Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kansas City Pilgrimage to the Holy Land – Caesarea Philippi and Capernaum

Here’s the latest dispatch from Kansas City – St. Joseph Vice-Chancellor Dr. Claude Sasso on the Kansas City pilgrimage to the Holy Land being led by Bishop Robert W. Finn:

Banias Tiberias, Israel (November 7, 2009) -Departing from the Scott's Inn along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, we drove 45 miles north to Banias, which in Scripture is known as Caesarea Philippi in the extreme northern area of Israel near the border with Lebanon. It was here that Jesus brought his disciples after a climb of three days through the mountains to give them a very important revelation. Upon arriving Jesus asked his disciples who do men say that I am? Peter responded with the help of the Holy Spirit, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, in turn, identified Peter, “And I tell you you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death [hell] shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

This interchange was underscored by the contrasts Jesus was making. The false temple that Herod had constructed on the site in honor of the Emperor Augustus (his son Philip renamed it, Caesarea Philippi) was contrasted with the true temple of our Lord's body and the Church which he founded on the rock, Peter, who had been given a new name and mission. The false shepherd, the mythical god Pan (the Greek god of springs and shepherds) whose niche was carved in the rock and after whom the area is named, Paneas (in Arabic, Banias), was contrasted with the true Son of God and the Good Shepherd. The site is also significant because it is the source of the Jordan River, the waters of which Jesus had previously sanctified by His baptism.

ChurchofMultip We next drove to the site of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, which is located in Tabqha (ancient Heptapegon) on the northwest shore of the sea of Galilee. The Church contains a small rock on the main altar which is thought to be the one on which Jesus put the loaves and fishes which he miraculously multiplied to feed five thousand men (not counting the women and children present). The gospel account given in Mark 6: 30-44 was read by Bishop Finn on the site. The Church, built in 350 A.D., destroyed by Muslims in 614, was excavated 1300 years later and is being operated by the Benedictines today.

The pilgrims next visited Capernaum, the ancient ruins of which were the home for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. There we celebrated Mass in the Church of St. Peter, which literally was constructed above the ancient city and in particular, over the home of Peter's mother-in-law. In his homily Bishop Finn said our Lord found a home in Capernaum for his ministry and in the synagogue there (the ruins of which we could see from the window of the Church), he told them about the profound mystery of the Holy Eucharist (John 6: 35-66).  Even when many abandoned him and walked away he did not change the message. He would give us food that sustained us into life everlasting. 

After holy Mass we went into the ruined city below and entered the 4th century synagogue that had been built above the ruins of the one that existed in the time of Jesus. There Bishop Finn read the Bread of Life Discourse of John 6 as we pondered the words of Jesus and the mystery he revealed of his self-giving love. We were also reminded of the story of the paying of the temple tax, which took place in Capernaum (Mk 17:24) and Matthew's call by Jesus (Mt. 9).

(pics – Top, Banias. Below, Church of the Multiplication with Rock under the altar where Christ is believed to have multiplied the loaves and fishes.)