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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Year of Faith Holy Land Pilgrimage, Part II

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Story and photos by Phillip Sategna

October 5, Day Five: Flew from Rome to Tel Aviv on a “Red Eye”. All of our flights seemed to be red eye flights. We drove through Tel Aviv to the Seasons Hotel in Netanya, Israel and had just a few hours of sleep before we started our adventure in the Holy Land.

A few us went down stairs and sat in the wrong place for breakfast. We were at a table reserved for a bar mitzvah. We immediately got up and moved to another location. In case you don’t know what that is here is your Jewish lesson for the day. According to Jewish law, a bar mitzvah is when Jewish boys turn 13 years old, they become accountable for their actions and become a bar (son) mitzvah (commandment and a law). A girl becomes a bat mitzvah at the age of 12. Most non-Orthodox Jews celebrate a girl’s bat mitzvah in the same way as a boy’s bar mitzvah. Prior to reaching bar or bat mitzvah, the child’s parents hold the responsibility for the child’s actions. After this age, the boys and girls bear their own responsibility for Jewish ritual  law, tradition, and ethics, and are able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life.

First stop was on coast of Caesarea, where the Romans held St. Paul prisoner. The second photo explains an inscription found in the ancient ruins. The bible quote proves that the Romans were in this area during the time of Jesus. Another photo has readings from the Acts of the Apostles explaining about St. Paul. The remnants of the hall the plaque is referring to is exactly where Bishop Wall is standing. It was amazing to know you were standing in an area where St. Paul actually stepped foot. This was our first introduction to the realization that we were going to be in places where the Bible was going to actually come alive for all of us. This first stop had a profound effect on all of us!

Father Matthew Keller and Bishop James Wall pose for a photo at Caesarea. Over Father Matt’s shoulder are the remains of stones jutting out from the sea wall. This is the remains of the port where St. Paul, as a prisoner, set sail for Rome where he was imprisoned for 5 ½ to 6 years before being beheaded and martyred for Jesus Christ. The second photo shows the remains of an ancient hippodrome and coliseum where races took place. This whole area was a huge city and Roman port during the time of Jesus. The final photo shows the remains of an ancient foundation that extended out towards the sea. They were part of the gigantic hall where traditions says that St. Paul was tried before being shipped to Rome. It was here that he reminded them that he was a Roman citizen based upon where he was born and they had no jurisdiction over him.

Caesarea is believed to have been built on the ruins of Straton’s Tower, founded by Straton I of Sidon, and was likely an agricultural storehouse in its earliest configuration. The Romans declared it an autonomous city in 63 BC. The pagan city underwent vast changes under Herod the Great, who renamed it Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus.

In 22 BC, Herod began construction of a deep sea harbor and built storerooms, markets, wide roads, baths, temples to Rome and Augustus, and imposing public buildings. Herod had a breakwater built out away from the shore. It took a total of twelve years to complete, but after it was completed it was a beautiful safe port city. Every five years the city hosted major sports competitions, gladiator games, and theatrical productions in its theatre overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Remnants of the hippodrome and aqueduct Herod built still remain.

After Herod died things started to deteriorate. Rome took over the area and made this area the capital of Palestine. Storms and earthquakes broke the walls and slowly parts of the harbor started to end up under water. The Byzantines came here next and trade again flourished. They built a huge octagonal church which was the center of their society. Earthquakes continued and finally the harbor was flooded.

In 638 the Muslims took over and built a mosque where the church once stood. Within a few hundred years the area became a marble quarry and huge parts of ancient buildings disappeared. In 1100 the crusaders came and lasted until 1265 when the Muslims came back. It deteriorates again and it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that the Rothschild Family invested in the area and helped make it what we see today.

The city of Caesarea is mentioned four times in the Acts of the Apostles. It figures very prominently in many events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts 8:40 the Apostle Philip came here after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch. An angel of the Lord sent Philip to baptize him.

