This was our last full day in the Holy Land and the Pilgrims were looking forward to a busy day seeing some of the important sites in and around Lake Galilee. This is always a very special day for me as I love the places that we see around the Lakeside, all of which are associated with Jesus’ ministry there. This time everything seemed a little different somehow, probably because we did the day in a different order – it certainly made me think and see things in a fresh way. We did this as a result of the timings which worked in terms of us getting into the various sites as they are always very busy with Pilgrims wanting to visit and experience them.
So, first – on this Pilgrimage – is the Loaves and Fishes church at Tabgha which is officially known as the Church of the Multiplication. The Tabgha Church has the lovely lines of a crusader church, although it was completed in 1984 and built by the Benedictines on the site of previous churches and has some of the most magnificent mosaics that you could wish to see. My favourite is, of course, the one under the Altar of the loaves and fishes because this is the church that commemorates the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes to feed the crowds who had followed Jesus. Under the Altar too there is a rock, and some traditions believe that this was the rock upon which Jesus stood as as he blessed the loaves and the fishes.
The theme for the day really became God’s generosity to us all which we can see in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes so that peoples bodies were fed as well as their souls; the way in which we are forgiven which is symbolised both in the way that Peter is used despite his failings and as we renew our baptismal vows and remember that God forgives us. But for me the site of the Loaves and Fishes church sums this up too, not simply because of the events – as Jesus taught people there and made sure that they all had enough to eat and that there was some left over – but also because of the way in which the church survived the fire which ravaged the courtyard and the shops some years ago. Although there was some smoke damage and the mosaics are now beginning to be cordoned off so that people cannot walk on them, this is in order to save them wearing away – not because of fire damage. It was terrible when we visited on a previous pilgrimage, which was after the fire, to see what had happened to the doors and around the building but wonderful that the site of the church itself had survived.
There is a lovely little shop at Tabgha too and our poor Pilgrims were able to do some of the souvenir shopping that they had been unable to do on Saturday as we had not been able to go to Bethlehem and to visit the co-operative that we usually go to when there. We had tried to organise another place to shop and had been unable to, so it was good that we were able to spend a little time there buying things to take home.
From Tabgha we got back on the coach and moved on to see the beautiful church set on top of the Mount of the Beatitudes. Along the path between the coach park and the church are plaques with the Beatitudes written on them. Some of them are in better condition than others but it is wonderful to see the words from the Sermon on the Mount written out for all to see, mark and learn from. We were also fortunate to be able to celebrate the Eucharist here with the Lake offering a superb view for our Pilgrims.
Afterwards we were able to look around before heading to Caesarea Philippi – to Banias – where we are able to renew our baptismal vows in a service lead jointly by Bishop Christopher and Bishop Paul. It was great to have a bit of time after the service to explore the hills above.
Then it was back on to the coach and off to lunch followed by another coach trip – this time to the Mensa Christi Church or Peter’s Primacy. This visit always offers the opportunity for people to paddle in Lake Galilee, even those who could not make it down the steps at the hotel. It also afforded us another opportunity to see just how much water there is in the lake at the moment as there was so much less beach than we were used to seeing. Just a little strip where as it used to be possible to walk quite far round the back of the Mensa Christi Church. This place is also known as Peter’s Primacy as it is reputed to be where Jesus told Peter to ‘feed my sheep’. There is an ancient tradition that the rock under the altar here is the one upon which Jesus prepared breakfast. So much happened in such a small area that it is really possible to imagine this place in Jesus’ time when the disciples would have walked between these sites. It is always so moving.
One final coach trip takes us to Capernaum, Jesus’s Galilean base, where we saw the ruins of the synagogue and the church built over Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. Here, too, it is so easy to imagine the work that Jesus and his disciples did in preaching to the Jews and Gentiles of the time and to think about how the community of those who followed Jesus grew in his lifetime and after his death and resurrection.
Once we got back on to the coach the Pilgrims are told by our leaders that our flight the next evening had been cancelled and that, as a result, we were heading back home on a plane at 9am the next morning! It was all a bit of a shock. But, so that we did not miss our boat trip completely, we went back to the hotel and had about half an hour before getting on a boat to go across the Lake.
The boat was a beautiful experience in the dusk and we had a service in which we were all anointed by the Bishops for our journey home. We were also each given a small Jerusalem cross.
Back at the hotel we had dinner (no time for a swim tonight) and then for those who wanted to there was a last opportunity to say Compline together. During the service Bishop Christopher blessed the things that the Pilgrims had bought for gifts to families and friends back home.
Then it was off to finish packing and getting ourselves ready to have our cases outside our rooms by 3.15 am in order to go down for a cup of tea or coffee and a piece of cake or fruit and to be on the coach by 4am. Suddenly our pilgrimage was over and it was time to go. We were saddened by our sudden need to leave but happy that we were going to be able to go home.