HERALD OF HOPE
BISHOP JAMES T. SCHUERMAN
Last month, I had the privilege of being part of Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s Holy Land pilgrimage, “In the Footsteps of Jesus” (Oct. 21-30). We traveled to Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Magdala, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, among other places. We visited the sites where Jesus preached the Good News, taught his disciples and healed the sick. In Jerusalem, we saw the places where Jesus was arrested and put on trial. We walked the Way of the Cross and visited the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, praying at the places where Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day. It was an inspiring and moving trip for all of us 121 pilgrims.
I was particularly interested in our visit to Galilee. Jesus spent most of his ministry around the Sea of Galilee. It is not really a sea, but a freshwater lake. In the Sacred Scriptures, it is referred to as the Sea of Chinnereth, the Sea of Tiberias and the Lake of Genneserat.
The Sea of Galilee is harp-shaped, and measures around 12 miles long and seven miles wide. The Jordan River feeds it with fresh water from Mount Hermon and Mount Lebanon to the north. Then the Jordan continues out of the south end of the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. Among the towns that surrounded the Sea of Galilee in the time of Jesus was Capernaum, the center of the fishing industry. Capernaum was the base of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. In Capernaum, Jesus cast out a demon from a man in the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28), cured Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31) and healed the paralytic lowered to him through the roof (Mark 2:1-12). The Sea of Galilee is the place of many momentous events in the life and ministry of Jesus.
On the seashore, Jesus called the first of his disciples, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, who earned their living as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 4:18-22) It was along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called Levi (or Matthew) from his customs post to come and follow. (Mark 2:13-17)
Our pilgrimage group took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee on calm waters under blue skies just before sunset – it was a tranquil, peaceful experience. However, severe, sudden storms are regular occurrences. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the story of Jesus crossing the waters in a boat when suddenly a storm came upon them. The disciples were terrified, but Jesus remained sound asleep in the boat. They woke him and pleaded with him to save them, whereupon Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, and restored calm to the waters, while his disciples marveled over his authority over the elements. (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25)
The Gospels of Mark, John and Matthew all report the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. In Matthew’s account, Jesus invited Peter to walk on the water, as well. Peter began to do so, but he became fearful and began to sink. Jesus reached out his hand, caught him and saved him, rebuking him for his little faith. (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-53; and John 6:16-21).
On our boat ride, our guide pointed across the Sea of Galilee to the southeast banks and reminded us of the story of Jesus casting out the demons from two men of the Garadenes. The demons entered a herd of swine feeding nearby, and they rushed into the sea, where they drowned. (Matthew 8:28-32)
Just off the shores of the Sea of Galilee to the northwest is a church commemorating the location where Jesus fed 5,000 men. (Luke 9:10-17) The church protects the remains of a mosaic from the fourth century depicting the loaves and the fishes that Jesus multiplied. Under the altar is a rock believed to be the rock, upon which Jesus laid the loaves and fishes before blessing them.
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we visited the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter. According to the Gospel of John, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples returned to Galilee. Simon Peter decided to go fishing, and the other disciples joined him. After catching nothing all night, Jesus appeared on the shore, but the disciples did not recognize him. He instructed them to cast their net over the right side of the boat, and they caught so many fish that they could not haul the net into the boat. Then they recognized Jesus. On the shore, Jesus served them breakfast. Then Jesus spoke to Simon Peter, who had denied him three times, and asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Three times, Simon Peter affirmed his love for Jesus, and Jesus gave him the command, “Feed my sheep.”
A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place. The purpose is to travel prayerfully, being open to the many ways in which God makes his presence known – in the sites themselves, in prayer and liturgy, and in the communal interaction of the pilgrims. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land or any other sacred place reflects the pilgrimage of life, our journey toward the Kingdom of God. This pilgrimage helped me to understand better that we are a pilgrim Church, and our journey through life is sacred. In the busyness of life, we must never lose sight of our goal – eternal happiness in the presence of our loving God.