Do you not yet have faith? For a brief moment, I am transported there, and Jesus is in the boat with us, calming us, just as he calmed the waves. It is an intense spiritual experience. A more light-hearted moment occurs when one of the crew shows us the kind of net that would have been used by Simon Peter and the other fisherman. The crew-member proceeds to cast the net overboard, whereupon he promptly catches a clearly wooden fish! Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.
I am also struck by how close all of these shore-side locations are to one another. Looking back towards the land, we can see Magdala, from whence came Mary, the follower of Jesus; Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; above it, the Mount of the Beatitudes, which we will visit tomorrow; and Capernaum. Jesus was constantly on the move throughout these settlements, and the frenetic pace of his ministry is captured well in the breathless prose of Mark's Gospel.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. We are now standing upon that very rock structure, and I make my own private Confession of Faith.
Simon Peter was to become the new 'rock', and his remains are believed to be located at another 'rock structure', under the main altar at St Peter's in Rome. Yes - Peter's faith was demonstrated in his willingness to endure martyrdom in Rome, during the persecutions of the Emperor Nero, but his faith in the young carpenter from Nazareth was first expressed publicly at Caesarea Philippi.
It is perhaps only fitting that we visit Cana first of all - Nathaniel's home town. Clearly, he must have had a sense of humour, because Cana is rather run-down and shabby or at least modern-day Cana is. After passing the usual tourist shops offering Cana 'Wedding Wine', amongst which is one venue with the awful name of "The First Miracle", we enter the basilica. An American tour group is already there, and married couples are in the process of renewing their wedding vows.
We take time to pray for our own married parishioners, for those who have lost spouses, and for those who are going to marry. Its sheer size really puts things into perspective. Nazareth is only a stone's throw from Cana, and after walking through a near-deserted souk Arab market , on account of a local strike, we visit the synagogue: "He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing. We arrive in time for the Angelus, which is led by an Italian Franciscan, who prays in Latin, and is accompanied by ourselves, a group of Spanish Sisters, and a party of Ethiopian pilgrims. The Church is truly Catholic, truly universal!
Outside, there are a series of mosaics of Our Lady, from different locations around the world. There is even one from Scotland! If you look carefully, you can see the coat of arms of Inverness! Having explored a site associated with Our Lady, it is only right that we visit the Basilica of her husband, St Joseph! I have never heard of this church, which boasts a cave under its foundations.
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It is literally a hundred metres or so from the Basilica of the Annunciation, and there is speculation that the grotto may have served as a workshop for Joseph, close to the family home. Whether there is any truth to this claim is secondary to the fact that it serves to highlight the important role that Joseph must have played in the formative years of Jesus, instilling in him a sound work ethic and respect for manual labour.
Today's pilgrimage began and ended with a mountain. The Mount of the Beatitudes, in the early morning light, is a splendour to behold. The setting is perfect - an idyllic paradise, with lovely landscaped gardens, palm trees, and spectacular views of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee below.
In this oasis of calm, complemented by the twittering of the birds, one could imagine Jesus standing up and delivering his famous Sermon on the Mount. A much more impressive structure, in terms of architectural design and interior decoration, is the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The opening lines of Matthew's account - "Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain" - does not really capture what it is like to navigate a series of hairpin bends at alarming speed, driven by a Palestinian speaking on his mobile phone, up a mountain of metres in height!
The initial trepidation is soon changed to admiration, as we gaze at the perfectly-proportioned church, a golden colour in the late afternoon light. We celebrate Mass together in the beautiful little lower chapel, adorned with stunning mosaics, and boasting enviable acoustics. We put this to the test with a heart-felt rendition of the Salve Regina, which is witnessed and filmed by a group of American pilgrims!
A perfect end to another perfect day! No wonder Our Lord chose to transfigure Himself in all His splendour on this mountain! Rather reluctantly, I finish packing my suitcase, and head down to Reception to hand in my key and board the coach. This has been a wonderful few days in a stunning landscape.
Now, we make our way southwards, with the Jordan valley to the East. We are heading for the traditional site of Christ's baptism by his cousin John. We pass through metal gates and a barrier and find ourselves in a coach park with low-rise structures.