Acts 23:23-33 talks about how a nephew of St. Paul found out about a plot of forty Jews who had sworn not to eat or drink until they killed St. Paul. Paul sent his nephew to the commander of the Roman Army. The commander summoned two centurions to get 200 soldiers ready to go to Caesarea with St. Paul. They delivered him and he was held in custody in Herod’s praetorium.

Acts 24:27 Paul was left in prison for two years.

Acts 26:32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

Perhaps the most significant event occurred here when Simon Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius, a Roman centurion who became the first Gentile convert (Acts, Chapter 10).

Our group left then left Caesarea and traveled to the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery. We started out with lunch provided by the nuns. Bishop Wall is talking to Rosie Gomez, to her left is Angela and Dominic Biava. Across the table is Jeanne Sategna.

The Carmelite Order dates back to this area to the 12th century. They started out in different locations over the centuries. The Order moved to the present location in the 1700’s, which is directly above the grotto where the prophet Elijah is said to have lived. Here they built a large church and monastery, first clearing the site of the ruins of a Medieval Greek church, known as “the Abbey of St. Margaret” and a chapel, thought to date back to the time of the Byzantine Empire. They have been here ever since.

The community of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded in 1892 by a group of French Carmelite nuns.The Monastery serves as a center of Carmelite spirituality throughout the world. The symbol of the Order is mounted right above the entrance door. The statue in the picture is Elijah the Prophet. The bible says Elijah defended the worship of Yahweh over that of the Phoenician god Baal (which was considered as idol worship); he raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and was taken up in a whirlwind (either accompanied by a chariot and horses of flame or riding in it). Elijah obtained a miracle from God to prove that Elijah’s God was the true God!

On July 16, 1251, Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock (he was superior of all the Carmelites in 1247) and gave him the brown scapular. She promised to all those who would wear the blessed habit. Many miracles proved her words! St. Simon helped expand the order. Many of us purchased scapulars made here by the Carmelite Nuns.

The altar in the above photo is in the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery and Church. Stella Maris in Latin means “Star of the Sea”, a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in English as Our Lady, Star of the Sea. The altar sits above the cave of Elijah. On the Feast day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholics in the area place the statue of our Lady on a cart and have a procession down the hill to celebrate her feast day. Our guide said that Catholics not only from the local areas, but Catholics from around the world come for this celebration.

The final photo above was taken from the area by our bus at the convent. This view is looking from Mt. Carmel out over the city out to the Mediterranean Sea. We left Mt. Carmel and headed to Nazareth to the Church of St. Joseph for Mass.

The Church of St. Joseph was built where, according to tradition, used to be the carpentry workshop of Joseph, father of Jesus. Some of the traditions also claim this was Joseph’s house. But there is no evidence that the cave over which the church is built was Joseph’s workshop. Even if this is the site of the Holy Family’s home, the cave is unlikely to have been a carpentry workshop in the modern sense. The church (also known as the Church of the Nutrition and the Church of Joseph’s Workshop) is a solid and unpretentious building. It stands very much in the shadow of the soaring cupola of the Church of the Annunciation on its southern side — just as St Joseph himself lived in the shadow of Jesus and Mary.

This Franciscan church was established in 1914 over the ruins of more ancient churches and is located in the Basilica of Annunciation area. In the crypt (the lower level of the church) there’s an ancient water pit, mosaics, caves and barns from ancient Nazareth that has survived since the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. One of the caves, according to tradition, was used as Joseph’s workshop.

The church also reflects the Jewish roots of Christianity: in the past, the Early Christians had accepted the Jewish bath commandment and built ritual baths. The Crusaders built the previous church in the 12th century over earlier remains of another church from the Byzantine Times that had these baths.

The lower level is the most holy place – Mary’s cave, the cave in which, according to the Catholic-Christian tradition, Mary was visited by Archangel Gabriel and told her she is destined to carry the Messiah in her womb.

The first church was built there back in 427 A.D, and a few others were built and destroyed since. The apse of the church has three noteworthy paintings: The Holy FamilyThe Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary.

A stairway in the church descends to a crypt where caverns can be seen through a grille in the floor. Seven further steps lead to a 2-metre square basin or pit with a black-and-white mosaic floor. This is believed to have been a pre-Constantine Christian baptistery, perhaps used as early as the 1st century. This is seen on the next page, bottom left photo.

