Hello to all our friends! We arrived in Tiberias yesterday and our time here has been a whirlwind of activity and prayers. Internet time is at a premium and this entry will be shorter that we would like, but there will be much more to follow in the next few days.
The People: Our Guide for this tour is a Palestinian Christian named George. He speaks five languages, has two degrees and is working on a degree in Biblical Studies. His family has lived in "the Land" for many generations. He has lived his faith in the midst of hardships and discrimination, yet he gladly shares his faith in this Ministry of Pilgrimage. Our time here is greatly enriched by the gift of his being with us.
Our bus driver is Issam and his skill at nativigating tight curves on the many hills around Tiberias amazes me. We are in very good hands!
There are tour buses and pilgrimage groups from--it seems--every nation on the planet. I have seend diocesan, Benedictine and Franciscan priests leading other tours, speaking German, Italian, French, Japanese and languages that I don't recognize by ear. The roads are literarlly clogged by tour buses.
It is warm here, since the Sea of Gallilee is 600 + below sea level and the bouganvilla are in full bloom. There are Mangos, bannanas and Palm tree farms everywhere, it seems.
Yesterday we began the day at Mt. Tabor, the Mount of Jesus' Transfiguration. We had mass there--a truly unique blessing. There are pictures that we will post in a couple days. This is already one of the highlights of the Pilgrimage. Yesterday we also visited Nazareth, a bustling city of 70,000 inhabitants. We finished the day with a renewal of Wedding vows in the chapel at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle, the changing of Water into Wine (John, Chapter 2).
Today we began with a boat ride across the Sea Gallilee. A special moment was the raising of the American flag next to the Flag of Israel and the singing of the National Anthem. The ride ended on the other side of the lake where we were only moments aways from the Mount of the Beautitudes, where we had Mass--another special moment of prayer. A dear Italian Fransican sister asked the group who played the piano. When I raised my hand she led me to an electronic keyboard, helped me turn it on and we sang the songs we know!
We also visited The site of Peter's Primary--His confession "You are the Christ". For lunch we were treated to "St. Peter's Fish" which is quite good! We visited the ruins of Capharnaum and saw St. Peter's house and the ruins of the Synagogue. We also visted the sit fo the Feeding of the Four Thousand and the site on the East side of the Lake of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. There we saw the sunset over the Sea of Gallalee--a wonderful moment of Blessing.
This is only the highlights--this so short and we have so much to share and so many pictures that we would like to post. They WILL come! Tomorrow we visit other Holy Sites in the Gallalee and then turn our feet toward Bethlehem. Many in the group would like to post pictures, both in this space and on "Facebook" and we believe this will be possible from our next hotel. May God bless you--we will be remembering you to His tender care as we celebrate Sunday Mass.
--Greg Smithhisler, Liturgist