We were all pleased to have a slightly later start on this our final complete day in the the Holy Land. For the first time we left our hotel at 8.30 and set off in brilliant sunshine to travel to Nazareth for worship. The Pilgrims were able to chose as to whether they went to the Basilica of the Annunciation with Bishop Paul or to Christ Church, which is the Anglican. Those who chose to go to the Anglican Church were pleased to hear that there was an opportunity later to explore the Basilica, which is one of those not to be missed sites in the Holy Land.
Christ Church is used to receiving Pilgrims and as well as those from Southwark this week there were also members of an interfaith group who had been exploring interfaith issues together at St George’s College, Jerusalem. The service is a wonderful mix of Arab and English and a joyful mixture of styles and traditions. I felt very privileged to be allowed to robe as a priest and to help to lead the intercessions. This was a very big deal in a church that does not ordain women and the other women priests amongst the Pilgrims were delighted too.
After lunch we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is an absolutely incredible church: all over the walls, inside and out, are mosaic representations of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If one has been before, it is always good to try to see if it is possible to spot new mosaics. We were introduced to the church and the things to go and see, including the cavern which is venerated as the place where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary – hence the church being called the Basilica of the Annunciation. We were also given time to go and wander around the church and to find the British mosaic which is near to the altar so it is not possible to get very close to it as it is behind the closed altar rails. Nonetheless, it is good to see what we can of it and compare it to some of the other depictions from around the world.
Some of the Pilgrims also took the opportunity to go up the hill a little further and see the church dedicated to Joseph the Carpenter and the statue of Joseph on the way up to it.
Then it was back on the coach in order to travel to Kibbutz Nof Ginosar to board a boat to sail on Lake Galilee. As we pass through Cana the coaches stop briefly so that those who wanted to were able to get off and buy some wine from Cana.
Once on the boat we sailed for a few minutes around the Lake and away from the shore. Then we were able to simply turn off the engine and let the boat float for some minutes whilst we sang a hymn and said prayers and then we floated in silence for a few minutes reflecting upon all that we had been part of during the Pilgrimage. It was a really moving moment that seemed somehow to bring together all that we had seen and heard and experienced.
Then it was time to return to the land and leave to board the coaches to go back to our hotel for the final time. It was hard to believe that we had been away for seven days and that the next day we would be heading home. At our last evening meeting we recalled some of what we had done during the week and said compline together for a final time. At the end of the service Bishop Paul blessed what the Pilgrims had bought. Then it was time for one last quick drink before we headed to our rooms to pack for going home.