Photos from the Church of St. Joseph: Left two photos are stained glass windows in the church; the one on the far left is the angel appearing to Joseph and telling him it was alright to take Mary as his wife. The stained glass on the right is the death of St. Joseph with Mary and Jesus at his side. The right photo is a baptismal pool located in the lower portion of the church. The statue on the far right is Joseph with the child Jesus. The first shrine was probably built sometime in the middle of the 4th century, comprising an altar in the cave in which Mary had lived.

A larger structure was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I, who had directed his mother, Saint Helena, to found churches commemorating important events in Jesus Christ’s life.

The Church of the Annunciation was founded around the same time as the Church of the Nativity (the birthplace) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the tomb).

Outside façade of the Catholic Church of Annunciation, also known as the Basilica of the Annunciation, is the most impressive and spectacular site in the city. It is considered as one of the most holy churches for Christianity. The church, an outstanding building in the center of town, is built where it’s believed was the house of Joseph and Virgin Mary, parents of Jesus. Four earlier churches were built in the same location and archaeological excavations in this site revealed early Roman settlements.

The Basilica of the Annunciation and the Church Of Saint Joseph’s Carpentry are situated in the same complex area. Between the two churches is a large Franciscan convent called Terra – Santa (Holy Land).

The large, modern Basilica of the Annunciation is erected over an earlier Byzantine & Crusader church and it marks the traditional Roman Catholic Site of the Annunciation. The interior of the Basilica enshrines the sunken Grotto of the Annunciation, which are thought to be the actual remains of the 1st century maiden home of Mary.

The Saint Joseph church is located, according to tradition, over the carpenter workshop of the Holy family. Other traditions identify it as the house of Joseph and of the Holy family.The altar area of the Lower Church incorporates the remains of the previous that were churches built over the Grotto of the Annunciation. On the lower level is the most holy place – Mary’s cave, the cave in which, according to the Catholic-Christian tradition, Mary was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and the Angel told Mary she is destined to carry the Messiah in her womb.

In the current building which was established on 1969, there are still remains of the previous churches and it is one of the biggest, most impressive churches in the Middle East. Excavations conducted in 1955, prior to construction of the Church of the Annunciation (built in 1969), and excavations conducted again in 1997, tell us much about Nazareth at the time of Jesus. They show that Nazareth was a small agricultural village of between 200 and 400 people living in 35 homes spread over ten acres. The village’s growth was hindered by its poor water supply. They further show that Nazareth was small and insignificant.

Quotes from the Bible that refer to these two areas:

Mt 1:19 “Joseph, [Mary’s] husband . . . was an upright man.”

Prv 2:7-8 “He has counsel in store for the upright, he is the shield of those who walk honestly, guarding the paths of justice, protecting the way of the pious ones.”

Lk 2:51 “[Jesus] went down with them then, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to [Mary and Joseph].”

Mt 1:20-21, 24 “Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife . . . She is to have a Son and you are to name Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.’ When Joseph awoke he did as the Angel of the Lord had directed him.”

Far left photo: Basilica of the Annunciation. The other left photo shows the grotto’s interior, with the beautiful 18th C altar dedicated to the Annunciation. On the right of the altar – an ancient column probably placed there in the fourth century to mark the place where the angel appeared. Behind it are stairs that lead up to a small cave (called “Mary’s kitchen”) and an exit to the yard.

The right photo is the Altar in the Grotto – the words carved on the altar: “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est” (“Here the word was made flesh”). This text is from John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. The far right photo is the lower Church which is centered around the grotto which, according to the tradition, was the home of Mary and the site of the Annunciation.  The remnants of churches from the Crusader and Byzantine eras are seen around the grotto.

These are just some of the many pieces of artwork in the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Here are still more beautiful mosaics and artwork from the Basilica of the Annunciation – some of the pieces were breathtaking.

