Friday, February 10, 2017 - Updated: 8:32 AM
Bishop David Zubik and Rabbi Aaron Bisno are in the Holy Land this week with an interfaith group of pilgrims from Pittsburgh on the “Pursuers of Peace” pilgrimage.
The mission of this Holy Land pilgrimage is to recognize the similarities in the roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths and continue to support each other in Pittsburgh by finding common ground.
The Pittsburgh pilgrims set out Feb. 8 from Tel Aviv early and visited Caesarea, Mount Carmel, Nazareth and Cana.
The extraordinary ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea include an impressive aquaduct and amphitheater, which is the oldest surviving Roman theater in the eastern Mediterranean region. The city and harbor were built under Herod the Great from 22-10 B.C. The city is also the location of the 1961 discovery of the “Pilate stone.” The stone is the only archaeological artifact that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by whose order Jesus was crucified.
The pilgrims continued to Mount Carmel. It was windy on the mountaintop as the pilgrims listened intently to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18:21: “Elijah said to the people of Israel, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’” Finally, Elijah commanded the people to put the prophets of Baal to death, in keeping with God’s command in Exodus 22:20.
The Pittsburgh bus continued to Nazareth, where the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation. The basilica is built over the remains of Byzantine and Crusader churches, and is the largest in Israel. The basilica features an extensive gallery of paintings and mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary from more than 65 countries. The metallic depiction from the United States was sculpted by Charles Madden of Maple Glen, Pennsylvania.
During Bishop Zubik’s homily, he shared his devotion to Our Lady and the Annunciation. He reminded us that we are all called to serve and obey the Lord in different capacities, and we must be open to the call and not fearful.
The bishop shared his reaction 20 years ago on Feb. 11, 1997, the day he received the call informing him that Pope John Paul II had selected him to be an auxiliary bishop. He remembers praying, “God, do you know what you are doing?” Bishop Zubik then realized that he was so fearful and decided to release the fear and trust in the Lord.
Many of the Catholic pilgrims expressed joy and gratitude that they had set aside their own fears and journeyed to the Holy Land with Bishop Zubik. The Jewish pilgrims also expressed their happiness at finally visiting Israel and being with Rabbi Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. The guide, Ronan, is Jewish himself, and is teaching the group many Hebrew and Aramaic words and customs.
The group stopped for lunch at a Druze restaurant for falafels. The Druze are a unique religious and ethnic minority in Israel. The pilgrims purchased some beaded necklaces from the residents to show support.
The last stop was the wedding chapel in Cana. It is dedicated to weddings, and its name commemorates Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the famous wedding at Cana.
Cana’s actual location is uncertain, with at least three possibilities. But the commemoration of the miracle of the wine is traditionally fixed at Cana, about five kilometers northeast of Nazareth on the road to Tiberias.
The Pittsburgh Christian couples renewed their wedding vows inside the chapel, with Bishop Zubik presiding. No one had cold feet, and it was a tearful and meaningful experience for many.
The Jewish pilgrim couples took the opportunity to renew their own wedding vows in a nearby courtyard. Everyone witnessed their renewal ceremony, which included the symbolic breaking of the glass. After a series of blessings, the serious mood lifted when the grooms stomped on glass and everyone shouted, “Mazel tov!”
Ronan reminded the group that the original wedding in Cana was, of course, a Jewish wedding. Everyone celebrated with wine and baklava.
The pilgrims made their way to Tiberias for dinner at their hotel, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Hummus is a staple on the buffet table, and the group is enjoying trying many different foods that they have never eaten before.
They looked forward to setting sail the next day on the Sea of Galilee. All the pilgrims are eagerly anticipating meeting with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem in the coming days