The Anglicans in our group had hoped to be able to join our brothers and sisters at Christ Church Nazareth for our Eucharist today but it became clear to us last night that this would not be possible. Instead Bishop Christopher presided at the Eucharist in the meeting room at the hotel.
It seemed good and appropriate. As this is an Ecumenical Pilgrimage some of our friends from the Roman Catholic Church came and received a blessing and we went with them to the 10am Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation.
This is an incredible church to actually go to Church in, as opposed to keep seeing but not to take part in a service. Understandably, the service is in Arabic! We are not allowed to sit near to the altar but along with some of the local people and others that choose to sit further back we are behind the rails that delineate where the locals and where others can sit.
It is weird really sitting in a service where you don’t know what is being said because as the Dean said, you kind of know where you are because the shape is always the same. Strangely, for me at least, the service went very quickly – I had somehow expected it to drag because I couldn’t understand it all. In fact, concentrating on the shape of the service proved to be very powerful. Fr Phil from our party was allowed to con-celebrate and the Roman Catholic members of our group were able to receive communion in this wonderful building.
After the service we made our way to the steps and had the official Pilgrimage photograph taken. It was surprisingly hard to get everyone together and so I do hope that we didn’t miss anyone out. We split once again onto our two groups and walked first to the church built on the site of the spot where Joseph’s house is believed to have been. On the way up there is a statue of Joseph. Much of it is discoloured – that greeny colour that bronze goes – but his two knees are a shiny gold colour where people have touched then as a sign of respect and veneration. It is quite extraordinary.
The Church itself has some wonderful mosaics and below it there is a huge baptistry which would have been used for baptism. There are also three Chapels each in a little space of its own where pilgrims can pray. We do not often seem to spend much time thinking about Joseph and so to do so, and to know that he was thought of as an honourable and good man, is very special. There is too a sculpture of the Holy Family on the wall outside the church which is stunning.
We head back to the Basilica and hear an explanation about this wonderful church. The architect Giovanni Muzio has created an extraordinary building dedicated to Mary and we have the opportunity to see many of the depictions of Mary from around the globe. As the red coach, with whom I was travelling today, went to see the Holy House – that is the place in which Mary is supposed to have lived and one of the sites where the annunciation is supposed to have taken place – the barriers are raised so that we cannot go down to peer inside the gates. But, wonderfully the Franciscan fathers begin a service there based around the Angelus and we are able to see and hear this very clearly. It was quite extraordinary and the Dean says that in the many times he has visited the Basilica he had never before seen that happen. We were so blessed to have seen this.
Lunch follows and then we walk back up the hill to the Russian Orthodox Church built over what was supposed to have been the well that Mary would have used and where they believe that the Mary received the message from God concerning Jesus. I know that this is a beautiful church full of mosaics and iconography, but sadly we were unable to see it today as it was closed. A good reason to come again!
Back on the coach for the 20 minute drive to Cana where we see the church built to commemorate Jesus’ first miracle – turning the water into wine. Here the two groups got separated and one went to see the wine jars and the other to a little chapel outside where we were to have our liturgy. We were finally re-united and spent some time together in worship as we remembered those whom we love. The time of prayer, as we gave thanks for our spouses and for all our relationships, moved many of our pilgrims to tears as we shared deeply with each other of the things that are important to us and also our worried and concerned about friends and family and their relationships. Here is a mark of the special place that Pilgrimage has in bonding people together into a community which, for all the differences individuals might have, has a common ground in travelling and sharing their faith together. God is really at work.
There is time for more shopping before we board the coach for the 45 minute journey back to the hotel.
This time many more people swim and we enjoy being together doing this even if it is absolutely freezing cold in the Sea. We have some time for relaxation and then for dinner. The food here is wonderful and very plentiful and we each are able to have as much or as little as we want.
The evening meeting gave our Pilgrims the opportunity to share their experiences of the day and some shared life experiences which were very moving and spoke volumes of the trust which had been built up in the group. But, in keeping with the way in which so much has been interrupted the fire alarm kept going off and stopping and then starting again. We kept getting up to leave and then returning but finally we went outside until we were told to return. We did seem to be the only group here to do so and we could smell burning but seemingly it was nothing major. The Fire Brigade came and went very quickly. We were able to finish the evening with Compline before many went to bed after another rewarding yet busy day.