October 6, Day Six

We started our day out with a walk down to the dock at the Sea of Galilee. We boarded a boat that was the basic shape of the ancient boats the apostles may have fished in. The Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in Israel and the lowest freshwater lake on earth (686 ft. below sea level). It is sometimes known as the Sea of Tiberius in the bible (John 6:1).

The Sea of Galilee Boat, also known as the Jesus Boat, was an ancient fishing boat from the 1st century A.D., discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. The remains of the boat, 27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide and with a maximum preserved height of 4.3 feet, first appeared during a drought, when the waters of the Sea (actually a great fresh-water lake) receded. There is no evidence connecting the boat to Jesus or his disciples, but it doesn’t hurt to speculate.

Left photo, coming into port at Ginosar, where the ancient Galilee boat is located. Middle Photo: Rosie Gomez (L) and Angela Biava (R) on the boat on the Sea of Galilee. Right photo L to R: Dominic Biava, Father Matt Keller, Joanne Kopren, Rose Gordon, and Ed Fritz, all members of our pilgrimage. Father Matt is looking to see if the Broncos won.

I couldn’t help thinking about some bible quotes as we sailed along on this Miraculous Sea of Galilee.

Mt 14: 24-33 “…He came to them, walking on the sea.”

Jn 21:6 “And he said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand of the boat and you will find a catch.” They cast therefore, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.”

Left photo is a large contingency (18) of our pilgrimage group outside The Church of the Beatitudes. This church is located on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and built on the traditional site of Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. Pilgrims are known to have commemorated this site since at least the 4th Century. The church is located near Tabgha and Capernaum in Israel. Both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II celebrated Mass at the church during their pastoral visits to the Holy Land.

Right photo shows the grounds of The Church of the Beatitudes. We saw this beautiful area on our way to Mass in the gardens. There were four or five outdoor areas with seating and altars for masses. The huge garden area was breathtaking as we walked up to the Church. The photo above was taken right after we got there.

This is a photo of the Holy Mass on the grounds of the Church of the Beatitudes. Bishop James Wall, assisted by Father Mathew Keller, held mass for us on Sunday October 6th. It was one of the most amazing masses we had during our pilgrimage. Bishop Wall’s sermon spoke about Jesus’ sermon given in this same area. He tied them into our everyday daily life. It was incredible to hear the Bishop preach in these sacred surroundings. I think I can truly say that the sermon and the Holy Mass had a very deep and profound effect on each and every one of us on this pilgrimage. We were blessed to be here.

Left photo is the Altar in the Church of the Beatitudes. The church has a beautiful resonance and reverberation when music is being sung inside the chapel. In the left cabinet are the vestments donated by Pope Paul VI in 1964 when he celebrated mass here. Right cabinet has the vestments donated by Pope John Paul II in 2000 when he celebrated mass here.

The church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and was completed in 1938. It commemorates Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5–7) and more especially the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–10). Italian sisters administer the property.

Left photo: there are eight walls, eight stained-glass windows, and the eight Beatitudes of Jesus Christ in the church. Right photo: a painting above the entrance into the Church of the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

Left photo: Song book located in the Church of the Beatitudes. Right photo: view of the church from the garden area where we had mass.

Left: Our guide Rimon Makhlouf and Bishop James Wall discussing the remainder of the day’s plans. Middle left: Father Matthew Keller and Bishop James Wall researching John 21:1-25. Middle Right: Bishop James Wall reading John 21:1-25. I was getting ready to video the Bishop doing the reading when he asked to borrow my Ipad. What was I going to do? Tell the Bishop of our Diocese no? I don’t think so! Right: The statue of Jesus and Peter depicting Christ telling Peter to Feed My Sheep.

It was another amazing experience taking place. Here we were, listening to the Bishop read the Gospel of John, in the very same vicinity that the reading actually took place! It doesn’t get any better than that!

The Church of the Primacy of Peter is also sometimes known as Chapel of the Primacy; St. Peter’s Church. The initial structure of this Church was first laid in the fourth century. It is situated at the Sea of Galilee’s northwestern shore in Tabgha, Israel. The Church of the Primacy of Peter was constructed back in the fourth century to mark the order of Jesus to Peter. After having a breakfast comprising of loaves and fishes on Galilee’s shores, Jesus reinstated Peter with leadership and told him to feed his sheep.

