The day began with an early morning drive from the Sea of Galilee which had been glistening in the morning sunrise. Fr Mervyn encouraged the group to cherish the quiet moments of contemplation looking out on the Sea as a way of becoming closer to Jesus and the Apostles who had spent so much time in this very area. He reminded the pilgrims that doing follows being; as Aquinas taught, we are all first and foremost human beings, not human doings. There was a danger that by being too active we forget that we can just be.
The first stop was at Mount Tabor (photograph above), the “mountain set apart”, the location of the Transfiguration of Jesus where the group celebrated Mass under a shelter in the open air (photograph left). The readings were from Judges 4, describing the story of the Prophetess Deborah sending Barak and his warriors to Mount Tabor, and the passage from Mark 9 describing how Jesus was transfigured there and Moses and Elijah appeared before him. Fr Mervyn spoke of the sudden insight of Peter, James and John, who accompanied him, as they understood the reality of who Jesus was – they wanted to preserve the moment by building tents, similar to the shelter for the Mass. But the transfiguration was a sign of the reality of God’s presence in ordinary things; St Theresa of Avila said that God was to be found among the pots and pans of daily life.
On top of Mount Tabor is the wonderful Basilica of the Transfiguration (very top left photograph) , run by Franciscan Friars. Pilgrims visited the church seeing the fresco of the Transfiguration above the high Altar (above right) and the separate chapels devoted to Moses and to Elijah (photograph right) – with a painted offering of to two lamb chops!
From Mount Tabor, the group travelled to Nazareth, the home of Mary as a child, and of the Holy Family. There the pilgrims saw the magnificent Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the place where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, a young girl of 12 or 13, as we remind ourselves in the first half of the “Hail Mary… full of grace, the Lord is with thee”. The pilgrims recited the Angelus and moved to the side of the Basilica, surrounded by murals of the Virgin Mary representing many different countries, and sang the Salve Regina, carved in large print on the stone wall of the Basilica.
In silence, the group then entered the enormous space of the Basilica through a doorway featuring high relief bronze depictions of biblical scenes showing Jesus’s childhood and his later public life. They venerated the shrine of the annunciation, deep on the lower floor of the Church (photograph right). From there they entered the main Church, the inside of which was bathed in bright light, containing more mosaics of the Virgin Mary on the surrounding internal walls, again representing more countries of the world.
From here, the pilgrims moved to the Church of St Joseph, by tradition built over the place where Joseph and the Holy Family lived. Fr Mervyn reminded the group of the redemptive value of work and he recalled Pope Paul VI’s words about St Joseph "…a model of those humble ones that Christianity raises to great destinies. St Joseph is the proof that in order to be good and genuine followers of Christ there is no need of “great things”; it is enough to have the common, simple, human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”
The Pilgrims walked to the Church of the Synagogue, a Greek Catholic Church located on the site of the Synagogue where Jesus would go regularly as child and young man before his public ministry. Fr Mervyn reflected upon the early life of Jesus in Nazareth about which we know very little . But as a young Jewish boy he would have attended the synagogue regularly and, being fully human, he, like our children, would not have understood much that went on. So when the carpenter’s son returned to Nazareth in his public ministry, the outrage of the crowd at his teaching was perhaps natural – was this not the carpenter’s son? The group listened to the story in Luke 4 as they looked at the painting above the altar of Jesus teaching in the synagogue (photograph left).
After lunch, the pilgrims travelled to Cana, to the site by tradition identified as the place of the Wedding Feast, now The Wedding Church at Cana; run by the Franciscans, it is dedicated to weddings. Fr Patrick read from the Gospel (John 2) and Fr Mervyn blessed the wedding rings of those present and couples renewed their wedding vows (photograph right); Fr Mervyn presented couples with a Certificate from the Wedding Church of Cana.