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SPECIAL FEATURE: BJ Hickey Scholars inspired to share their knowledge with the community upon return from Israel


Vincent Restifo, Belinda Norris and Jacinta Burns – three of the 2018 BJ Hickey Scholarship winners who completed a two-week scripture study course in Israel, pictured at the Mount of the Beatitudes. Photo: Courtesy of Vincent Restifo.

By Amanda Murthy

The BJ Hickey Biblical Foundation 2018 Scholarship winners Vincent Restifo and Jacinta Burns are inspired to bring a positive influence to the local community through their experience gained during their two-week trip to Israel over the Easter period.

This initiative by Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey, supported by the Centre for Faith Enrichment since 2013, is presented to lay people from around the Archdiocese of Perth who wish to further their biblical studies of any length at any level, locally or abroad.

Mr Restifo and Ms Burns were among the 10 recipients who were earlier this year formally presented as recipients of the BJ Hickey Scholarship at an award ceremony at the St Mary’s Cathedral Parish Centre.

The other scholarship awardees were Katana Puntigam, Patrick O’Connell, Joseph Harris, Anthony Osman, Mark de Silva, Belinda Norris, Elysha Dalzell, and Sunand Fernandez.


2018 BJ Hickey Scholar Mr Restifo said on his first trip to Israel: “Walking the paths of Jesus’ ministry, praying at the holy places and learning from the apostles’ experience renewed my call to serve. The balance of lectures, excursions and integrating the celebrations of Holy Week, Passover and Easter made the trip both powerful and complete. Sharing our reflections, building memories over meals and navigating the streets in small or large groups brought a depth and richness to the journey on a daily basis.” Photo: Vincent Restifo.

In an exclusive interview with The eRecord journalist Amanda Murthy, Mr Restifo and Ms Burns shared their recent experiences gained in their travels to Israel, and the impact it had on their lives.

Mr Restifo, a teacher at Mercy College Koondoola and currently pursuing his degree in a Bachelor of Theology, said being able to fully immerse himself in the biblical landscape allowed him to learn much about the historical and contemporary issues that Israel has witnessed and is still striving to overcome.

He was also able to better understand the impacts of the socio-political context and how that plays out in people’s lives both individually and as a community.

“This trip has changed my life, to examine the spectrum of raw emotion among human and divine relationships, to witness the authentic testimony of those who have dedicated their lives to such noble causes, to be moved towards a reinvigorated trust in God’s absolute providence, and to learn the vitality of the land in composing and shaping our sacred texts,” he said.

“It was very valuable to study and analyse passages of John’s Gospel and then see the site where that took place, and being able share those experiences with participants from all around the world, made the trip a whole lot more meaningful.”


Scholars from all around the world came together during the two-week study and travel course in Israel. They are seen taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Photo: Vincent Restifo.

Encouraged by her lecturer to apply for the scholarship, Bachelor of Theology student Jacinta Burns said one of her favourite memories from the trip was participating in the programs that took place during Holy Week.

“On Palm Sunday, we all journeyed up the Mount of Olives. We then joined in on a massive procession of thousands of people waving palms as they entered the Old City of Jerusalem. It was such a remarkable encounter with the land and walking in the footsteps of Jesus,” Ms Burns added.

“Having this opportunity has changed my life in more words than I can express. It has formed me to see and approach scripture, the Church and God in a deeper way.”


One of the locations visited by Mr Restifo and Ms Burns was the Church of the Beatitudes in Galilee. Emeritus Archbishop Barry Hickey initiated the awards in 2013 to fund lay people from around the Archdiocese of Perth, who wish to further their biblical studies of any length at any level, locally or abroad. Photo: Jacinta Burns.

Both pilgrims agreed that the experience enriched their faith in God in a way that inspired them to want to share their knowledge with others. They encouraged more young people to apply for the scholarship next year.

“God has worked and continues to work in my life in so many ways. In times of faith and doubt, of joy and sadness, in loss and in success. God’s ever-abiding presence and faithfulness has remained,” Mr Restifo expressed.

“To pray deeply and from the heart, either in words or in ways unspoken, the love of God is consistent. To know and spend time with God meditatively, academically and throughout the day has helped me experience a relationship of incomparable quality.

“I recommend anyone of good will and good faith to look into biblical study, and that no matter if it’s starting small or diving in headfirst, the synthesis of the land, the Word and the people will transform you.”

Ms Burns believes the BJ Hickey Scholarship is an amazing opportunity to deepen one’s understanding of scripture.

“It helps give you the funds to discover Christ in the scriptures in a way that you can go and share with other people.

“The process to receive the scholarship is also a great way to process and stir a deeper passion for wanting to learn more about God,” she concluded.