Bernardo M. Villegas
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Following the Footsteps of Christ (Part 3)

          The first Luminous mystery is the Baptism of Our Lord in the River Jordan.  There are five different locations where, according to various traditions, Jesus was baptized by St. John the Baptist.  We were brought by our tourist guide to a modern site commemorating the event at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.  We were in an expansive baptismal place constructed on the river bank adjoining certain facilities which comprise a large car park, snack bar and other commercial establishments.  The River is split into half between the Jewish and the Palestinian sections.  Some of my companions were bold enough to dip their bare feet in 3 degree Centigrade temperature.  Even more impressive were   some families (most probably Baptists) who were dunking their members in the middle of the river in some form of a baptismal rite.

         During a separate trip, we went to Cana where the first miracle was performed by Our Lord in a wedding feast.  We visited the Franciscan Church of the Wedding Feast.  Descending to the crypt of the church, we saw a commemorative water pot which approximated the vessels into which the stewards were asked by Our Lady to pour water so that they could be transformed into wine by Jesus Christ.  We were gratified to meet the nuns who are taking care of this church.  They were Filipina nuns coming from Cebu.  Close by is the Greek Orthodox Church of the Wedding Feast, built in the shape of a Greek cross and surmounted by a distinctive dome.  We were told that many couples renew their married vows in these churches. 

         It was our visit to Capernaum that reminded of the third luminous mystery:  the preaching of the Kingdom and call to conversion.  The town is a partially excavated archaeological site and has some prominence because it was adopted by Jesus as his “home town” after he was driven out of Nazareth by his relatives and town folks.  Capernaum became the center from which He preached the Kingdom of God and where He chose to carry out the major part of his ministry.  As reported by Wareham and Gill, the two main features of Capernaum are the partly reconstructed late fourth-century synagogue and a late twentieth century church  erected over the site of a home which the Franciscans claim to have been the house of Peter.  When in 1968 more intensive work on rebuilding the Church was undertaken, archaeologists discovered the “Peter House” under the Byzantine octagonal church.  In 1968 more intensive work commenced.  The Franciscan archaeologists, who have carried out a very thorough study of the site, believe that the Byzantine Church was built over the family home of Peter and that here Jesus often stayed.  The site is at the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It was close to dusk when we arrived at Peter House.  Many of us decided to sit by the lake and make our mental prayer, meditating on the many events in the life of Our Lord along those sacred grounds.

         The trip to Mount Tabor introduced us to the dome-shaped mountain rising 1,500 feet above the Plain of Jezreel.  This is the setting of the fourth luminous mystery, the Transfiguration of Our Lord.   Since the fourth century, this mountain has been venerated as the traditional site of the Transfiguration, where Jesus revealed his divinity to the apostles Peter, James and John.  It was a rainy day and a thick fog covered the mountain.  We thought it was an appropriate setting that replicated the cloud which cast a shadow over the three apostles as they heard a voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”  It was not difficult to picture Jesus Christ speaking with Moses and Elijah.  While on top of the mountain, we felt like repeating what Peter said to Our Lord: “Master, it is good that we are here. Shall we make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. To honor these two prophets, there are two chapels under the west towers, one dedicated to Moses and the other to Elijah.

         For the site for the fifth luminous mystery, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, there are two contenders.  From what we could gather from our guide, the more probable one is on Mount Zion, the high ground outside the Zion Gate in the south-west corner of the Old City of Jerusalem.  There is a tradition that the Last Supper was celebrated in an “Upper Room” in this area.  It seems more likely that this is the same place where on the first Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the frightened apostles.  This could also have been the place where the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost.  In the fifth century, a large church was built in this place.  It was known as the Mother of all the Churches because of the great significance for Christians of the place, where, at the last Supper, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles.

         The other church contending to contain the “upper room” where the Holy Eucharist was instituted by Christ is the Church of St. Mark that belongs to the Syrian Orthodox Church.  It is built on the site of the house of the mother of St. John Mark, author of the second Gospel.  According to Wareham and Gil, “the building dates from the Crusader period but much restoration has been carried out since the beginning of the eighteenth century.”  We were impressed with a number of religious paintings, especially an ancient portrait on parchment of the Virgin Mary which the Syrians claim was painted by St. Luke himself.  They also believe that the Mother of God was baptized by the Holy Apostles within the original house of St. Mark.  It should not be a surprise that it is not easy to verify the exact location of some of the events in the life of Christ since Jerusalem has been razed to the ground several times over the last two thousand years:  first by Titus the Roman Emperor in AD 70; rebuilt by Hadrian as a  typical Roman provincial town in 135 AD; reconstructed as a Christian city by Constantine, the Roman Emperor, in 330 AD; destroyed once again, with the exception of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, by the Persians; then controlled nearly 500 years by the Muslim Arabs; captured and rebuilt by the crusaders who in turn were defeated by Saladin, the Muslim leader in 1517 AD; then conquered by the Turks in 1517, who remained in control for the next 400 years;  colonized for  the British by General Allenby in 1917 with the authority of the League of Nations; partitioned  by the United Nations between Israel and Jordan in 1948, paving the way  for the State of Israel to  be inaugurated  in 1948; and the Six Day War between the  Arabs and the Jews, resulting in the Israeli occupation of the “West Bank” and the “Gaza Strip”.  No wonder, a few of the alleged sites of certain events in the life of Christ are more commemorative rather than actually historical.  (To be continued).