Gaining a new perspective

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DETROIT - People who are looking to gain a new perspective on the world should consider traveling instead of continuously putting it off.

That's the advice of John Findlater, a former Catholic school teacher in the Archdiocese of Detroit who now does educational consulting and has arranged more than 50 trips and pilgrimages abroad.

For years, the Detroit native said he "went almost nowhere," save trips in state or to Florida to visit family.

But, after teaching adult education for many years at St. Timothy Church in Trenton, some class participants asked about going to places steeped in church history.

"I had taken lots of schoolchildren on field trips, but I had never gone overseas," said Findlater, who ended up gathering 43 people and two priest friends for what became "a great time" in Italy.

"It was sort of like opening up Pandora's box," he said. "I thought I'd only do one trip, but when we got back, people said, 'Well, John, where are we going next?'"

Leading groups with fellow travel guide and photographer Patrick Wagner, Findlater has visited places he never dreamed he would see.

In trips to Russia, Israel, Rome and England, Findlater found the majority of his travel companions were 55 and older. A member of this age group himself, he believes the over-55 set is traveling more because they didn't have the chance to do it before.

And the travels provide "all sorts of historic energy," he said, especially when visiting places of historical significance for their own lives, such as World War II sites.

"On all of my trips to France, I make sure we stop in Normandy at Omaha Beach. It's at once historic and beautiful, but also religious," Findlater said. "I've actually had people come on my trip who were there on D-Day's invasion. An older man didn't even tell us he had been there until we were at the cemetery. Then we were all in tears."

Likewise, Fritzi Bohlmann, who has traveled abroad "about 15 times," within the last 20 years, said that on a trip to Poland she felt that Auschwitz was a holy site.

Although she also visited famous holy places such as the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Jasna Gora, and Krakow, the hometown of St. John Paul II, she was most affected spiritually by the site of the concentration camp.

"Auschwitz was extremely holy; everybody walked around, but they were quiet and reflective," said Bohlmann, pastoral associate of St. John Vianney Church, Shelby Township. "There wasn't a soul that walked away from visiting that who didn't feel a sense of God's presence. What got people through that was their faith."

Celeste Whitney, a resident of Ferndale, who has traveled abroad throughout her life, said she feels a great deal of spiritual growth when traveling to historic places.

"You see things that were so important to people for many years," she said, adding that it "reminds you not to put emphasis on the wrong things."

Whitney said she's also begun to recognize the importance of small things.

For example, on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee "there was a group singing beautiful hymns as we were there. It was really an emotional experience," and one of her favorite experiences abroad.

"Many people say they're happy where they're at," she said, "but to see how others live and think brings things to a different perspective."

Franciscan Father Alex Kratz, a pilgrimage and spiritual director based in Detroit, said he frequently leads retirees on trips to the Holy Land. He said visiting these sites connects Catholic travelers with their Christian brothers and sisters in this region.

He said the pilgrimages impact him each time.

"You're walking in the footsteps of Jesus," he said "and that never gets old."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015