Day Four & Travel to Jerusalem

Today was our last day in Galilee. Our travel schedule didn’t allow me to post this morning. And it’s past midnight so technically I didn’t post anything all day. Nonetheless it was quite an eventful day.

I finally did walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee this morning before we boarded the bus. The last two photos above are from the courtyard of Pilgerhaus.

We started with a visit to the Mount of Beatitudes a short distance from Pilgerhaus. We celebrated Mass outdoors, the first for the entire pilgrimage. The wind presented some challenges, from keeping everything on the altar from blowing away, to having to speak and sing above the noise. But it all went well. Below are photos of the octagonal church on the mount. The last photo is a mosaic on the floor. “Praise to you, Christ.”

The first two photos above are of the hillside from the Mount of Beatitudes similar to an ampitheatre. There must have been so many people listening when Jesus spoke. The closeup is of banana trees under netting to prevent migrating birds from consuming a cash crop. The bananas, avocados, oranges, and lemons now fill much of this fertile valley.

A thought from the day’s Mass. Jesus presented his disciples and the gathered crowd the agenda for his mission and the mission of those who would come after him. He called blessed those whom polite society pushed to the margins. These were precious in his eyes. They should be in ours as well if we wish to follow in his footsteps.

From the Mount of Beatitudes we headed south along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, through the town of Tiberias, to where it flows into the Jordan River. Much of the river’s flow has been altered since the time of Jesus. The present day flow south of the Sea of Galilee is supplemented by streams originating from neighboring Jordan (the country east of Israel), the Yarmouk and Zarqa Rivers. The mountain ridge, the Golan Heights on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, extends from way up north where we were yesterday (the foot of Mt. Hermon) to this junction in the south. Another mountain ridge begins here running the length of the river to the Dead Sea.

Shortly after entering the Jordan River valley, we entered the West Bank which makes up the bulk of the Palestinian territory and headed toward Jericho. The Gaza Strip on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea make up the remainder. Our main stop in Jericho took us to the location on the Jordan River believed to be where the people of Israel crossed over after wandering 40 years in the desert. It is also believed to be where the prophet Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire, and where the captain of the Syrian king’s army was instructed by the prophet Elisha to bathe and be healed of his leprosy. This site sits in no-man’s land (riddled with land mines) between the official border with Jordan and the river. We went down to the river’s edge and renewed our baptismal vows, after which we each took water and signed ourselves. I had hoped to sprinkle the group, but we didn’t have access to shrubbery that would be adequate to the job.

Across from us on the river, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, was the UNESCO world heritage site that Christians claim is where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. This Jordanian site has been given approval by the Vatican and various Orthodox Christian patriarchs.

From here we entered the oasis of Jericho for lunch, first passing the Sycamore tree that supposedly the chief tax collector Zaccheus climbed when Jesus came visiting the city.

After lunch as we walked out of the restaurant we spotted a hookah, a Turkish water pipe. Maher had to do some ‘splainin’ so we gathered around to marvel at an ancient bong. We continued our trek along the Jordan River toward the Dead Sea, passing the Mount of Temptation and where a couple of our number took a ride on a camel.

The Mount of Temptation we only saw from a distance. Atop the mountain is an ancient Russian Orthodox monastery that was never completed. Below it is a cable car station. To the left is a Greek Orthodox monastery. And all across the face of the mountain are natural caves that served and continue to serve as hermitages for prayer and solitude and shelter for hikers. The valley below us is filled with fruit orchards and vegetable plots.

At last reaching Jerusalem at sunset we took in the view from across the Kidron Valley. There was much to take in, our guide Maher pointing out all the sites where churches and shrines have been built over locations in the gospel where Jesus experienced his final week of life. Our faith sharing session that evening gave us all the opportunity to reflect on these last days. All who spoke expressed a renewed spirit and a new attentiveness to the gospel accounts. Soon after we return home, the season of Lent and the events of Holy Week will take us back to this time of grace, this pilgrimage, and the historical Jesus who walked these holy places.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023

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