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Holy Land Pilgrimage 3

By Mr. Nghiem Nguyen:

“Our first stop was the ‘mount’ from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  The location overlooks all of Galilee and is undoubtedly beautiful!  All of us entered the octagonal chapel and knelt down. Above each wall is an inscription for one of the eight Beatitudes.  Having no foreknowledge of which Beatitude was on which wall, we were open to any signs we received.  Perhaps we were called to be peacemakers, or reminded to be meek, or reassured we would be comforted.

It was difficult to leave a place of such beauty and peace, but we made it to our next location. Tabgha is the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.  The artist of the mural in the chapel only painted four loaves to remind us Jesus — the ‘fifth loaf’– continues to work miracles and feed us today.

We then walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It was here Jesus established the primacy of Simon Peter.  We shared the Gospel, reflected, and then waded into the sea.  Nearby was the rock where the resurrected Christ appeared and cooked fish for His apostles.

Next, we entered Capernaum.  Most of Jesus’ missionary life was spent here.  We saw ruins of neighborhoods where Jesus and the apostles walked.  We celebrated Mass at the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Our guide explained the original structures were destroyed, but there is strong evidence the church built at this spot is the first church in recorded history.  A chapel was later constructed above the ruins.  This beautiful structure allowed the ruins to be preserved while giving us pilgrims and locals the opportunity to celebrate Mass over this sacred spot.  Fr. Daniel explained this is the place where Jesus foretold the Eucharist, and his followers had to decide whether to follow Him or to leave.  It was a beautiful Mass, and the centurion’s words we normally speak before Communion came to life. Right here, in Capernaum, is the place where one of Jesus’ followers declared we are not worthy to receive Him, but our soul can be healed.

After wandering and exploring Capernaum, we ate lunch near the Sea of Galilee.  There was plenty of light-hearted excitement over the fish. Alex, Clare, Gunther, Emily, Josh, and I opted to eat the entire fish, but everyone engaged in lively discussion of how and what parts of the fish we should eat.

We then set sail on the Sea of Galilee.  After a Gospel reading, we listened to ‘Oceans’ and reflected on what it meant for Jesus to ‘call [us] out upon the waters’.  This is an exciting time for our Seniors, as they conclude high school, leave Everest, leave home, and enter the ‘great unknown’.  One student shared how the cool breeze of the sea felt like the Spirit was with him.  (May the Spirit be with all of our beloved students!)  There was also plenty of fellowship in the form of dancing and pictures.  Most of the seniors said the Sea of Galilee visit was the highlight of their day.  It stands out because it is the very place where Christ walked.  Pathways can change, structures can be destroyed, but the sea remains the same.  The body of water we sailed today is the same water from which Jesus rescued Peter.

A short drive from the Sea of Galilee is the town of Magdala.  This hometown of Mary Magdalene is a reminder of God’s providence.  In 2009, Fr. Juan Solana, LC planned a retreat center.  As the builders began digging, they found an ancient Synagogue, the ‘Magdala Stone’, and eventually the ruins of an entire first century town.  The work studying the ruins and building the surrounding Visitor Center is an ongoing process.

This visit to Magdala is a special one for those of us from Everest because we were unexpectedly greeted by a familiar tour guide – Ms. Celine Kelly!  She was excited to see us and showed us the different discoveries at Magdala and vividly explained their Biblical connections.  After learning about the ruins and their incredible story of discovery, we proceeded to the Duc In Altum Spiritual Center, which draws its inspiration from Luke 5:4 where Jesus instructs Peter to ‘launch into the deep’.  As we stepped inside, we entered the Women’s Atrium.  Ms. Kelly led us in singing “Amazing Grace”.  The acoustics were incredible.  This beautiful space honors women in the Bible.  Six of the pillars are dedicated to six women in the gospel, one pillar honors the many female followers of Jesus, and the final pillar is left unmarked for ‘all women of all times who follow Jesus’.  Above the atrium are the hands of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the same atrium there are four mosaic chapels that depict Jesus in various situations — Walking on Water, Testing Peter’s Faith, Calling the First Apostles, with Mary Magdalene, and Raising the Daughter of Jairus from the Dead. The mosaics and Ms. Kelly’s explanations of them definitely made the Gospel come alive for us.  One of our students shared how each of the mosaics really represent a moment in her life.  I think she speaks for all of us. There are certainly times when Jesus calls us, tests us, forgives us, and saves us.  Then, we had quiet time to explore, offer intentions, and reflect on our experience at Galilee.

This was a day our Seniors were reminded of the path and crossroads ahead of them.  We continue to pray for all of you back home.  Please pray that their faith continues to deepen as each follows Duc In Altum with Jesus.

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