethlehem. They made it through intense security into Jerusalem where they had to take shelter in a bunker three times. Finally, they made a grueling nine-hour bus trip to Jordan. After more security, they were able to enter the country and fly home from there.
They're home safely now, but are thinking of those who had to stay behind.
"What began as a program of faith ended being a program of true faith because we were basically able to understand the real meaning of peace in our lives," Father Sanchez said.
His church will plan a collection to help support people in the area they visited.


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