The church is built partially on a rock where traditions say Jesus may have been standing when Peter and some of the disciples were out in the water.

The inside of the church contains a projection of limestone rock in front of the present altar which is venerated as a “Mensa Christi”, Latin for table of Christ. According to tradition this is the spot where Jesus is said to have laid out a breakfast of bread and fish for the Apostles, and told Peter to “Feed my sheep” after the miraculous catch, the third time he appeared to them after his resurrection. It is disputed whether this table, or the one enshrined at the nearby Church of the Multiplication, is the one mentioned by the pilgrim Egeria in her narrative of the Holy Land circa 380.

Left: Outside of the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy looking out over the Sea of Galilee. Middle: Father Matthew Keller standing by the rock that tradition says Jesus was by or standing on when he saw Peter out on the water. Right: Believe it or not, there are still fish in the same place 2000 years later!

Left photo: These are the remains of the village of Capernaum. Capernaum was a Jewish village in the time of the Christ. It was apparently poor, since it was a Gentile centurion that built the community’s synagogue (Luke 7:5). The houses were humble and built of the local black basalt stone. Now predominantly an archaeological park, Capernaum was originally a fishing village inhabited continuously from the 1st century BC to the 13th century AD. As the first town encountered by travelers on the other side of the Jordan, it was equipped with a customs office and a small garrison overseen by a centurion.

Right photo: In 1990, the Franciscans built an unusually-shaped modern church over the site of St. Peter’s house. Hexagonal in shape and rather spaceship-like in appearance, it is elevated on pillars and has a glass floor, so that you can still see the original church below.

In March 2000, Pope John Paul II visited Capernaum during his visit to the Holy Land. The site remained virtually abandoned until the Franciscans bought the land in the late 19th century. They raised a fence to protect the site, planted palms and eucalyptus trees from Australia to create an oasis for pilgrims, and built a small harbor. Most of the early excavations (1905-26) and restorations were conducted by Franciscans. St. Peter’s House was discovered in 1968.

It is actually quite likely the room enshrined within the church of Capernaum is the house of Peter where Jesus stayed. This is supported primarily by evidence for very early reverence and public use of the house (mid-1st century), which would be difficult to explain otherwise. Moreover, the identification is not contradicted by anything found in the excavations and the evidence actually conforms quite closely to the biblical descriptions.

Left photo is a statue of St. Peter with Matthew Gospel Chapter 16, Verse 18 inscribed at the base. “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My Church.”

Capernaum is frequently mentioned in the Gospels and was Jesus’ main base during his Galilean ministry. It is referred to as Jesus’ “own city” (Mt 9:1; Mk 2:1) and a place where he lived (Mt 1:13). He probably chose it simply because it was the home of his first converts, Peter and Andrew (Mk 1:21, 29). Many familiar Gospel events occurred in this village. Capernaum is where Jesus first began to preach after the Temptation in the wilderness (Mt 1:12-17) and called Levi from his tax-collector’s booth (Mk 2:13-17). It was while teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum that he said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (Jn 6:54)

Capernaum is where Jesus healed a centurion’s servant without even seeing him (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10), Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15; Mk 1:29-30); the paralytic who was lowered through the roof (Mk 2:1-12), and many others who were brought to him (Mt 8:16-17). And it was Capernaum that Jesus had set out from when he calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 8:23-27).

Jesus was harsh with his adopted home when it proved unrepentant despite his many miracles. “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you” (Mt 11:23-24).

Left photo was a rest area at the bottom of Mt. Tabor. I think the guy in the picture used to work for Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey. Notice the stuff on his vest. He has covered all the bases! He has the following; a Pope John Paul II pin, special forces patch, an army ranger airborne patch, a pin from Rodez, France, a Disneyland Paris pin, a Schenectady, NY Police patch, and a Che Guevara pin. He also had a British, Germany, Brazil, USA, Israel, Jordan, Sweden, Japan, and Mexico flag pins; not to mention a US National Park pin, a Spanish dancer, military medals, and finished his ensemble with a McCabe Pilgrimage pin. He was quite the salesman; he never stopped talking the entire time we were there!

