Steps of Jesus
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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Summer 2016 issue

Walking in the steps of Jesus

A Visit to the Holy Land, May 2016 by Margaret Symonds

Our daughter Catherine and I joined a party of eleven, led by Canon John Draper who was also accompanied by his daughter Caroline, of St Mary’s Church Rowner. Other pilgrims came from St Thomas’ church, Elson and St Faith’s Church, Lee-on-the-Solent.

We flew from Luton by EasyJet to Tel Aviv and were driven onward by coach to Tiberias, where a warm welcome awaited us. Tiberias is a large Jewish city on the western shore of Galilee.

Daily prayers were said and a daily Mass held, sometimes in the garden of a church, if many groups of pilgrims were visiting. Mother Margaret, from Rowner assisted Father John. She gave several very moving addresses. We each had our own booklet of hymns, from which we sang unaccompanied.

Our guide was an Arab, Madhi, who was very well versed in the scriptures and the history of the holy sites. He claimed to be both Greek Orthodox and a Muslim! Our coach driver Amin, though young, hardly uttered a word to any of our greetings, but he did a good job driving.

Thursday May 5th (Ascension Day).  Our first morning broke sunny and warm and by 8:30am we were sailing on the Sea of Galilee. After a while we stopped to read an appropriate passage from the Bible recalling the experiences of several of Jesus’ close disciples, who were fishermen from those shores. We disembarked at Ginosar, where a museum has been built to house a 1st century fishing boat, raised from the sea bed in the early 1990’s and treated similarly to the Mary Rose.

By 10:00am we had driven up to the beautiful Mount of Beatitudes Church, which commemorates Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5:1-12]; here Mass was celebrated in the garden chapel. The gardens are beautifully kept and contain stone slabs on which are depicted the various ‘Blesseds’. The views over the Sea of Galilee are breathtaking.



Mount of Beatitudes Church

We descended to Tabgha, the site where Jesus fed the 5000 [John 6:1-13]. Sadly the church had been damaged by fire but many of the ancient mosaics remain including the one depicting a basket of five small loaves and two fishes.

This church is in the custody of Benedictines whereas most of the holy sites are cared for by RC Franciscans.

Close by, on the lake side is The Church of the Primacy of Peter [John 21:1-14] in the grounds of which is a simple statue showing Peter on his knees, telling Jesus that he loves him and being instructed to ‘feed my sheep’. It is easy to imagine Jesus on the shore with a small fire ready for his fishermen disciples to cook their breakfast.

A quick visit was made to a wadi which had held the Roman road to Cana and Nazareth. Man made caves high on the valley side were said to have been inhabited by Zealots. In the valley bottom we found a spring and some very agile cattle on the steep slopes.

Our lunch took place in a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Tiberias. Following an interesting and tasty selection of starters which included falafel balls we were served St Peter’s fish [a very bony flat fish] with chips, followed by lovely fresh dates.

We returned northward to Capernaum where so much of Jesus’ ministry took place. Here Peter and Andrew were  told, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’ [Matt 4:12-22]. Here over the site claimed to be that of Peter’s mother-in-law’s home a church has been built resembling a flying saucer from the outside. We visited the remains of the 4th century Synagogue presumably replacing the one where Jesus and his friends would have worshipped.

That evening we met our guide and quiet driver for a drink before dinner at 7pm.

Friday 6th May. We left the hotel [Dona Gracia] at 8:30am for Cana where, tradition holds, that Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast [John 7:1-11]. We visited a church in the basement of which is a huge stone jar reputed to be first century of the style in which water would have been stored. It was certainly very old and was held together by metal bands. We sampled the local wine but did not buy any. Cana was the home of Nathaniel, one of the disciples.

Onward to Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to bear the Son of God. [Luke 1:26-38]. It was here that Jesus grew up from boy to man. We first visited the Greek Orthodox church of St Gabriel where we viewed the stream behind the altar, Mary’s Well. This stream is still the source of  fresh water for old Nazareth. It is probable that Mary made daily visits to draw water from this source. From there we walked to the modern Basilica of the Annunciation and viewed the Grotto in the basement thought to be the site of Mary’s home as well as the Annunciation. On the ground floor are large decorative panels which were donated by Roman Catholics from many different nations. Close by is St Joseph’s Chapel, below which Mary and Joseph are thought to have lived and where Jesus practised carpentry with his father. Finally we visited an old Synagogue where Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2a, the passage foretelling his ministry and was driven out of Nazareth [Luke 4:18-21].

Our lunch in Nazareth was delicious flat bread filled with chicken and salad, followed by pomegranate juice.


Basilica of the Transfiguration

In the afternoon we were driven to the isolated Mt Tabor where tradition holds Jesus was transfigured. [Luke 9:28-36]. The road and gateway are so narrow that we had to transfer to minibuses  in order to reach the Basilica of the Transfiguration. From the top we could see magnificent views across the plain of Jezreel [Israel’s bread basket]. Mass was celebrated at 4pm in the Moses chapel. An Indian Group were worshipping in the nave. The other chapel is dedicated to Elijah.

Saturday 7th May. We checked out of our hotel early and drove to Yardenit, the Baptismal site on the River Jordan. Some Indian people were being baptised by total immersion. We renewed our Baptismal vows and some of us collected river water to take home to their churches. I contented myself with purchasing two small bottles of water from the Jordan that had been filtered, for St George’s to use at baptisms.

  Afterwards we drove south along the Jordan Valley with first Syria and then Jordan on the far side of the valley which lies below sea level. At noon mass was celebrated in the Church of the good Shepherd in Jericho. This ancient city lies many metres below sea level and is probably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It is always hot and is famous for oranges, pomegranates and other fruits. Lunch was served at the Temptation restaurant, named after the local Mt of Temptation [Luke 4:1-8]. We paused to see the Sycamore tree, traditionally held to be the place where Jesus spotted Zacchaeus and asked him to come down. 

Church of the Good Shepherd, Jericho

 From Jericho we climbed the steep road, made famous by the story of the Good Samaritan  on our way to Bethlehem and our next hotel. We had to pass through the check point in the horrible high wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. This we had to do on all subsequent days, usually with little delay.  We felt so sorry for the farmers cut off from their traditional farm land and olive groves. Before proceeding to our hotel we were taken to a shop owned by a Christian family to do our souvenir shopping, some of which were made of olive wood and others of precious metals. I bought a hand carved, as opposed to factory made, model of the holy family for our eldest daughter. We then moved on to the Basilica of the Nativity in Manger Square. The entrance is a small and narrow doorway [said to prevent anyone trying to enter on horseback] .We were shown the birthplace of Jesus {Luke 2:8-20] again below the modern ground floor level.  It is a much venerated Grotto and Manger Chapel and was very crowded with pilgrims. Eventually we reached the Bethlehem Hotel where we were to reside for the remainder of our visit to the Holy Land.

… to be continued.