My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Monday, 3 February 2014

Jesus Lakeside Ministry with a Bus Called Hope contd.

Church of the Beatitudes
It is just a short drive from Capernaum to the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is commemorated. What a beautiful setting, and with so little time to fully explore its beautiful twentieth century Italian Church in its panoramic garden setting. You really need far more time to savour everything this place offers than we could give to it. As the guide book says, "a site not to be rushed." The church was designed by the Italian Antonio Barluzzi, responsible for so many special buildings in Jerusalem which we have already seen.

Inside the church the windows illustrate the Beatitudes, and the seven heavenly virtues which Jesus mentions (Chastity, Abstinence, Liberality, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, Humility) are illustrated in the floor mosaic. There are too many tourists here for me, and I am more moved within the peace of the gardens, where there are interesting sculptural works, a water sculpture, wonderful roses and of course the Beatitudes set in stone blocks down the main drive way.
It is all too soon time to move on, towards Tabgha. On arrival we head first to the modern (1984 - replacing an older plain Benedictine church on the same site) Church of the Multiplication, or the Church of Loaves and Fishes, commemorating where Jesus according to tradition fed the 5000 with five loaves and just two small fish (John 6: 1-13). A very small church was first built on this site in around 350 AD. A hundred or so years later a much larger church was built here, only to fall into ruins following the Persian invasion of 614 AD, and the later Arabic occupation of Palestine.
fifth century mosaic

The fifth century mosaics preserved in the floor of the church are said to be some of the loveliest in the Holy Land.
Most famous is the mosaic in front of the altar of two fish and a basket of loaves. There is an ancient rock under the altar. This is said to be part of the one on which Jesus placed the loaves and fishes before the miraculous feeding.
Here we have plenty of time to reflect and pray. I spend quite a while on my knees at the altar, reflecting on how we translate this gospel wisdom into satisfying the present day needs of our own countries - our own towns and villages - how to address the hunger and poverty all around us. Food banks are becoming an essential part of local ministry in our churches back home, even in what are regarded as so-called "privileged" areas. We can at least curb our dreadful and shocking wastage of food, (we throw away billions of dollars or pounds worth every year), invite others less fortunate than ourselves to eat with us, develop our parish Lent lunches - frugal meals as a visible sign of giving up for others. But the frugality must be translated into generosity. Can we change our loaves and fishes into plenty for all? Still in Tabgha we move on to the delightful little Franciscan chapel of The Primacy of Peter down by the edge of the water. This chapel is often known as the Mensa Christi church, (Table of Christ), referring to the rock within the church said by tradition to be the rock where Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples (John 21: 1-14) after his third appearance to them, at this place by the lakeside, following his Resurrection. Here he also then commissioned Peter to "Feed my sheep."
It is here in this delightful setting where we will celebrate a group Eucharist in the open air below a beautiful bronze statue of Peter with Jesus, shepherd crook symbolically held in his right hand, silhouetted against the sky behind our altar - a most wonderful image. Thunder is rumbling around as we prepare for our open air Eucharist. I'm not a great fan of thunder storms, and I am anxious that this storm does not get any nearer during our service. With the Sea of Galilee audibly lapping at the fine pebbly shore just below us, and with birds twittering in the trees all around us, in the end even the distant rumbles cannot spoil our worship of songs and prayers. There are throngs of other pilgrims and tourists around, and it has to be said they are not always totally respectful to the service clearly going on below them beyond the railings. Some are clearly just fascinated by this visible witness to our faith, some even seem appreciative of the hymns which we sing with gusto. Somewhere out there on Facebook I am sure there is a photo preserved for posterity of me standing in the front row closest to the altar singing heartily! Afterwards we paddled along the shore where surely Jesus would have paddled and watched the swallows swooping in and out of the little Mensa Christi chapel busily feeding their youngsters in the distinctive and beautifully made mud nests high up in the roof. It is time for lunch…

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