This week has been a week full of wonderful visits and trips.
Tuesday morning we set out for Galilee via Jericho and the West Bank. In Jericho we took a cable car to the top of the Mount of Temptation where we visited one of the Greek monasteries which is built into the side of the mountain. Afterwards we had lunch in Jericho, and then we set out for Nazareth.
In Nazareth we visited Mary's Well and the Basilica of the Annunciation. Our accommodations were provided by the Sisters of Nazareth, a wonderful guest house where we met many other pilgrims from Italy and Germany. Many of these pilgrims were quite young which was good to see. Most American pilgrims are older, but for the Europeans the situation is different. Because the Holy Land is closer, it is cheaper for the people of Europe to come here, hence more young people are able to afford the trip. Could you imagine bringing our youth groups from the Diocese of Hawaii for some time in the Holy Land? This is essentially what churches get to do in Europe all of the time.
Wednesday we spent the day visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee including Tabgha, Capernaum, and the Mount of Beatitudes. The morning began with the Renewal of Baptismal Vows in the Jordan River. We did not go to the commercial sites for this renewal, but instead, our guide took us to a quiet and secluded portion of the Jordan River, where we could literally stand in the water if we so desired. From here we went to the Mount of the Beatitudes.
The hike in silence on the Mount of the Beatitudes was especially meaningful, ending with a mass on the hillside close to the place where Jesus taught his disciples. During the mass you could see the rolling hills of Galilee as well as the sea; it was a beautiful setting for a mass. We also heard the Beatitudes proclaimed from a cave in the hillside which worked like a megaphone. We could now understand how Jesus spoke to so many people on the hillside, and how he could actually be heard. After this we visited the monastery at Tabgha, which has a beautiful worship space, and we put our feet into the Sea of Galilee at Peter's Primacy. After all of this, we had a fish lunch - St. Peter's fish.
Thursday began with a trip to the top of Mount Tabor, where we visited the beautiful church celebrating the Transfiguration of our Lord. The architecture of this church is stunning with its high altar suspended quite far up as if the mass is being celebrated in the clouds. On each side of the church, there are quiet little chapels dedicated to Moses and Elijah - an irony when you consider the Transfiguration stories in the Gospels. On another note, the gift shop at Mount Tabor has one of the best cups of cappucino you will find in the Holy Land.
Then it was back to the West Bank for a tour of Qumran and a float in the Dead Sea. Our tour guide and his family then hosted all of us at his home for dinner. More delicious food - usually you lose weight on a pilgrimage from all of the walking and bending of the knee. Not this time - not one of us is starving for food in any way.
This morning we woke up early, walking the Stations of the Cross in the Old City. When we arrived at the Church of the Resurrection, the Latins were celebrating their Epiphany mass at the Empty Tomb. Once they were finished, we went into the Empty Tomb to pray. Later in the morning, we travelled to Bethlehem for the celebrations in Manger Square. About a dozen scout groups with drums and bagpipes and other instruments led the procession of Orthodox clergy into the Church of the Nativity. It was an amazing event, full of joy and celebration.
Tomorrow is our last day, and we will spend the morning at Emmaus.