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10 holyland

We owe a great debt to Christians of the Holy Land

We are able to visit Christian sites in the Holy Land today because their locations have been guarded and protected by a faithful community for 2,000 years, writes Fr Michael Kane

This week I write my column from the beautiful surroundings of Galilee. For these past 10 days I have been here in the Holy Land with 54 other Scottish pilgrims in our group. For many it is the opportunity of a lifetime to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in his own land and culture.

In the first part of our pilgrimage we stayed in the city of Jerusalem, a place ablaze with different cultures, traditions and customs. This ancient city is sacred to the three great Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As a result this region is charged with political and religious tensions.

For Christians it is a city of unique significance since it is so connected with the life of our incarnate Lord.

 

Christ’s birth

During our pilgrimage we came into contact with Bethlehem and the place of Christ’s birth. We also visited the Upper Cenacle Room, walked the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa), and celebrated Holy Mass at Calvary and the Tomb, both located within the vast Holy Sepulchre complex which today is home to many ancient Christian denominations. We also visited the site of the former Temple, a place sacred to the Jewish people before its destruction by the Roman occupiers.

After Jerusalem we travelled north to the Galilean mountains where the Lord spent most of His three-year public ministry.

On our way we stopped at Nazareth, the hometown of Our Lady where we celebrated Holy Mass at the traditional site of Mary’s home where the angel announced God’s plan for her life.

 

Galilee

In Galilee we visited many sites located around the vast Sea of Galilee. We ascended the sacred mountains which are so prominent in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

Scripture tells us that these mountains are important meeting places between God and His prophets and people. We celebrate Holy Mass on Mount Tabor, the place of the Lord’s Transfiguration and Mount Beatitudes where Jesus taught the multitude.

Some days ago we also sailed on the Sea of Galilee and visited Capernaum, a place where Jesus spent much time teaching and preaching. We also visited other sites which feature prominently in the healing miracles of the Lord, such as Tabgha where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish to feed the vast crowd, and the town of the Lord’s first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana.

 

The Lord’s homeland

In all of these places we came into contact with the historical Jesus. Though we are separated by the generations that have passed we are able to uncover the Lord in a new and tangible way in His earthly homeland.

Our Arab Christian tour guide Bader Rabadi brought Jesus alive as he explained for us the customs and traditions of Middle Eastern culture which were an important part of the Lord’s life.

When we understand the context of Jesus’ day then we live closer to Him. We understand better the ‘why’ of the Lord’s many teachings and gestures. That the Lord’s parables feature many farming and shepherding metaphors, for example, testify to the rural landscape which was his home.

 

Teachings

His teachings about the vine and its branches, the Good Shepherd, the stray sheep, the mustard seed and fishing themes all use language and metaphors easily perceptible to the people of his day.

First century Jews living in this setting would have easily understood His parables and their hidden meaning for their lives.

This is the land whose very soil contains our Christian roots. Its people and the Christian minority who still call it home are the ancestors of biblical times. They are our brothers and sisters who have carried within their families their solemn duty to continue the oral and written tradition of our ancient Faith, passing it on, unchanged, to their children and their children’s children.

 

First witnesses

It is good to remember that today’s small Christian community of the Holy Land are the descendants of the first witnesses of Jesus and form part of an unbroken line of Christian believers. We are able to visit authentic Christian sites today because their exact locations have been guarded, protected and handed down in the oral tradition by the faithful Christian community for 2,000 years.

Our pilgrimage has given us many graces and blessings! How many lessons emerge from this sacred land of Jesus! Above all, our journey taught us of the profound historical basis of our Faith. Jesus lived in a real place, at a particular time, and was immersed in the culture of His land.

He taught in real places and performed true miracles as evidenced by witnesses. Our Faith is not the result of noble ideas, metaphors or ancient hearsay, but emerges from a concrete, irrefutable historical context. God gives evidence to our Faith through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His incarnate Son Jesus of Nazareth. He does not ask us to have blind Faith but to find His Son in the history of a sacred land.

 

History

This reality gives the Christian extraordinary confidence and fills us with hope that God will concretely move and live in our own lives.

If God so willed to break into human history with the life of His Son, surely He will manifest Himself in our own particular lives and situations as well. God has shown in Jesus that He is deeply invested in human history, in our time and space, and so we should have confidence that He will not abandon us to our own devices.

The incarnate life of Jesus proves to us that God is not distant from our lives. He wants to impress Himself upon us and our needs. God is not only interested in changing our spiritual and immaterial needs but desires to live in the concrete challenges of life as well: our crosses, our family troubles, our sickness, our real-life daily problems.

How often we hold back from inviting God to work such miracles in our lives, even when His mission was precisely to live and move in human history.

As we prepare to depart I hope we can bring some of these lessons home with us!

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