Saturday, 28 June 2014

Climb every mountain

With only two full days left of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May, we set off for two of the "high points" of our trip (sorry about that). Mount Tabor is about ten or twelve miles west of Tiberias, and rises up like a child's idea of a mountain (below). It's the traditional site of the wonderful event we know as the Transfiguration, and a church sits right on the top, where we have celebrated Mass several times before. Access to the church via about twelve hairpin bends is only via taxi minibuses, whose drivers seemed less anxious to scare the pants off us than some jokers from previous pilgrimages. This time, when we got to the top, we were invited to have Mass outside, in the shady ruins of a previous ancient church. It was beautiful, allowing us to gather at Communion time around the altar. 
The Transfiguration is an image of pilgrimage. For a short while we are perhaps lifted out of our normal life and routine, and experience a little more clearly some of the wonders of our Creator and Redeemer. The veil is pulled apart just a little... and maybe, like Peter at Tabor, we want to "freeze-frame" many of the moments. But no, we have to go back down the mountain and return to Life. Having listened to the Lord, we must now get on with living his words.
Safely grounded we continued westward towards the Mediterranean and the long ridge that is Mount Carmel. Here we made a stop where Elijah beat the priests of Baal in a my-God-is-better-than-yours contest. Here's a real children's book picture of the scene - great stuff.
Unlike on some previous pilgrimages, this time we didn't go on to Elijah's cave overlooking the Med, but headed off for lunch at a Druze restaurant that was bigger and more organized than the small, squashed but rather more charming one we visited last time. The series of dishes once again tempted and tested our palates. Yum.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Francis shakes them up down south

On Saturday evening Pope Francis celebrated Mass down in the "toe" of Italy, and during the homily caught everyone's attention with these words:
"When one does not adore the Lord, one becomes an adorer of evil, like those who live by dishonesty and violence. Your land, which so beautiful, knows the signs of the consequences of this sin. The ‘Ndrangheta (local version of the mafia) is this: adoration of evil and contempt of the common good. This evil must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no. The Church, which is so committed to educating consciences, must always expend itself even more so that good can prevail. Our children ask this of us. Our young people ask this of us, they, who need hope. To be able to respond to this demands, faith can help us. Those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mafiosi, they are not in communion with God, they are excommunicated!"
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, he had suddenly asked his driver to stop...

Friday, 20 June 2014

Around and on the lake

The beautiful Sea of Galilee - it forms the background to so much of Jesus's ministry. On our first full day in Tiberias we set off for Capernaum, Our Lord's base for his ministry, home to several apostles (artist's impression of the town in the time of Jesus, left). The ruins have been well excavated, and here and there reconstructed as in the Synagogue. A new church has been constructed over the supposed House of Peter, and since my last visit the whole place has been tidied up with a lovely esplanade overlooking the lake. 
Next we made the short journey to the spot known as Mensa Christi - the Table of Christ. This has been a favourite of our pilgrims - and mine too - since our first visit in 1992. Tradition places here the meeting of Jesus and his Apostles on the beach after the Resurrection. We have come to call this the "Breakfast on the Beach" incident in our churches... The Franciscans, faced with just a small stone church previously, built an out door Greek-style theatre for Mass, facing the lake through the foreground of a spreading tree and a beautiful statue of Our Lord with St Peter (below). What a memorable spot! Here we remember how Peter heard the forgiving and restoring word of the Lord, and so we pray for his successor, Francis, and for the whole Church. As always, Mensa Christi worked its magic and we left with a beautiful and powerful memory.

We now travelled further around the lake to its eastern shore, under the Golan Heights, to the area of Kursi, scene of the famous incident of the Gaderene Swine. An ancient church has been excavated here, and after a visit there, when my poor old toe took some punishment on knobbly cobbles, we repaired to the nearby kibbutz for some traditional St Peter's Fish. Suitably nourished, we embarked on the boat that would return us to our hotel in Tiberias. This trip on the lake is also always memorable, with thoughts of all those moments in the Gospel that take place on the waters. As usual, the captain obliges by turning off the engine and for some minutes we find ourselves afloat on the Sea of Galilee. We remember how the Lord calmed the waves, and of course another Peter incident, when the fisherman walked on the water, and was grabbed by Jesus. We too can walk on the waters of life, and as long as we keep our gaze on Him, the storms will not sink us. Even if we do go down, we can call out to him who held Peter - and he will hold us too.. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Get Up and Walk

The new video from Outside da Box.  A great take on the paralytic let down through the roof...

