A drone used by Catholic photojournalist Jeff Bruno captures a photo of the Citadel’s columns in Jordan. Bruno, a longtime freelance photographer for The Monitor, bought his first drone for the pilgrimage, which he called a “Catholic adventure.”  Jeff Bruno photos
A drone used by Catholic photojournalist Jeff Bruno captures a photo of the Citadel’s columns in Jordan. Bruno, a longtime freelance photographer for The Monitor, bought his first drone for the pilgrimage, which he called a “Catholic adventure.”  Jeff Bruno photos

By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

Jeff Bruno foresees the need for a new genre of pilgrimage, which he calls “Catholic adventure.” And as a longtime Catholic photojournalist, he should know.

Photo Gallery: Photojournalist visits Jordan

“Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone can be an adventure,” he says. “You create adventure by pushing beyond the familiar.”

Bruno, a freelance photographer for The Monitor and former art director of global imaging for Aleteia, a daily online Catholic news and information website, spent nine days in Amman, Jordan, to photograph the country’s religious sites. The trip was co-sponsored by Aleteia and the Jordanian Tourism Bureau, which anticipated a boost to tourism after Bruno suggested to Aleteia that it should develop a resource column to encourage and provide necessary information for those interested in traveling to holy sites.

Bruno said he chose Jordan because, “You can go unsupervised.  It’s unregulated, less restricted.  It gives you freedom to wander, explore and be.  It’s an undiscovered Holy Land … like it was 1,000 years ago.  You get a real sense of history.”

Off the Beaten Path

Last fall, Bruno and Anna Favale, director of video at Aleteia, flew to Amman – his second trip to Jordan since 2015. He bought his first drone and looked forward to his expansion into aerial photography.

The duo’s first adventure started at the airport, when inspectors discovered the drone.  “We were held up for three hours,” said Bruno, a member of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat. “A representative from JTB [Jordanian Tourism Bureau] represented us to the military and took care of everything.  We were able to use the drone in our work, even at the site where Jesus was baptized, a mere 20 feet across the border in Israel.”

Accompanied by a driver, a guide, and a representative from Jordanian Tourism, Bruno and Favale “combined a Catholic off-the-beaten-path pilgrimage with Indiana Jones thrown in.”

They explored the holy sites, among them the world’s oldest church in Aqaba; Mount Nebo, Moses’ burial site; and Madaba, where mosaics in 19 Byzantine churches reveal the first maps of the mid-East and icons of early saints.

Bruno said he found special meaning at Mukawir, the site of Herod’s Castle, where Bruno’s patron, St. John the Baptist, met his death.  

“Scripture comes alive here,” he said. [Visiting] is essential for people of faith.”

Bruno’s appetite for adventure was sated camping in the Jordanian desert, which was reached using three modes of transportation:  ATV, camel and Jeep over rugged terrain.

“As the sun set, it got cold,” he said.  “The desert is so dark and silent, and seeing every star … made me feel so small, but so much part of the universe.  It enhanced my awe of God.”

The adventure became challenging at the cliffs near the Dead Sea, where Bruno joined a dozen thrill-seekers on a three-hour trek in wild water streaming through a narrow canyon. 

“A crack in these gigantic cliffs fills with waters fed by waterfalls,” he explained. “You have to go through tremendous obstacles to get to the waterfall. It’s part climbing and part swimming through fast current.  We were from around the world and helped each other get through.”

Living Faith

Since returning home, Bruno discussed how the Aleteia adventure guide – consisting of 10 articles and seven videos – will entice readers with the beauty, adventure, and spiritual richness of the trip and become the go-to for how-to information.

“Unrestricted travel comes with dangers.  No waivers were signed in Jordan,” he said.  “Aleteia’s site will be where people will learn what to bring and how to do this safely.”

Anticipating a market for the faith adventure, Bruno said, “We are targeting youth who want a rewarding experience of life and faith.  It has an evangelical outreach.”

From his early teens, Bruno, too, developed a passion for adventure and pushing boundaries.

“I grew up on, and always was in, the Hudson River, swimming, boating, exploring, digging around.  I lived on a tugboat for four years.  My daughter learned to walk while we lived there,” said Bruno, who has been married to his wife, Alicia, for 27 years. They are the parents of two children.

For Bruno, his work is more than a job. “My work is evangelization. I pray daily that whatever we produce will touch and inspire someone.”