Last week I mentioned that I would be sending my column from a ‘Special Place’. That place is Israel and I hope you enjoy this week’s offering.
John 3:7: “Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be reborn.”
This is a sign that you see at almost every televised GAA match for over 20 years. I am writing from that “special place” which I mentioned last week. Today I woke up on the shores of the Sea of Galilee also known as the Sea of Tiberius. I’m not delivering a sermon from The Mount but, I would like to share with you some of the mysticism that exists in this beautiful country of Israel.
I feel so privileged and extremely fortunate to be here. I’m sure that most people who read this column are Christians, practising or not, believers or not but, all the same, would have heard of Jesus Christ. I used to hear his name mentioned at football matches and often called His name to referees myself.
Israel is a land that has a special meaning for almost everyone, for it is the source of spiritual roots and ethnical values of much of the spiritual world. Many Christians visit Israel every year to follow in the footsteps of Christ. This is predominantly a Jewish country.
I was at the Western Wall or Wailing Wall in “Old” Jerusalem where I saw Jews and Christians alike praying there. It is an awesome spectacle. Like other visitors I had to wear a skull cap to enter the area.
The Wailing Wall is literally is a place of lament for Jews since it is the only remnant of Herod’s second temple. “Old” Jerusalem has four quarters named the Jewish. Armenian, Muslim and Christian Quarters.
For me, the Via Dolorosa or the “Way of the Cross” where Jesus carried His Cross to His crucifixion was humbling. These days these narrow streets are packed with vendors and their stalls selling all sorts of religious and non religious items. Along the steady ascent different churches are erected on many, but not all, of the stations of the cross.
I’m in a group of 40 and I can confirm that I am the youngest of the entire group. Like Jesus I have been saving many of these geriatric pilgrims from falling down the many steps we have to climb on our travels!
The pace is slow and getting slower as the days progress. I expected a lot of “happy clapping” on our bus but, by the end of the day, the expected happy clappers are dozing off. Then there’s the heat to contend with. It’s 32 degrees here most of the time. If I’m finding hot weather tough, I can only imagine what my fellow travellers are enduring. They certainly have great resolve and character to do what they are doing.
We have Mass everyday in a church of certain significance, e.g., Church of Pater Noster where Jesus taught his disciples The Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father), The Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was crucified (Golgotha) and also the place of His resurrection and The Church of St. John the Baptist, the man who baptised Jesus. To be honest I was thinking of your man holding that sign ‘John 3:7’ in Croke Park during Mass!
Tomorrow we sail across the Sea of Galilee. Many of the miracles of Jesus happened on its shores including His walking on water, calming the storm and feeding five thousand people in Tabgha.
I hope that you can appreciate the overwhelming experience that Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Galilee still is today. It is such a pity that Israel has so many political problems because this is a panoramic and picturesque place. Tiberius is adjacent to the borders of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It is common belief here that if the Arabs and Jews could settle their differences, which are complex and historical, then we would have world peace.
Although I have related to mainly biblical and religious facts here, I have learned so much about Palestine which since 1948 became the Jewish state of Israel. Israeli soldiers have walked through our bus at the many checkpoints that we have crossed. They were neither friendly nor courteous. Even today the Israeli government is building settlements in what is legally Palestinian territory.
For the most part the Arabs are poor and suppressed whilst the Jews are reasonably well off. This is a generalisation which tends to simplify a really difficult problem.
After the crossing of the Sea of Galilee I’m off to get baptised in the River Jordan, a float on the Dead Sea and a wedding in Cana. Things happen quickly about here except for our tour. It’s the way it is and I’m not complaining. It will be another mystical day, Inshallagh!