On a more serious note, the right photo is Father Matthew Keller standing in front of the Church of the Transfiguration. This is one of the places that Father Matt and I really wanted to see on this pilgrimage! We both got our wish.

The Church of the Transfiguration is a Franciscan church located on Mount Tabor in Israel. It is traditionally believed to be the site where the Transfiguration of Christ took place, an event in the Gospels in which Jesus is transfigured upon an unnamed mountain and speaks with Moses and Elijah. Several mountains have been identified as the site of the Transfiguration, the tallest mountain in Israel, Mount Hermon. Mount Tabor is closer to the center of Jesus’ activities and therefore the Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem wrote in the year 348 that he preferred Mount Tabor to Mount Hermon. Thus Mount Tabor was accepted as the site of the transfiguration of Christ.

The photo above at left is the mosaic of the Transfiguration of Jesus, showing Moses is to the right of Jesus and Elijah on his left; St. Paul is depicted lower on the right of Jesus and St. John and St. James are shown on the left of Jesus. This is in the upper altar of the church.

The right photo shows the Chapel of the Angels below the main altar in the Church of the Transfiguration, and the altar in the Chapel with the peacocks in the background. Ancient people believed that the flesh of a peacock did not decay after death, and it so became a symbol of immortality. This symbolism was adopted by early Christianity, and thus many early Christian paintings and mosaics show the peacock. The peacock is still used in the Easter season especially in the east.

We left this church and rode in vans back down the mountain to the rest area where the bus was and proceeded on to the Wedding Church in Cana to renew our wedding vows after mass with Bishop Wall.

After a very long and wonderful day, eight lucky couples on our pilgrimage got to renew their wedding vows. Bishop Wall is shown during the ceremony.

Photo of the eight couples that renewed their wedding vows with Bishop James Wall presiding. Couples from Left: James and Marie Strickler, Larry and Raphaela Dragan, Ed and Diane Fritz, Dominic and Nina Biava, Bishop James Wall, Lupe and Tina Rosetta, Roy and D’Ann Waters, John and Lynn Morrisette, Phillip and Jeanne Sategna.

We received a very nice certificate commemorating the event. The certificate has two photos in the corners, one of the church and one of the Altar. The bottom three areas are paintings of different scenes of the wedding feast in Cana. There is a bible inscription (John 2:1-2), a place for your names and date of the ceremony. It is signed by the Franciscan Guardian of the Holy Land Church (Terra Santa), most importantly, it is signed by Bishop James Wall. It was amazing how all us felt so connected to one another at that moment.

It was the end of a perfect day; that and the desert and wine that was waiting for us back at the hotel!

Left photo is the Wedding Church at Cana with everyone outside. They videotaped our ceremony and we actually paid for a DVD outside the church after the ceremony was completed. Right photo: Bishop Wall with Father Dominic, one of the Franciscan priests who are the caretakers of this beautiful church.

October 7, Day Seven

Tabgha is an area situated on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. It is the traditional site of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-46) and the fourth resurrection appearance of Jesus (John 21:1-24) in Christianity.

The earliest building at Tabgha was a small chapel built in the 4th century A.D. Nearby are seven springs (the site’s name is derived from the Greek name Heptapegon (“seven springs”) which provide abundant water. Tradition says in this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The mosaic of the fish and loaves is laid next to a large rock, which has caused some New Testament scholars to speculate that the builders of the original church believed that Jesus stood on this rock when he blessed the fish and loaves just before the feeding of the crowd who had come to hear him.

Left photo shows Bishop Wall getting a branch wet with water from the Jordan River. He read our baptismal vows, as we were symbolically renewing our baptism. He sprinkled us with water from the Jordan River, we prayed the Our Father, Bishop blessed us all and we left. We didn’t stay too long by the water because the flies were awful.

