Day 7: The Mount of Beatitudes, The Primacy of Peter, Church of the Multiplication, Capernaum, The Sea of Galilee
Return to Day 1 click here; Day 8 click here
This was the last full day of the pilgrimage and group set off at an early hour from the hotel for the area around the town of Capernaum, beside the glistening Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his ministry. The first visit was to the Mount of Beatitudes (photo 1 above) where the group reflected on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s teaching of how we should live our Christian life. The Mount is a hill above Capernaum and Fr Mervyn reflected on whether this might have formed an amphitheatre with Jesus sitting and teaching the crowd, who might have been gathered on the mount, from below. The octagonal church on the site recalls the eight blessings. each inscribed on a wall and the ninth inscribed around the dome (photo right).
From there, the group travelled down the mount to Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication, the site of the feeding of the five thousand. They listened to the account in Mark 4 of Jesus teaching the crowd until late in the evening and the concern of the disciples that it was too late to find something to eat. The five loaves and two fish turned out to be sufficient for all – there is plenty if we share. Inside the Church beneath the altar was a mosaic of four loaves and two fish – the fifth loaf being represented by the altar on which the Eucharist is celebrated (photo above left). Fr Mervyn quoted the words of Pope Francis earlier this year who had said we should never throw away left over food. “ I think of people who are hungry and how much left over food we throw away. Never throw left over food away!” Fr Mervyn recalled the Pope’s advice: if we don’t know what to do with the left-overs, we should ask our grandmothers. We are on earth to help others, he said , and the Live Simply message from the visit was clear.
There was then a short walk to the Church of St Peter’s Primacy, the location of the place where, after the resurrection, Jesus showed himself to his disciples. Fr Patrick and Fr Mervyn concelebrated Mass in the open air (photo left) and Fr Patrick reflected upon the Gospel reading of St John 21. The passage could be thought of as a tryptic – three tableaux representing the story. On the left, the disciples fishing in their daily lives, catching 153 fish, possibly representing the number of species of fish known at the time, an allegory for the inclusiveness of Jesus’s message to all people. Centrally, the commissioning of Peter to “feed my sheep” three times, reflecting back to Peter’s denial of Jesus three times in Caiphas’s House, and thirdly the transformation of his life through his teaching and future journey to Rome to spread the faith throughout the world when “someone else will take you where you do not wish to go”, a reference to a painful death, an unlikely journey for a fisherman of Galilee.
The church is built over the rock at the centre of the floor (photo right) which is the table at which Jesus and the disciples ate the breakfast of bread and fish (Mensa Christi – the Table of Christ). The pilgrims then walked over the beach to the Sea of Galilee, blessed themselves and paddled in the warm water (photo left and photo 2 in top image).
The group then went the short distance to the town of Capernaum itself, which in the time of Jesus would have been a busy market town where traders from the Golan Heights and from Egypt would exchange goods, and the location of most of Jesus’s teaching. Having been buried by an earthquake, the town was rediscovered and excavated at the end of the 19th Century and the remains of a 1st Century synagogue was found, thought to be the place where Jesus taught. Excavations also revealed the remains of the house of St Peter (photo right with stone walls of the house below the glass floor), with evidence that it had been revered by pilgrims within decades of Jesus’s death, over which the boat like Church of St Peter’s Church (photo above right) has been built.
From here the pilgrims went for a Galilean lunch of St Peter’s fish with chips (photo left) in a local restaurant, preceded by the local traditional salads, one of the most delicious and memorable meals of the visit.
The groups travelled the short distance to the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a boat trip (photos 3 and 4 at top). This was a time for quiet contemplation as the boat sat quietly in the centre of the lake, overlooking Capernaum, the place of the Sermon of the Mount and the Church of St Peter's Primacy with the beach where we had stood in the Sea of Galilee earlier. (photo left). As an afternoon wind began to disturb the otherwise still waters, the group listened (photo right) to the words of the Gospel of Mark 4 when Jesus was asleep on a boat with the disciples as a gale began to blow. They woke him and he rebuked the wind and calmed the sea, filling the disciples filled with awe. Fr Mervyn reflected on the storms in our own lives and of the Lord’s presence, not to remove the difficulties, but to accompany us through them if we can only recognise him. It was another example of theophany – God’s presence revealed to us, to help us be at peace. Together, the pilgrims prayed: “Lord, like the disciples, we are often overwhelmed by the storms that surround us and sink beneath the waves. Help us to be confident that you are always with us, encouraging us saying, Courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” The afternoon wind subsided and the pilgrims returned to the coach for the short journey to the hotel where the early evening was spent relaxing by the pool in the sunshine of the Holy Land.
Over supper that evening, the pilgrims, who had walked their feet off in Jerusalem! (photo right), expressed their thanks to Fr Mervyn and to Fr Patrick for the most wonderful of experiences with such friendly, learned and accessible priests.
Each pilgrim had gained so much from the trip, many saying that it had been a life-changing experience. They expressed this in song (photo below, left), light-heartedly pulling the legs of Frs Mervyn and Patrick, and with gifts of the book, God’s Trees, (photo below right) by Professor Julian Evans, in which everyone had written their own expressions of love and thanks to their leaders. It was good to give them each a book on the Holy Land on a topic in which they were not already experts.