Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The smile of faith

As I write, the airport in Tel Aviv is shut because of the current troubles. It was to that airport we had to journey on the last day of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We were all up early as we decided to repeat something we did on our last trip there - early morning prayers by the Sea of Galilee. And so we gathered for half an hour at 7a.m on the hotel terrace by the lake (right). We sang a little, shared a little about what we had experienced during our wonderful pilgrimage, and, of course, prayed a little.
After breakfast we climbed aboard our coach for the last time, and headed south west to the Mediterranean coast. We stopped for a while at the ruins of ancient Caesarea, centre of the Roman forces at the time of Christ. Here can be seen the aqueduct bringing that precious commodity water. Here is the well-preserved theatre, and various other buildings. Then we continued south through Tel Aviv itself, the largest city in Israel. It is modern and very western. Now swamped by the modern city is what is left of Jafo, ancient Jaffa (left). We drove through the old part and on to a restaurant near the sea, for our last meal together. The last day of our pilgrimages is always a strange experience. Everyone is trying to enjoy the visits,
but we all know that soon it will end.
The flight was a little late, but not too bad. Soon we were back at Heathrow - and Cardiff. And so ended our 2014 pilgrimage. But the memories then have to be sorted out. In Jerusalem and Israel, like Rome, it all comes at you fast and thick. It takes a while to get to grips with what you have seen. Was that really where Jesus was born? Was I really standing on Calvary? Was it here that Peter and the others enjoyed breakfast on the beach? 
Luckily we have our fellow pilgrims to help us remember. And, just a few days ago we received this year's memento. We used to get a video, then we moved on to a DVD, but since last year we have gone for a photo-book. The wonderful Bernard sifted through 6,000 photos taken by members of the group, and organised about 500 into a book that we can buy. It's a wonderful idea, and everyone who has seen my copy is wowed by it. 
As I look at the pictures I notice something very simple, but something that warms my heart. In every single picture, people are smiling. To walk in Jesus' footsteps, with brothers and sisters in faith - to eat, laugh, play cards, sing along, pray and worship together indeed brings a deep joy, a profound peace. And the result is that smile of faith.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Blessed are... those who were here

Our last full day in the Holy land was spent on and around the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. We made first for the Domus Galilaeae, or House of Galilee, a sight new to us. This is a brand new spiritual centre built on top of the Mount of Beatitudes by the Neo-catechumenates.
It comprises a study centre, convention centre, library, chapel (left), seminary and much more, all housed in a building of stunning modern architecture. We had a 30 minute guided tour from an enthusiastic young Colombian seminarian. Many noticed to what a high quality finish it has been built, with many interesting features. There was a lot to talk about, some finding it extravagant, our guide finding it a bit too Jewish-influenced, but most just amazed. It was my idea to visit the Domus, to remind everyone that the Holy Land is not just about holy places from the past.
Here young men come from across the country and across the world for study and spirituality - the Church of today and tomorrow. The Neo-Catechumenate is not everybody's cup of tea, as it were, but it is present in about 40,000 communities in 900 dioceses in the world. It was a fascinating beginning to the day - and, I found, an inspiring one. Pictured right is the bronze Sermon on the Mount on top of the oratory that has been built for the local Church. Many of our group were very inspired by this group.

We now moved down to the flat area t the foot of the Mount to the spot marking the Feeding of the Five Thousand, at the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. Here in a beautiful Abbey built by German monks we can see the ancient mosaic set into the floor which gives the place its name (left). 
Lastly we went back up the slope of the Mount of Beatitudes to the place where tradition says the Sermon on the Mount was given. here we celebrated another outdoors Mass overlooking my beloved Sea of Galilee. As we heard the immortal opening words of Matthew chapter 5 we renewed our determination to follow the words of Our Lord in our daily lives. We enjoyed lunch at the cool, clean convent attached to the shrine, and returned, inspired, as we were every day, by the sights and sounds of another wonderful day. The picture shows the Church of the Beatitudes with the sea of Galilee just visible in the background.