Day 4: Nazareth, Bir'am & Cana
Our home base for our travels around Galilee is Nazareth. We are staying in the Sisters of Nazareth Guesthouse, a guesthouse just a few steps away from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. There are six sisters from different countries living at the guesthouse, but the common language they speak is French. When we arrived we learned that our guesthouse was built over ancient ruins from the time of Jesus and a Byzantine Church. Groups and individuals must receive permission from Mother Superior to be able to receive a guided tour down below and Katie was lucky enough to run into her in the courtyard one night and requested permission. After much negotiation Mother Superior agreed. Boy, is Katie glad she asked!
The sisters purchased the land in the 1800s, began excavations, and discovered some tombs, one most likely belonging to the Bishop of Nazareth and an ancient church. We descended a staircase down to the basement and then stone staircases down underneath the basement to find the remains of Jesus' era. It was interesting to see just how far underneath our streets are the original streets of Jesus' hometown. Writings from pilgrims who visited Nazareth thousands of years ago explained that there were two churches in Nazareth, the Assumption church and another church nearby. Based off of the description of the second church, these ruins were most likely that second church. Churches were built over important sites to Jesus, so we walked through recognizing that Jesus very well could have been sitting and walking through these same rooms.
As mentioned previously, our pilgrims read the book "Blood Brothers", written by Fr. Elias Chacour, a local Palestinian Christian Archbishop who lived in a small village in Galilee as a child. He writes about how there were Christians, Muslims, and Jews living in peace together in his village growing up, but during the creation of the State of Israel, Jewish forces came through his village and took all the men away on trucks to Jordan. Later they were forced from their home and fled into neighboring villages. They were told they could return to their land after a few weeks, but they are still waiting to return home. Their village has filed many requests through the State of Israel to return and the government has granted their request.
But when they have tried to return, the Israeli military has blocked them from entering. Now their village is an Israeli State Park. Despite Fr. Chacour's experiences losing his village and struggling with the government to open a school for Palestinian children, he remains devoted to peace and reconciliation between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
We had already visited Fr. Chacour in his new town where he opened a school and university for Palestinian children in Israel, but we wanted to also visit his hometown, Bir'am. We saw the remains of homes, his beloved childhood church, and the synagogue in his town, showing that the Arab Christians and Jews were able to live together in peace in the same town in history. What was most interesting was to see the different topography as we moved north to Fr. Chacour's village. We felt like we were in Colorado! It was beautiful. We understand why so many Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza long to return home to this beautiful land. We also understand why Israel prefers not to offer any of this lush land during negotiations.
On our way back we had lunch at a local restaurant in an Arab town close to a nearby Jewish village. It was Shabbat so Jewish restaurants were not open and Jews were unable to cook. The Arab restaurant was packed with Jews and Arabs eating side by side and we were able to get a glimpse of normalcy and peace in a land otherwise plagued by conflict.
We then drove back down to Galilee and visited the city of Cana. We celebrated Mass and then our married couples renewed their vows. We ended the day with a bit of wine tasting of local wine from Cana.
It was our last day in Galilee - heading into Jordan tomorrow!