Thursday evening, 14 January 2015. Tiberias, Israel.
We started our day (after a very abundant breakfast buffet) with a short bus trip to board a boat for a trip on the Sea of Galilee. This is the experience I had most been looking forward to and I was not disappointed. I had the opportunity to read scripture and offer prayer; we all felt the presence of Jesus in this place. Here is our boat and a group photo:
We then drove north on a highway that borders the Golan Heights. At one point, we crossed a bridge and our guide told us the area we crossed into was Syria pre-1967. We also were very near the border of Lebanon, an area that has seen conflict in recent days. Just across the road on both sides were warning signs fencing off landmine territory. We asked about the safety of the cows grazing there. Evidently, curiously, the cows seem to be able to smell the mines: there have been no reports of cows stepping on mines.
We spent some time in Caesarea Philippi where we know Jesus was. There is a lovely park in the area where the main attraction are ruins from a shrine to the Greek God Pan. Interesting, but a little odd for a Christian Holy Land pilgrimage. We piled into the bus and headed back towards the Sea of Galilee for the traditional St. Peter’s fish dinner – tilapia, whole, with bones and head included!:
(oh, and fries!).
We stayed close to the Sea of Galilee all afternoon. First stop was the church that commemorates the feeding of the five thousand. This lovely Byzantine church was the victim of arson this past summer.
Right around the corner is the church that marks the place on the seashore where Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” A small beautiful sanctuary, and we all enjoyed the opportunity to walk back of it and spend time on the Galilean shore.
Capernaum is no longer a city, but only a place where ruins are being excavated and where there is a church. The very modern church seems incongruent. This picture shows the second rebuilt synagogue, almost exactly on top of the synagogue in existence in Jesus’ time.
Our final stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. This area has been taken over by an order of Franciscan sisters. The grounds were exquisite. Many of us found the cooler, misty weather very conducive to a spiritually rich experience, a perfect end to our day.
Biggest surprise of the day? I should have known this, but it surprises me that all of the holy sites have now become churches. Jesus spent most of his time outdoors, but those sacred places have become enshrined. I think that’s why I liked the Sea of Galilee so much. There were no religious trappings which can sometimes distract. I liked being on the seashore, walking the grounds on the Mount of the Beatitudes – those places felt much more holy and sacred to me than the churches.
Besides all of this, we’re enjoying our very informative and pleasant tour guide, learning about the food, culture, and everyday life of Israel, observing the terrain, looking at orchards of lemons, oranges, and olives, many banana plants, and laughing together.