As Bishop Dominic and I prepare to leave the Holy Land this evening, the accompanying photo says it all: It is looking down the Mount of Beatitudes, toward the Sea of Galilee at sunset. In the lower right of this picture is an ancient Terebinth tree that the Bedouin people in this area say was the tree near which our Lord sat when he taught the eight Beatitudes to his disciples. Galilee, I have found this time , can truly be called the “Fifth Gospel,” as it was so named by Father Bargil Pixner, OSB, in his book “With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel.” Father Bargil was a very famous archeologist whose ministry , along with the Franciscan friars, has helped to uncover many sites where our Lord taught and prayed, thus reflecting the authenticity of these sites and making the words of our Lord in the Gospels come alive.
For example, this morning we prayed and sang in the Third Century synagogue in Caparnaum. However, because of the excavations and research there, we could see the black basalt foundation of the original synagogue where our Lord preached. The synagogue was built on the original foundation. Right next to the synagogue, as described in the Gospel, are the ruins of Saint Peter’s home. This has been authenticated by Second Century graffiti and an early Church built over the ruins of the home. We celebrated Mass in a beautiful new contemporary Church built over these excavations by Pope Paul VI.
We were able to visit Tabgha earlier this week, where Third Century mosaics mark the place of the first miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. All of these places are very near where we were staying. We saw the ruins of “Chorazin” and the “Way of the Sea” mentioned in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. We spent the day in Jerusalem yesterday and were able to pray for all of you at the sites marked by the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre for Calvary and the Lord’s tomb. We saw the Kidron Valley, which echoes the words of Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
All of these places show us the living Word of God and they sing and cry out to us of the Lord who loves us and indeed has risen as he said.
Bishop Dominic and I are here with bishops, priests, married couples, and men and women from around the world. Some are from areas where to be a Christian means risking one’s life. The Neocatechumenal Way, who sponsored this week, led us in a reflection and prayer on the Gospels, as a time of preparation for the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
Now, off to Rome, and I will write another letter from there. Father John Moneypenny and I will be doing a video postcard from there as well.
A blessed Easter Week, and thanks to all who worked so diligently and for such long hours for Holy Week and Easter in our parishes, institutions and at diocesan events.