Right photo shows the Jordan side of the river. The river separates the two countries. Both sides of the river had armed guards just a stone’s throw away from each other. The Jordan is Israel’s most important river; the Jordan River joins the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Jesus was baptized in the river by John the Baptist near Jericho (Mark1:9-11). We left here and went to Bethlehem for lunch and shopping.

At the Nave of the Church of the Nativity, three rival Christian groups use their caretaking duties to maintain their claims to the Basilica. In 1852, shared custody of the church was granted to the Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches. The Greeks care for the Grotto of the Nativity. Several holy men landed in the hospital two Christmases ago after a fight broke out over the dusting of church chandeliers. The occasional brawls at the 1,700-year-old basilica, believed to mark the birthplace of Jesus Christ, reflect the difficulty of housing three Christian denominations under a single roof. Our guide said that the roof is also rotting, threatening the structural integrity of the building. Parts of the wooden truss structure date to the 15th century, and holes in the timbers allow dirty water to drip upon the precious paintings and mosaics below.

The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories. The church was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth. The Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world.

The Grotto of the Nativity, a rectangular cavern beneath the church, is the Church of the Nativity’s focal point. Entered by a flight of steps by the church altar, this is the cave that has been honored as the site of Christ’s birth since at least the 2nd century. The photo above shows the line waiting to get in to see the spot where Jesus was born.

Next was the Grotto of the Nativity, an underground cave we visited. It is located beneath the basilica and enshrines the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The exact spot is marked beneath an altar by a 14-pointed Silver Star set into the marble floor and surrounded by silver lamps. This altar is denominationally neutral, although it features primarily Armenian Apostolic influences. The star’s Latin inscription reads, “Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born.” The floor is paved in marble, and 15 lamps hang above the star, six belong to the Greeks, five to the Armenians and four to the Catholics (Latin’s).

For us history buffs, in 1847, the theft of the Silver Star marking the exact site of the Nativity was a supposed factor in the international crisis over the Holy Places that ultimately led to the Crimean War (1854–56). It would be an understatement to note, that due to its cultural and geographical history, this site holds a prominent religious significance to those of both the Christian and Muslim faiths.

The other altar in the Grotto, which is maintained by the Roman Catholics, and marks the site where traditionally Mary laid the newborn Baby in the manger. The original rock has been covered by marble. This location is not far away from the Silver Star where Jesus is said to have been born.

Both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. According to Luke 2:7 (in the traditional translation), Mary “laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” But the Greek can also be rendered, “she laid him in a manger because they had no space in the room” — we could perhaps imagine Jesus being born in a quiet back room of an overflowing one-room house.

The gospel accounts don’t mention a cave, but less than a century later, Justin Martyr says Jesus was born in a cave. This is reasonable, as many houses in the area are still built in front of a cave. The cave part would have been used for stabling and storage – thus the manger.

Left: A Chapel in the Church of the Nativity. Middle left: Exit area coming up out of the Grotto where Jesus was born. Middle right: One of thirty out of the forty-four columns in the church that the Crusaders did artwork on. Right: A chart in the front of the church showing what Saints were painted and on what column they can be found. Smoke and water damage have all but ruined many of the ancient paintings making them difficult to see.

Left: The statue of Saint George on his horse killing the dragon symbolizes the struggle between good and evil. He rides a white horse carried by God’s Grace to the heroism of martyrdom. He represents the Sons of Light and the dragon represents the Dragon of Darkness. Middle left: An ornate icon of Mary with Jesus found in the Grotto. Middle right: Bishop Wall looking at the many icons on the wall. Right: Glass covering the ancient remains of a mosaic from an earlier church.

Left: Photo of the area located outside the entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. We were waiting outside the church for the Franciscans who were going lead us in a procession into the church. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre was going to honor Dominic Biava, Nina Biava, James Strickler, and Marie Strickler, along with Father Matthew Keller and Bishop James Wall a few days later. Right: A group of nuns from the Missionaries of Charity asked Bishop James Wall to give them a blessing. The nuns immediately sought out the Bishop the minute they saw him!

Stay tuned for part three!


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