We were told that we would spend at least two hours in the Allenby (Palestine) – King Hussein (Jordan) border before finally having our passports stamped by the immigration officers and enter Palestine, the gateway to Israel via Jordan. By 10 AM, we already crossed the King Hussein Bridge and we were already lined up to enter the immigration of the Israeli border. True enough, we left the premises of the immigration en route North Israel by 12:30 PM.
The afternoon of the 3rd day was dedicated to the journeys of Jesus and His apostles in the Northern District of Israel, particularly Magdala, Tiberius, and the Mountain of the Beatitudes. We visited the site of the miracles of five loaves and two fishes that eventually fed thousands, the site where Jesus shared breakfast with his apostles after His resurrection, and its surrounding area (i.e. the pier where Peter and other apostles decked their boats to fish in the Sea of Galilee), Capernaum or the hometown of Peter, and the Mountain of Beatitudes. These sites are included in Israel’s UNESCO Tentative List, collectively known as The Galilee Journeys of Jesus and the Apostles.
Our first stop was Magdala. I am aware Magdala is also an archaeological site. But we were at Magdala not to follow the pilgrim’s route but only to eat. It was 1:30 in the afternoon – showtime (lunch). What was for lunch? St. Peter’s Fish, also known as Tilapia. A side note: it did not excite most of us because tilapia is also dominant in the Philippines (a common dish, in other words). Many foreigners were excited because of its exotic attribution as the Apostle’s fish. Despite it being “ordinary,” I have to admit, it was tasty.
After a hearty lunch at Magdala, we went straight to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes or simply the Church of the Multiplication. And so began our trail, following Jesus’ and his apostles’ holy footsteps.
The Church of the Multiplication
The church is traditionally believed to be where Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish to thousands to feed about 5,000 of his hungry followers. The church features stunningly restored mosaics from the fifth century. The most famous of which depicts two fishes around a basket of bread, representing the miracle attributed to the site. Also present onsite is a slab of limestone said to be the rock on which the famous meal was produced, and a charming floor mosaic of flora and fauna including two birds (our guide mentioned the birds were ducks).
The four gospels talk about this miracle and only John mentioned the presence of a boy. Historically speaking, I believe the presence of the boy is very significant in this so called “miracle” of feeding the thousands from mere five loaves and two fishes. If I were to read this outside theology, I would think of Jesus asking if people brought food. But because old tradition prohibited the sharing of meals to strangers, Jesus’ followers did not want to bring out any of their food. Until the boy exclaimed: “we have five loaves and two fishes” – then Jesus could have used the boy as an example of innocence without the burden of tradition. Right after that everyone brought out their food and shared to everyone. All of a sudden, there was an overflowing of food. This is also a miracle, methinks. People began to unload the burden of tradition in the name of care, kindness, and generosity.
The first church was constructed around 350 by a man named Joseph, a resident of Tiberias (Joseph is equivalent to wealthy church sponsors in parishes in the Philippines who often pledge to help in constructing, remodeling or renovating the community church). The church and Joseph were first mentioned by Egeria who wrote a very detailed account of her pilgrimage in the Holy Land in 380. The church was later renovated (ca 480) and was expanded into a larger structure. It is also believed that during this renovation, the mosaics were added. The renovations were attributed to Martyriu, another wealthy resident of Tiberias.
In 614, during the entry of the Moors in Israel, the Church was destroyed by the Persians. After the destruction , the site of the church became unknown for almost 1,800 years. In 1882, a group of archaeologists discovered the mosaics and re-determined that the site was indeed the original site of the church built by Joseph of Tiberias. In 1888, the site was acquired by the GermanCatholic Society for Palestine (Palästina-Verein der Katholiken Deutschlands). The whole area was excavated until 1932. These excavations resulted to rediscover other mosaic floors from the 5th-century church, which was also found to be constructed on the foundations of the original 4th century church.
Since 1939 the property has been administered by the Benedictines (yes, the same order running the St. Scholastica’s schools in the Philippines). The current church (as seen above) was inaugurated in 1984. It was built to the same floor plan as the 5th-century Byzantine church. German architects Anton Goergen and Fritz Baumann designed a simple, modest building in a somewhat neo-Byzantine style, which eventually became the official face of the modern church.
The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
We only had thirty minutes to explore the Church of the Multiplication because our guide wanted us to experience three more sites in the Northern Territory. Less than 200 meters away sits the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, where Jesus is traditionally believed to have feasted with his disciples after the resurrection. The same site is also traditionally believed to be the very site where Peter was reinstated by Jesus as the chief among his followers. And it was on a black rock adjacent the church and overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus was believed to have requested Peter to lead his Church and be the shepherd to His flock (John 21).
The Mensa Christi (Table of Christ) is found in this Church. As earlier stated, this place is traditionally believed to be a favorite “hang-out” place of Jesus and his apostles. They ate breakfast, lunch, dinners, even snacks and supper at the site.
In theology, it is held that the primacy of Peter is a basis for the primacy of the pope as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic doctrine names Peter as its first pope. And in the doctrine, it holds that the pope has authority delegated from Jesus to rule over His entire Church. This belief makes a distinction between the personal prestige of Peter and the supremacy of the office of the pope which Catholics believe Jesus instituted in the person of Peter.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is stated that Peter’s primacy is: “Moved by the grace of the Holy Spirit and drawn by the Father, we believe in Jesus and confess: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On the rock of this faith confessed by St. Peter, Christ built his Church” (No. 424) and it is based on the biblical narrative where: “Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Christ, the “living Stone”, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it” (No. 552).
The Sea of Galilee was so tranquil. I am not religious and in fact, I have not practiced Catholicism for almost 20 years now. However, there was something about the site, especially the view of the sea the attribution of the sacred, and the historical images of Jesus and Pater that make it really, really transcendental (for lack of a better word). The space invited me to contemplate, to witness Jesus walking in the waters and I, as a disciple. It was strange but it made me so grateful about life. When I touched the waters, there was “electricity.” I was reminded of these lines from the musical Billy Elliot: “I suppose it’s like forgetting, losing who you are; But at the same time something makes you whole.” I felt transported in time and made me realize that in our small ways, we are all invited by Jesus to be fishers of men: to take care of everyone and lead each other to the right path.
In the next post, I will be sharing my experience in Capernaum and the Church of the Beatitudes.