Day 2: Up the Coast to Galilee
Our second day in the Holy Land had us driving up the coast from Tel Aviv to Caesarea Maritima, an ancient city built during Herod the Great's rule around the time of Jesus. We watched a short video explaining the history of the city through the different periods of time and then Kevork, our very knowledgeable guide, walked us through the remains of the city.
We saw the theatre, hippodrome, walls and moats, a Crusader mosque, and tons of old columns. It was here in Caesarea Maritima that St. Peter baptized the first recorded gentile convert to Christianity, Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army. It was also the headquarters of Pontius Pilate and where the apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years.
Following Caesarea Maritima, we drove up the coast and up the mountain to the top of Haifa, to catch a view of the city, surrounding areas, and Baha'i Gardens. Haifa is a beautiful city comprising of both Jews and Arabs who live together in relative peace. Our pilgrims received a short explanation on the Baha'i faith in preparation for seeing the gardens as well.
Just up the coast from Caesarea Maritima is Acre, a port city on the Haifa Bay. Acre has remains of the Crusader Knights Hospitaller Compound, allowing tourists to feel like they are still walking the streets of Acre thousands of years ago. Our group received individual headphones so we could walk at our own pace, exploring the compound. We also had a lovely Arabic family-style lunch in the market there.
This group read the book "Blood Brothers" by Fr. Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Maronite Catholic priest, in preparation for this trip. We were lucky to hear that he was in town and available to meet us in person on this day. We drove up the hill to Ibillin, a village in Galilee, to meet with him. He told us his story about losing his village as a child during the creation of the State of Israel, his subsequent struggles with the military to receive the right to return to his village (now a state park), and his difficulties getting building permits for his school in Ibillin. He left us with a few memorable challenges but mainly to raise "holy hell" on behalf of the poor and needy and those who are experiencing injustice. He reminded us that being a peacemaker
isn't a passive experiencing, but that it requires going against the grain. He encouraged us to step out, use our voice, and make a change in our community and our country. He also talked about inter-faith dynamics reminding us to remain in relationships with those of other faiths, and that we, Christians, do not have the monopoly on doing good or on the movement of the Holy Spirit. Many of our pilgrims purchased his books and received his standard signature "God does not kill. - Fr. Chacour".
Moving inland we worked our way over to Nazareth, where we checked into our guesthouse with the Sisters of Nazareth, right across from the Church of the Annunciation. Delicious soup, salad and chicken were waiting for us upon our arrival and many of us could be found on the roof deck overlooking Nazareth at night after dinner. We went to sleep looking forward to experiencing Galilee tomorrow!