CATHOLIC FINISH STRONG
Steve Timm's Blog

MORE TRAVEL PICTURES #3
Several church buildings have been built over the Grotto of the Annunciation and the Cave of Mary in the last 1,700 years. The current Church of the Annunciation is the home parish for the well over 7,000 Roman Catholics who live in Nazareth, Israel.  
Near the entrance of the Church of the Annunciation is this stunning statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was impossible for Karen and me to resist having our photo taken with our favorite lady of all time!!!
Five Roman Catholic priests and five deacons accompanied us on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. All five of our priests and all of our deacons concelebrated in this Mass upon the altar that is in the Grotto of the Annunciation. The Cave of Mary is just a few feet behind the altar., Imagine what a thrill it was for all of us; pilgrims, priests and deacons alike ... to celebrate the Mass in this incredibly holy place.   
Wood has always been a rare resource in the Middle East. Because of this, many of the people lived in the abundant caves in the area. Most Christians are unaware of the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary lived in a cave and that the Grotto of the Annunciation is immediately in front of her living place.

This is a photograph of the Cave of Mary and the ancient altar at it's entrance. At the rear of the Cave of Mary are remnants of both the Byzantine church that was built in the 4th century and the unfinished Crusader church that was leveled to the ground in 1263.

The stairs in the background ascend to another small cave that is known as "Mary's Kitchen."

The front of the small altar in the Cave of Mary bears the Latin words "Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est." These words translate to "The Word Became Flesh Here."
 
Imagine celebrating the Holy Mass at the very place where Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, began his human journey on earth. Just imagine that ... 

This is the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter near Tabgha, Israel. This is the most recent of three churches that have been built on this site. The original church was built by Constantine and Saint Helena in the late 4th century.

Inside the church is the Mensa Christi, literally The Table of Christ. It was here that Jesus Christ appeared for a third time after His Resurrection. It was here, upon a huge limestone rock, that Our Lord cooked a breakfast of fish and bread for His Apostles and disciples. And it was here that Jesus asked Peter to once again swear his love for Him.   

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While I was looking out at the Sea of Galilee and contemplating Jesus cooking the breakfast for Peter and the fishermen, Karen was busy stripping off her shoes and socks.  
 
In truth, there is really no better way to experience the Sea of Galilee than to actually wade in it.  

For thousands of years, the two favored fish from the Sea of Galilee have been sardines and talapia.  
 
The talapia is locally called "Saint Peter's Fish" and it is absolutely delicious. Yes, it is the same talapia that we buy frozen at Costco and often eat for Friday dinner.
 
This was my Saint Peter's Fish dinner when we were eating in Tiberias. Great fish, french fries and a crisp salad ... bon appetit. 

This young man was the son of one of our fellow pilgrims when we were in Israel. He was about seven or eight years old and just an incredibly fine young person.
 
I was about to take a photo of the Mensa Christi, literally, the Table of Christ, when young Johnny rushed into the church and started praying upon the rock.  
 
At the time, a single though came to my mind ... Jesus would SMILE!!!!  
 
It was just that precious. 

When we were on our pilgrimage to Rome, we attended a General Audience of Pope Francis. We arrived fully three hours before the Audience, hoping that we'd get a seat and avoid the crowd ... we guessed wrong.

Pope Francis is so loved by "the folks" that Saint Peter's Square was almost totally full by the time we got through security. We eventually got fairly close to area where the Pope would pass.

Amazingly, we chose the perfect place for a photo. Pope Francis slowly passed within ten feet of us. Even more amazingly, I got this fantastic photograph of him.

Try to imagine 30,000 Catholics chanting "Francisco, Francisco, Francisco" and you'll have a good grasp on the scene.
After sailing in the Sea of Galilee and landing at the dock at Capernaum, we walked into the ruined town. Our first stop was the site of the synagogue where Jesus taught and performed miraculous deeds. The original Jewish house of worship was built by the Roman Centurian (Matthew 5:8-13 and Luke 7:1-10) is known as the "Black Synagogue" because it was built of the local black basalt stone.
 
The newer White Synagogue was built of limestone blocks in the early 5th century. I realize the sign reads "late 4th century," but Roman coins as late as 408 AD have been found deeply imbedded in the mortar of one of the synagogue's cornerstones.
 
The White Synagogue was built directly over the foundation of the Black Synagogue. In this photograph, you can plainly see where the black basalt foundation ends and the white limestone building blocks begin. 

The Franciscan archaeologists carefully excavated the early-5th century White Synagogue and carefully catalogued all of the artifacts found there. Then, to help us pilgrims to the Holy Land, the archaeologists reassembled parts of the main hall and a couple of walls of the Jewish house of worship.  

The White Synagogue was a two-story building and the original foundation was layed upon a seven-foot high stone base. Following Jewish custom, the synagogue was built on the highest parcel of land within the town. Also, following ancient custom, the main door of the synagogue faced Jerusalem.

The ruins of the town of Capernaum can only be described as "flat." The Franciscan archaeologist worked for untold days in excavating a good deal of the ancient town. Please bear in mind that the buildings had suffered many earthquakes over the years and every wall was tumbled down.
 
The archaeologist's crew did an amazing job of reconstucting many of the buildings and shops of Capernaum. This photo gives us a decent idea of what the buildings looked like and the size of the average dwelling. The unpaved roads were narrow and mostly less than ten feet wide.
 
Capernaum was bigger than a village, but never had a population of over 1,500 souls. Because of this, the town had no central square, no public baths and no central marketplace, other than the stone fish tanks. 
 
Unlike most Jewish settlements, sewage and garbage was always thrown into the narrow alleyways between homes and shops. Capernaum was also unique in that there was no city wall or defense perimeter.

This basalt stone olive press is an artifact from Biblical-era Capernaum. Just imagine the number of hours it must have taken for a skilled craftsman to form this useful agricultural tool ... Incredible.
A new Catholic church was built over the ruins of the House of Peter in 1990. In this photo, you can see that the ruins of the rest Capernaum basically surround the new church. The Sea of Galilee is in the background
 
We celebrated Mass in this church and it was an incredible experience. 

This photo shows the interior of the new Catholic church that has been built over the ruins of the House of Peter.  
 
The center of the church floor is glass, so sat in a position where we could be actively involved in the Holy Mass but, at the same time, also look down into Simon-Peter's home. And as we looked over the altar, we could see the incredible blue of the Sea of Galilee.
 
It would be difficult to imagine a more wonderful place to celebrate Mass. 

The glass floor in the middle of the new church is directly over the House of Peter. From this view, you can see a couple of the interior walls and a doorway. This is the central room, so it is probable that this was where Jesus was standing when the paralytic was lowered through the roof. Jesus, of course, healed the man and he walked out of the house under his own power. (Mark 2:1-12)
 
Pope John Paul II visited the Capernaum during his Jubilee pilgrimage of the Holy Land. More than anything, the pope wanted to visit the House of Peter and to pray there. On March 24th, 2000, Pope John Paul II was given a guided tour of the house by one of the lead Franciscan archaeologists, Father Stanislao Loffeda.
 
Pope John Paul II and Father Loffeda prayed together in the cental room pictured here.

Two of our priests and one of our deacons are shown concelebrating the Holy Mass at the new Catholic church at Capernaum. I talked to them after Mass and they all agreed that celebrating Mass over the House of Peter is a singular honor and experience.