I don’t know that I really knew what to expect on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I have been blessed to be able to participate and lead a number of pilgrimages and study tours over the years, in places ranging from Italy to South Africa to World Youth Day in Brazil. Each of these experiences were unique, but at the same time had many similar qualities. But there is something different about the Holy Land. I knew this would be different than anywhere else I have been – because this is the land of Jesus – but I didn’t really know what that difference would actually mean. I still am not sure, but today I began to find out.
Sitting in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee and reading and talking about everything that happened in this place is overwhelming – Jesus teaching in the town’s synagogue, performing miracles, stating in the home of Peter, making this town his home base for his Galilean ministry, the Bread of Life discourse. As I mentioned to the ground a couple different times today, when our primary way of hearing Scripture is through the Lectionary at Mass, we tend to isolate stories from the life of Jesus and not realize how the different stories are connected and the context of the various accounts. To hear about everything that happened in Capernaum while being able to see with our own eyes the places where those things happened – words just cannot describe.
But for me, that was not the highlight of the day. What I will most remember from today is an early morning Mass celebrated at an outside altar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee at the location of the Primacy of St. Peter, where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, cooked breakfast for them, and gave St. Peter the command to feed His sheep. Pretty much all of the 21st chapter of John was the gospel reading for the Mass, where we could see and hear in the background the waters of the Sea of Galilee where it all happened. But what makes a pilgrimage different than a vacation or a tour is that, in the Mass we celebrate each day, we truly encounter Jesus Christ through his Word and the Eucharist. We are not just standing in the places He stood, we are encountering Him once more today, now, through the Mass. I think all of us in our pilgrimage group were extraordinarily moved spiritually and emotionally during Mass this morning. A lot of that is the place. But, just as much, it is because we are able once again to encounter Jesus Christ. That’s true at every Mass in every place – but there is something different here.
Our day was rounded out by a visit to the Church of the Multiplication, where Jesus fed the multitude with bread and fish, a boat ride of the Sea of Galilee, and a lunch of what’s called St. Peter’s Fish, the local tilapia that comes from the Sea. One of the other great lessons of this day was how close together all these places are – within short walking or driving distance along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Having returned to the hotel late afternoon in anticipation of the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, we have some time to rest and process our day before dinner. Tomorrow, we continue our pilgrimage by beginning with Mass in Cana, followed by visits to Nazareth and Mt. Tabor.