And so to Galilee

First - happy feast day of Pentecost to everybody for yesterday!  Second, Sister Cristina went on to win The Voice Italy on Thursday...
But now back to the Holy Land. After arriving on Monday, by Saturday it was now time to leave Jerusalem for Galilee. As with each time I leave the city, I wondered if I would ever be back. Who knows?..  Jerusalem is hustle and bustle, a city modern and ancient, Jewish, Moslem and Christian - everything and everybody all wrapped up into one, with the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus embedded at its centre. Galilee, on the other hand, is calm, soothing, beautiful and largely rural.
We set off along the vastly improved modern highway system, north out of Judaea, dropping down to the coastal plain and then turning north towards Nazareth. Eventually there it was rising up on its hilltop, and soon we could see the huge modern basilica of the Annunciation rising up from among the bustling town centre (left). We were expecting to celebrate Mass in the church of St Joseph in the grounds, but when we were in the Basilica, a friar told us that the main altar in the big church was available, so we had Mass there instead. Our group gathered around the altar and many other people took part from further down in the church. We thought about Mary and Joseph, and how Mary heard the Word and made herself available to the Holy Spirit, so that the Word would become flesh. We too are to listen to the Word and put flesh on it through our lives.
After Mass we strolled over to St Joseph's and found a new statue of St Joseph in a garden that I found very inspiring (not very good pic right). Then after another lovely lunch all together, we moved on towards our destination Tiberias, via Cana, of wedding feast fame. Usually we have a time of prayer here, remembering deceased husbands and wives, or those we have left at home; we pray for the separated or divorced; we recall other vocations too - single life, including those in vows or or holy orders.  Those who are on pilgrimage as a couple have the opportunity to renew their vows. When we got to the church there was an extravagant, beautiful and moving Ethiopian marriage going on, with much music, dancing and devotion. Our group loved it - a real blessing and gift. We still had our prayers, though out in a corner of the forecourt instead, but it was still a lovely moment on our journey, when we each considered how we have answered the call of the Lord.
Eventually we pulled into Tiberias on the wonderful Sea of Galilee, where we would be based for a several more days. I found my room, opened my window onto the lake and thanked God for being able to return to one of my favourite places on earth.
(Pic is someone's Google Earth off-season shot from our hotel)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Peacocks, cable cars, mines and fresh orange juice

On the Friday we took a trip out of the city to visit Jericho in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. We hadn't devoted a day to Jericho before, but it is a place with a long history - possibly the longest continuous habitation of anywhere on earth!  There are many excavations in the area around the city, which is one of the main towns in the famous West Bank are of the Palestinian Territory. 
We headed to the Franciscan church in the town (left), where we were told that a bevy of bishops had arrived whom the Franciscans felt should have the church for Mass. We are banished to the garden, which turned out to be a blessing, as it was a lovely day, we were under an awning and a proud peacock strutted his way behind me through the celebration. In the Gospel, Jesus told us that he was and is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If we are to listen to the voice of the Lord, well, then, we must also act on it, making his Way, Truth and Life truly our own.
In 2000 a cable car was built to reach the Mount of Temptations which overlooks the town (above). We all went up in groups of six, swaying high above the dry land. The Monastery on the mountain was shut, but we enjoyed a relaxing interlude and cold drink gazing out over the huge vista.
Back on terra firma we headed for an open air restaurant for lunch and then drove out of the town in blistering heat to the site of the Baptism, south towards the Dead Sea. The West Bank side has only been reopened to visitors recently after being mined. It was good to visit this after several visits to the "imaginary" site way up by the Sea of Galilee, which is very attractive, but nowhere near where the event happened.  We renewed our baptismal promised, and I signed each on the forehead with Jordan water and poured some over their hands. A very hot stroll back in the 90sF to the coach and we were off to the Dead Sea.
I'm no big fan of the DS. I don't like the feel of it, and while it's good to have the experience of floating in it, on this occasion I opted for a gorgeous freshly-squeezed-in-front-of-you orange drink or two. Beautiful. And so back to the city for our last evening in Jerusalem, where the hotel put on its weekly Sultan's Banquet, where David excelled as sultan, Tania starred as his, er,.sultana, and Norbert stunned us all by his, um, exotic dancing (no pics alas!).