We make our way down to the river, which is universally felt to be rather disappointing. No wide, blue expanse of water here; rather, it is a disappointing dirty brown colour, which is actually quite shallow. Undaunted, we renew our Baptismal Promises, watched by heavily armed soldiers - Israeli and Jordanian - on either side of the river. More adventurous pilgrims go in the water for full body immersion; an Italian Neocatchumenate group are all dressed in white robes, and standing in a semi-circle, looking for all the world like a Gospel choir.
As for our own group, a few of the more daring Reverend Fathers roll up their trousers and venture hesitantly into the murky brown water. I content myself with being sprinkled with water from the river Jordan. The lowest metres below sea level and oldest city in the world is Jericho.
There has been a settlement there since BC. The city was captured by Joshua and the Israelites c. The temperature is favourable: 22 degrees centigrade - not bad for 12 January! We drive through this Palestinian town more so than city , to see the famous Sycamore tree Zacchaeus was nowhere to be seen - perhaps on his lunch break? From there, it is a short drive to a panoramic spot to see the Mount of Temptation Jebel Quruntal , looking both daunting and majestic, with its Orthodox monastery jutting out from the cliff face.
At the summit is the Fortress of Doq, built by the Syrian general Baccides just before the middle of the second century BC. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you and 'with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone. It is written: 'The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.
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I consider those various temptations within the context of my own life, and the ways in which I have given in to each of them, at one time or another. Temptations are not sinful in themselves - however, we sin when we give in to these temptations. After lunch in a local restaurant, where are served an Arabic dish called Maqloubeh a chicken, vegetable, and rice dish , we journey on to Bethany.
If I thought Cana was rather chaotic, I immediately take it all back - Bethany has it beat, hands down. El-Azariyeh in Arabic, which preserves the Greek Lazarion, 'the place of Lazarus', is on a completely different level: open butchers' premises with severed cows' heads hanging outside presumably to tempt in would-be customers , piles of rubbish and burnt-out cars, and the most heart-stopping "dodgems-style" driving I have ever seen. We make it to the Church of Lazarus, where we celebrate Mass together, and reflect on those members of our families who have passed away: "I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me shall never die".
Another half-hour coach journey, with steep ascent, and an Israeli checkpoint to contend with, takes us to Bethlehem. As we enter the town my brethren begin to sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem". What more can I say? Having arrived in Bethlehem last night, we had a meal together, then I had an early night. Upon opening my curtains this morning, I face a construction site, with a half-finished hotel in the foreground, and hillside settlements in the background..
Our first port of call is just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, with a visit to the Latin Patriarchate.
A Palestinian Priest, he is a gentle, courteous man, but clearly he is also a shrewd operator. He would have to be. After the customary photo-call, we are each presented with a small Jerusalem cross, made of mother of pearl. We continue our pilgrimage in this part of the Holy Land with a visit to Ain Karem, the birthplace of John the Baptist, located some six miles outside Jerusalem.
We take a moment to hear the Gospel account of Zechariah in the temple, his temporary affliction, and his later written declaration that his new-born son will be called John.
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All of us then pray aloud the words of the Benedictus, which is Zechariah's great prophecy - the same words that are recited every day in Morning Prayer. Upon entering the church, we are immediately taken by the striking blue tiles that adorn the walls. After some scriptural reflections by Canon Robert Hill "if we, as modern day Zechariahs, want to preach the word of God, we have to listen to the word of God, and believe in it" , we then enter the grotto, or cave: "Zechariah's house is situated at the foot of a hill to the west of Jerusalem.
In that same house, John, the Precursor of Jesus Christ, was born. A church now is constructed upon this place. Inside, to the left of the main altar, one can see a small cave where John the Precursor was born" the Russian Abbot Daniel, at the beginning of the 12th century. Our next stop is at Holy Land Handicraft. This is a cooperative venture, involving a large number of Palestinian Christian families, whose artisan skills are used to craft wood, metal, mother of pearl, and other materials into objects of devotion.
Very close to the cooperative shop is Shepherds' Fields, traditionally the site where the angel appeared to the shepherds and announced the news of the birth of the Saviour: "Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
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The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The church at Shepherds' Fields was built by our old friend Antonio Barluzzi, the Italian Franciscan friar and architect of the church on the Mount of the Beatitudes. As we approach the present church, a Palestinian street-seller, clearly acting as a modern-day shepherd, comes out of the church playing a flute "only 10 dollars!
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