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January 19, 2018
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Holy site visits like living in Jesus’ time

Pilgrims renewing their marriage vows at Cana

Much-travelled Catholic News contributor Felix Edinborough writes about a recent T&T-St Lucian pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel.

The spirituality that was built up in the pilgrims during their journey through Jordan (CN December 17 issue) continued to increase as the group entered Israel. We were greeted at the border by our guide Kamal Farah, brother of Anton who has accompanied several Trini pilgrimages, and would later join us.

Our first venture in Israel was an early morning boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where the captain demonstrated how the disciples did their fishing. From the deck of the boat we could see some interesting biblical sites like Capernaum, Tabgha and the Mount of the Beatitudes.

On the boat, feeling like apostles, we imagined Jesus walking on the water. We knew that this was the same sea upon which he walked and this sent a chill through our spine.

At the end of this sea episode we disembarked at Nof Ginosar where there is a boat museum housing a 2,000 year old fishing boat that was found buried in the sand in 1986. It is appropriately named The Jesus Boat though there is no evidence connecting the boat to Jesus or his disciples.

The spirituality continued rising as the coach ascended the Mount of the Beatitudes. Here we had our first Mass in Israel at a location outside the church where there was a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee also called Lake Gennesaret and Lake Tiberias.

As we heard the Gospel read to us while we took in the scene before us, we thought of the crowd listening to the Beatitudes and Jesus’ greatest homily and I am sure there were many who felt their pores rising.

Tabgha was next, the place of the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the fourth appearance of Jesus after the resurrection. Nearby was the church which houses the Mensa Christi or ‘Table of Christ’ which contains a slab of granite that, according to tradition, was the rock on which Jesus dined with the disciples after his resurrection. Touching the table can make your hand tremble with emotion.

After this it was Capernaum with the White Synagogue where it is believed that Jesus did much of his preaching, and also the one believed to be built by the centurion whose words are so often repeated just before we receive communion at Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy…” Ruins of the original building can still be seen, though a later synagogue was built over it.

Adjacent to this site is the house where Peter the apostle lived. Again some of the foundation of the original house is still visible and well preserved, and over this a church has been built. At a certain point this feels like too much and is indeed overwhelming. Are we really experiencing before our eyes what we read in the gospels? And there is more to come.

Our pilgrimage took us to Magdala, the home town of Mary Magdalene and a unique site in the Holy Land where a first-century synagogue and a complete first-century city have been found. In the synagogue you can still see the carved stone block unearthed by archaeologists, and with carvings made while that temple still stood and therefore assumed to have been made by an artist who had seen the temple before it was destroyed by the Roman military in the year 70 AD.

The following day was one with more spiritual uplifting as we ascended, not on foot as Jesus and his disciples, but by bus and taxi to the Mount of the Transfiguration. Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Transfiguration and after Mass we gathered outside where Kamal gave us an interesting interpretation of the Transfiguration.

He put on his dark glasses and asked us if we could see his eyes. The answer was obviously ‘no’. He then replaced them with his clear glasses and asked the same question and when we answered in the affirmative his response was, “That is the Transfiguration”. It made me understand that at the Transfiguration the disciples saw through Jesus’ humanity into his divinity. Wow! No wonder that Peter wanted to remain there.

It was difficult to think that there was more to come but then we found ourselves at Cana. There, the married couples and those who were married but did not come with their spouse renewed their marriage vows.

After a taste of Cana wine in the nearby shop we were off to Nazareth Village, an open-air museum in Nazareth that reconstructs and reenacts village life in the time of Jesus. The village features houses, terraced fields, wine and olive presses all built to resemble those that would have been in a Galilee village in the first century.