Today began even earlier than all the previous days. We had to check out of the hotel in Jerusalem,and be on the bus by 7 a.m. to begin our journey to Nazareth (about a three-hour bus ride to the north). But before we did that, we were treated to a truly wonderful tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, and had the privilege of praying for a good while at the Western (Wailing) Wall.
We arrived early and toured various sites in the Old City, including the ruins of King Herod's Palace,
Our tour guide, Andre, a Palestinian Christian, is superb in his knowledge and extraordinary in his articulation and explanations of the history behind everything. He has really made seeing all these holy sites so much more rich and helpful because of his ability to "teach" and make all the connections with the Gospels, the Old Testament, and historical facts. He is with us all the time, every day, so he has truly been a great blessing. Even though we were already in the Old City,
View of the Old City from the vantage point of the Wailing Wall
we had to go through another security checkpoint (just like the airport) when we entered the area of the Western Wall. As you know, this is sometimes called the "Wailing" Wall as well. This is the only part of the ancient temple which was destroyed in 70 A.D. that is left, which is why this site is so sacred to Jews, and to all people of faith. I want you to know that I prayed for you at this very holy place---everyone in our Diocese, all my family and friends, and all those in special need. I wrote your names on small piece of paper and left it in the cleft of the Western Wall. And of course I prayed intently for an end to violence, discrimination, hatred and prejudice of any kind----that we all may be one and live in peace. I was grateful for the substantial period of time we were able to stay here in prayer, united with so many hundreds of other pilgrims and pray-ers as well.
After returning to the bus, we began our journey to Galilee. As we all know, it was in Galilee, in Nazareth in particular, where Jesus grew up in his Holy Family. And we know that they, and all practicing Jews, made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem at least once a year, if not more. As we made this bus ride, which took the better part of three hours, in our comfortable bus with a/c, it blows my mind to think of pilgrims---Jesus, Mary and Joseph----making that trip, on foot, through the desert and the incredibly harsh conditions that they would have encountered. And then, of course, they had to go back home after the celebration. It would have to take days, if not weeks, of walking. This makes me so much more aware of what is involved when the Gospels tell us that "they went down to Jerusalem" making it sound like "they went for a nice walk in the park.” There was so much more to it than that. I think that is so important for us to realize.
Along the way, we caught sight a couple different times of the Jordan River, which is much less impressive than we might imagine.
But Andre explained that over the years, as people have made "progress" by building dams, etc., that progress has taken its toll on the Jordan River which is depleting it substantially. The greatest sight along the way was the Sea of Galilee, which of course is not a "sea" at all, but rather a large fresh water lake. It's 15 miles long and at some points seven miles wide, so that's a pretty large body of water. But as we know, so much of Jesus' life and ministry takes place in relation to the Sea of Galilee. It's a beautiful sight to behold.
Our first destination in Galilee was to have lunch on the Mount of the Beatitudes, and that was followed by celebrating Mass at an outdoor chapel overlooking the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus taught the Beatitudes, as well as the entire Sermon on the Mount. And of course, the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooks the Sea of Galilee. It is another warm (hot) day here, but the breeze on the mount was refreshing and pleasant.
After Mass, we went to Capernaum. As we know, when Jesus began His public ministry, He left Nazareth, was baptized in the River Jordan, and then went to Capernaum, and pretty much made that his new home, living a good bit of the time with Peter, his wife and mother-in-law. We were able to see the ruins of Peter's home, as well as the Synagogue where Jesus gave His first sermon. We then traveled a little further in Capernaum to see the place where the Risen Jesus appeared to the apostles who had gone back to Galilee somewhat discouraged to go back to fishing. Jesus appeared to them, had breakfast with them, and then asked Peter those three important questions: "Do you love Me?” three times. We were able to visit the rock where Jesus and Peter had that conversation, known as the Primacy Rock.
Ruins of Peter's house
We then came to Nazareth where we will be staying overnight. We immediately went to the home of the Bishop who is Vicar of Galilee in the Diocese of Jerusalem, and had a wonderful discussion with him. Then we went to the Church of the Annunciation for an interfaith dialogue---which was quite interesting indeed. We will celebrate Mass at the Church of the Annunciation
On this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I feel so privileged to be here in Nazareth, at the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary first said "Yes"/"Fiat" to the Archangel Gabriel. At that very moment, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived Jesus in her womb, our salvation began. All along the way, Mary experienced many joys, but also many sorrows. The Church recognizes seven Sorrows: three related to Jesus' childhood; four related to His passion and death. But it all began with Mary saying "Yes" on the Feast of the Annunciation. Very early this morning, standing in the Old City of Jerusalem, I could see the domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which houses the spot of Calvary where Jesus was crucified for our sins and the sins of all the world. From the Cross, with His dying words, Jesus said "Yes" to the world when He said to John: "Behold your Mother.” As Mary, with her first "Yes", always leads us to Jesus, even though at times she experienced great sorrows in doing so, so by Jesus' "Yes" on the Cross, He led us back to Mary. And of course, as we have regular recourse to Mary, as we share with her our daily sorrows and struggles, she will do what she always does: she will lead us to Jesus for His mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.....and help to lead the world to Peace in your Son, Jesus.