Our pilgrimage group landed safely in Tel Aviv this morning, and after a fairly full day of touring we have checked into our hotel on the Sea of Galilee, where we will be staying for the next four nights. Everyone is tired from the long travel and anxiously awaiting a good night’s rest before we begin the pilgrimage in earnest tomorrow. But we did spend time today visiting two important biblical sites.

We began the day visiting the ruins of the Roman city of Caesarea Maritime on the Mediterranean coast. Built by Herod the Great around the time of the birth of Jesus, this city became the administrative capital of the Roman province of Palestine. We viewed the ruins of Herod’s palace, the theater, and the hippodrome. Most significantly, we recounted two events from the Acts of the Apostles that took place in this city – the conversion and baptism of Cornelius by St. Peter and the arrest and trial of St. Paul. While we don’t know exactly where Cornelius’ house was, archeologists have recently discovered the area of the governor’s palace that served as the prison, so we were able to stand right above the place where St. Paul was held for two years awaiting trial and subsequently being sent to Rome. I sometimes think we Catholics are not as familiar with the story of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles as we should be, so this was a good opportunity to review these events.

From there, we stopped for lunch – falafel or chicken schnitzel – and then made our way to My. Carmel, which figures prominently in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha as well as the source of the devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and the location of the founding of the Carmelites. The Stella Maris Church is built over a cave where Elijah lived and where the first Carmelites later settled. We celebrated Mass in a small chapel in the Carmelite Monastery, our first chance to really pray together as a group. Here in the Holy Land, wherever you celebrate Mass you use the prayers and readings of the place, rather than the particular day in the liturgical calendar. So today, we celebrated the Votive Mass of Our Lady of Mr. Carmel, asking Mary’s prayers and guidance along our pilgrim journey.

We are blessed with a wonderful, faith-filled Catholic guide named Raouf who will be with us throughout the pilgrimage. We have adjusted our itinerary some because of a bicycle race around the Sea of Galilee on Saturday, so tomorrow we begin the day with Mass at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, followed by visits to Capernaum and the Church of the Multiplication and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. All of the pilgrims are doing well and send their prayers and greetings to all who are following this blog.