Tuesday was our day visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee. On this day, all our places were extremely close to each other. This was the area centrally located around Capernaum, Jesus’ home, that acted as a type of head quarters for his miracles and most of his teaching. The places we visited today: Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, The Primacy of Peter, Capernaum, Magdala, a lunch on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a drive around the sea with a final stop at the Jordan River.
Magdala is a city that I was not familiar with. It was only excavated in 2006 and is thought to be the home town of Mary Magdalene. It was a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and just North of Tiberius. There is a beautiful modern Roman Catholic church on the edge of the shore line. Down in the basement of this building is a small chapel where the floor is rough, jagged, uneven rock pavers. This floor is the actual road pavers that ran through the village that Jesus would have walked! If that was not enough, although they have not officially declared (they are heavily suggesting), this is the city and road from Mark 5:25-34 in which Jesus healed a woman who reached out to him touching his robe in the crowd. Jesus, upon feeling power leave him, tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” I made sure to get a picture with my feet on the pavers.
The rest of the places were all familiar and yet I vastly underestimated what it would feel like being there. The Church of the Beatitudes was of course where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. What struck me, besides the view of the sea, was that from this spot you can see some distant mountain cliffs (which I have pictured). In these cliffs, the zealots would hide in the caves while plotting their rebellion. It is said that in this spot, at the time of the sermon, tensions were of course rising between the opposing forces, and it would not have been uncommon to hear forgers hammering out swords, weapons, and armor preparing for the coming war. With that as the backdrop, Jesus boldly proclaims, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”! That revolutionary thought standing in the face of the rising zealot movement had never sunk in before.
The Primacy of Peter is the location where the events of John chapter 21 take place. It is the beach shore where Jesus eats fish and breaks bread with his disciples and has that most beautiful conversation and commissioning of St. Peter. While we were there, in a outdoor side chapel, a group of pilgrims were celebrating the Holy Eucharist. It was moving and emotional to be at the location, where through the breaking of the bread, Christ is revealed to his disciples. To be at the Mesna Christi (the Table of Christ) in the midst of the same breaking of the bread and the presence of Christ was incredible.
We stopped at the river Jordan for a quick dip…ok more of a wade I guess. Where we stopped was only a couple hundred yards from where it empties from the Sea of Galilee. While this was not the spot of Christ’s Baptism it was still a great location because at this spot an incredible baptism venue has been built for pilgrims and local congregations to use. The day we were there we witnessed no less than 20 baptisms!! In the words of Ben Harper, we were “blessed to be a witness.”
Lastly, the site of the Multiplication, the site of the feeding of the 5000 was probably the most moving. If you look under the altar (pictured below) you can see a rock coming out of the ground. That rock it is said to be the spot where Christ: took, blessed, broke, and gave the fishes and loaves to the crowds gathered. I often say that if the Last Supper is truly the last supper then the Feeding of the 5000 would be the first. My call and discernment to the priesthood has been closely tied to a deep piety I have for the Eucharist. Being in this place I felt encouragement and strengthened for the ministry to which God has called me.