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GAFCON pilgrimage to Galilee

GAFCON pilgrims met with the head of the largest Christian church in the Holy Land yesterday Saturday, 28 June 2008.

Welcoming the pilgrims in the idyllic Jordan River Park in Galilee, Archbishop Elias Chacour said his church, the Melkite Catholic Church, “represents the descendants of some of the earliest Christian communities which are mainly located in Nazareth, but also throughout the Galilee region.”

1,200 pilgrims, seated under the canopy of eucalyptus trees on the banks of the River Jordan, listened attentively as Chacour welcomed them to Galilee, “where an exceptional man (Jesus Christ) was born.”

“You are not strangers here; you are all the family of God. We welcome you more warmly than the weather you are in,” he said, to chuckles from the pilgrims, who had just uncomplainingly endured 40-degree heat on the Mount of Beatitudes and in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

The mid-summer heat in the hills, valleys and the mountainside plantations of the Galilee did not deter the multinational group of pilgrims from enjoying a true sense of spiritual and historical fulfilment in a region where Jesus exercised much of His ministry.

Indeed, Archbishop Chacour claimed Christ as one of his own. “I am the only bishop in the world who can call Jesus Christ and the 12 fishermen (disciples) my parishioners,” he said to an undoubtedly impressed audience.

“I flew in from San Francisco this morning for (this) meeting with brothers and sisters from all over the world, hoping I would see the new Pentecost. You speak different languages, but we have one Spirit, one Lord, and one dream to overcome all conflict,” said the leader of the 147,000-strong Melkite church.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria), who introduced Chacour, recalled how last May, when the GAFCON leadership first got in touch with him, the archbishop of Galilee insisted that Jesus was not only in Jerusalem, but was a Galilean.

The pilgrimage through Galilee begun with a drive along the River Jordan, which separates Israel from Jordan, to where the river runs out of the Sea of Galilee on its 200km journey to the Dead Sea. A drive through Israel’s most fertile lands and past colourful seaside resorts up into the hills, culminated with an hour of reflection on the Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered a sermon to a mesmerised crowd (Matthew 5).

Pilgrims also visited the spot, at Tabgha, where the miracle of the feeding of a crowd of more than 5,000 with five loaves and two fish took place, before making a dash for Capernaum, the ‘Town of Jesus’. In the ruins of Capernaum, they took in the archeological remains of the 4th Century ‘White Synagogue’, which stands upon the surviving bits of the ‘Synagogue of Jesus’, the place where our Lord spent a lot of time.

Pilgrims were able to shoot footage and take photographs of the foundations of the very rooms that existed in Jesus’ time and, just as amazingly, the house where Peter lived. The walls of Peter’s house are now conserved with a glass and brick monument built right above its very foundations.

The spiritual highlight was, without a doubt, the prayer service in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Groups of pilgrims, singing songs of worship in different tongues, took the short launch trip from the landing site into still, calm waters. With perfect choreography, the five boats lined abreast of each other, and Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa (Tanzania) read the passage of the calming of the storm as recorded in Matthew 8.

Bishop Bill Atwood (Kenya/US) then preached, urging the pilgrims to surrender their personal and corporate storms to Jesus, the Only One Who can calm them. A moment of silence and reflection was observed.

The presence of God was surely in the place, as the public address system behaved, bang in the middle of the lake, and the waters were at a perfect calm. No pilgrim attempted to walk on the water.

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Gafcon Secretariat, Christ Church Central, The DQ Centre, Fitzwilliam Street, Sheffield  S1 4JR  United Kingdom

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