Today’s blog entry could easily become a novel, for it is hard to capture in a few lines the many wonderful things we pilgrims saw and heard in our travels in the Galilee. Today, we entered into the love story of God for humanity as we journeyed on land and sea to the places that are most central to Jesus’ ministry.
At dinner this evening, I asked a few members of our group to discuss what the high point of the day was for each of them. For some it was our visit to the Mount of Beatitudes, with its panoramic view of the sea of Galilee, its serene gardens and blessed silence. On the mount, Bishop Zubik meditatively read Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). We basked in the beauty of creation and of Jesus teaching. I was reminded that in some translations of the Bible the phrase “Blessed are they” is rendered “Happy are they.” Teilhard de Chardin has declared that “Happiness is the only infallible sign of the presence of God.” Indeed, happy are we pilgrims.
Happy and blessed are they who are able to ride on a boat on the Galilee. Being on the water was for many of us the pinnacle moment of the day. It was in these waters that Jesus fished and swam, and where he walked upon the water and calmed the storm. It is from these waters that he called forth his disciples, men and women, to follow him. Happy are they who find models in the men and women of Galilee.
Bishop Zubik gives Easter proclamation on Sea of Galilee
Visiting the newly built shrine at Magdala, along with the recent archaeological excavations there, brought great joy to many as well. Several women were particularly moved to visit the hometown of Mary, who was such a loyal and devoted follower of Jesus Christ. In the vestibule of the beautiful chapel called Duc in Altum is an atrium featuring eight pillars. Seven of the pillars represent women who are named in scripture as followers of our Lord, while the eighth pillar honors women of faith across all time. It was ennobling and inspiring for many to see women like themselves commemorated there. And we were happy to know that men and women collaborated there with Jesus, just as they do today, to bring forth the Kingdom of God.
Pilgrims pose in front of newly constructed Duc in Altum in Magdala
We lunched on fresh tilapia caught this morning in the Sea of Galilee. The fish is called St. Peter's fish because it was this type of fish in which St. Peter found the coin to pay Jesus' taxes. We heard from our knowledgeable and personable guide, Jerry, that there was heavy taxation on the people of Galilee by the Romans and by the Temple. Capernaum was a border town between Herod Antipas and Herod Philip; hence it had a big checkpoint from which to collect taxes. Recall Jesus called Matthew, the tax collector—perhaps not one of the most popular men in Capernaum—to be his disciple. Happy are they whose righteousness is affirmed by God especially when others may not yet recognize it.
Next it was to "Jesus' Galilee Base of Operations," Capernaum. Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee in the first century, was the hometown of Saint Peter and it is here where Jesus based his ministry. We stood in the ruins of the Byzantine era synagogue in Capernaum. It is built on the foundation of the synagogue in which Jesus taught and cured a man. We saw the actual ruins of St. Peter's house! Yes you know the place. It is where Jesus healed Peter's mother in law and where the roof was raised so a paralytic could be lowered down for Jesus to heal. We prayed for Pope Francis, the 266th successor of Saint Peter and for Bishop Zubik in his Apostolic ministry. Happy are those who serve the Lord, leading the Church in truth and in love!
Group shot with statue of St. Peter in Capernaum
We ended where we started—in the water. We walked down to the shore and several pilgrims took of their shoes to put there feet in the water. We read John 21:15-19 and heard Peter's answer to Jesus' questions. Three times Jesus asked Peter "do you love me?". Yes. Yes. Yes. Was the response. Happy are those who know they are loved by Jesus and love Him in return!
Stay tuned. The love story continues! Tomorrow, Jerusalem our destiny!