Galilee … and beyond

September 6, 2010

We got over our disappointments of the hotel in Tiberias and headed north 15 kilometres or so for our first visit of the day – the Mount of Beatitudes. A beautiful church, if small, and we seemed to time our arrival perfectly to avoid all the coaches and had the church almost to ourselves. This was true of our next two visits as well; to Tabgha (Church of the Multiplication) and Mensa Christi (Peter’s Primacy)

One of the photos below shows our very own Simon Peters by the statue commemorating when Jesus named Simon: Peter. Unfortunately, our Simon Peter(s) steadfastly refuses to “feed our sheep” just because we haven’t got any sheep! Pedantic, or what? We also had time for a paddle in the Sea if Galilee…

Two of our group, who shall remain nameless (though their initials are Stewart Cutler and Gerry Goodfellow) are in strict competition to see how many points they can accrue on FourSquare. So far Stewart has checked in at “Jesus’ House” (Nazareth) and “Jesus’ best mate’s house” (Capernaum) 🙂

Capernaum holds a special place in my heart as it was here that I had my ‘Holy Land epiphany’ in 1997

We left Galilee after lunch (and a visit to the baptismal site on the River Jordan) and headed to our hotel in Jericho where the sumptuous accommodation and fantastic pool banished all memories of the Arbel Hotel in Tiberias.

An early start tomorrow as we head for Masala and, as the sites we will visit are archeological, not religious, we can wear shorts – praise The Lord indeed!

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Galilee – not quite yet

September 5, 2010

An early start as we left the Knight’s Palace to head to Tiberias – with a couple of stops en route.

People in Israel drive a bit like they walk – no eye contact and if they see a space; they go for it and assume that everyone else will give way. Fortunately, they usually do!

Traffic through Tel Aviv was slow. At times it made the M25 seem free flowing but we made it to Haifa in time to visit Stella Maris/Elijah’s Cave before lunch. It may well have been here that Elijah discerned the voice of God I’m a gentle breeze but, when your sharing the venue with 3 coachloads of pilgrims, we were unable to!

And so on to Nazareth and the Basilica of the Annunciation. A beautiful church which I feel I shouldn’t like because of the ‘bling’ but I do.

Apart from being overcharged for lunch (I didn’t argue as I wanted to get to the Basilica with enough time for us to explore) Nazareth was well worth the stop.

And so to Tiberias – and the first disappointment of the trip. Maybe we were spoiled by the Knight’s Palace but our hotel here is not up to what we hoped. The pool was green, the place was generally dirty and looked like it had been shut for a while. Still, we’re only here for a night so we’ll cope.

Down to the lakeside to celebrate Sam Aspinall’s 25th birthday – made all the more wonderful with the news that, on her absence, her church had unanimously agreed to support her call to the Ministry if Word and Sacrament. Maybe it’s appropriate that she got that news in the place where Jesus exercised his ministry ….
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Eudoxia – not a name you hear nowadays

September 4, 2010

But, in 438, she was the Byzantine Empress who first built a church over a cave which was reputed to be part of the home of Joachim and Anne – the parents of Virgin Mary. And it was here that we started the second part of our day having walked around the Walls of the Old City, along the Kidron Valley (no stone-throwing children today!) and up to St Stephen’s Gate (Lion Gate).

Just along from St Anne’s (which included a walk around the pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralyser man) are the two chapels commemorating the condemnation and flagellation of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Very simple, and quite small chapels, we were all struck by the beauty of the stained glass windows in Barluzzi’s chapel of the flagellation – but I couldn’t remember the artist … Anyone know? (later edit: the three magnificent stained glass windows in the choir are the work of L. Picchiarini after the design of D. Cambellotti; they represent The Scourging, The Washing of Hands and The Triumph of Barabbas.)

Doing our best to avoid the large groups which were converging from all sides and threatening to swallow us up, we dodged into the Lithostratos beneath the Convent of Eccentric Homo. We welcomed the cool of thus underground venue and it would be nice to think, as we stood on flagstones that made up the original roads of Jerusalem during the Roman Occupation that some of us might, quite literally, be following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Leaving the Via Dolorosa, we climbed the stairs to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to see the Etheopian monastery before descending through their two chapels into the courtyard we had first visited some 7 hours earlier!

Lunch on the rooftop restaurant of Papa Andreas and a visit to the sweet shop in the Souk was all that was left before heading back to the hotel.

Later this afternoon we are meeting with some if the young Palestinian Christians who are part of Youth4hope and, after tea, we are taking the opportunity to visit absolutely nowhere and do absolutely nothing – we’ve deserved it!
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Oh me of little faith

September 4, 2010

So, an early morning trip to the Church of the Resurrection (or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – depending upon your tradition) and I wondered how many of the group would meet me in Reception at 6:30 to explore the church before it got too crowded… I should have known better – all but 1 were ready and waiting!

A short walk down deserted streets, shops still shuttered and early enough for the streets to still be wet from the overnight cleaning brought us to the Holy Sepulchre. There weren’t too many others there – but enough to mean we had to queue to visit the tomb itself – which is, for me, an entirely underwhelming experience!

As more pilgrims arrived we headed back to our hotel for a shower and breakfast. The early morning is the only time a pilgrim has any chance of experiencing even an iota of spirituality at the Church. For most of the day it is just a scrum so I was pleased that so many took the opportunity to join me. Why did I ever doubt that they would?

Now, off to the via Dolorosa…

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Kids 4 Hope

July 20, 2010

It’s 30 degrees outside and I’m sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of the Notre Dame Centre opposite Jerusalem’s New Gate putting the finishing touches to the programme for Kids4Hope, a summer camp organised by Jerusalem Ark. I was first involved with the programme in 1996 (during Israel’s war with Lebanon) and have stayed involved ever since, thanks to the generosity if the United Reformed Church and North Western Synod. This year the camp is smaller than usual (only 28 kids instead if the usual 40) because Jerusalem Ark has not been able to get sufficient funding and have had to leave some children disappointed. The programme is focussing on 3 areas:
1. The children as individuals
2. The churches from which they come
3. The situations and communities to which they will return.

With a mixture of Bible studies, games, discussions and activities, along with visits to the holy sites in Israel, it will be hard work for all involved but, hopefully, fun, too.

Some of the children with whom John Brown (URC Youth Development Officer) first worked now help out at the kids camp as young leaders. If proof was ever needed as to the value if this work; that is it.

Acknowledging the value of the young people, but constrained by the travel restrictions placed upon them by the Israeli authorities, Jerusalem Ark have developed a further camp, Youth4Hope, to develop young leaders from towns and villages in the West Bank. Funding for this venture, now in its 3rd year, has always been difficult and we have been extremely grateful to a charitable trust in Cheshire the last 2 years. This year, the programme is receiving financial support from a Catholic Diocese in Germany. Next year? Who knows? If your church is looking for a project to support (with even a small donation) that helps develop community leadership amongst young Christians in the Holy Land then I hope you will get in touch with me do that I can out YOU in touch with Jerusalem Ark! Your prayers are, as ever, very welcome, too.