Come and See Where I Lived

By Fr Daniel O’Connor

Fr O’Connor at the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem.

The author is from New Zealand and was ordained in 1986. This article first appeared in the newsletter of the Pakistan Mission Unit of the Columbans. For many years he has been a long-distance runner.

As part of my Silver Jubilee sabbatical year I spent some time last June 2012 in the Holy Land. Descending out of the dark sky into the lights of Tel Aviv was symbolic. The next day
excitement increased as I boarded a bus for Nazareth. Being an adventurous Columban I had a wonderful, humble privilege of walking along the places that Jesus walked, called ‘Hiking the Jesus Trail’ and ‘The Jesus Marathon’.

As I walked through the alleyways and steps of the old city of Nazareth I reminisced that this was where Jesus played, walked, laughed, shed tears and worked for the first 30 years of his life on earth. Seeing children of olive-colored skin playing soccer on the side of the street reminded me that Jesus would have looked like them and played with his friends in those areas and drawn water from ‘Mary’s Well’.

It was a humble privilege to concelebrate Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation. On the road to Mount Precipice the traditional site of the cliff that an angry mob attempted to throw Jesus over, after his bold proclamation in the Nazareth synagogue I too experienced some anxiety after some interrogation. With pack on back I walked over miles and miles of hills and villages on the ‘Jesus Trail.’ I roughed it and went off course a few times, yet had captivating and treasured times beating the feet through Nazareth, Zippori, Cana, Tiberius, Tabgha, Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Mount Precipice, Mount Tabor and others. In Cana I slept on a roof, keeping an eye open for safety reasons. Then early in the morning after praying the Mass with the Syrian Franciscan priest, ate a healthy breakfast with a glass of Cana wine which gave me energy to head for Capernaum and Tiberius. In Jesus’ time Capernaum was where he was based for the three years of his public ministry. At that time its population was estimated at 15,000.

Part of the Israeli West Bank Barrier

I expected a town with places for food and accommodation but no such luck. There were only a couple of churches with a few people living near them. The outer gate of the Franciscan church was closed for the evening. I retraced my steps and begged a shopkeeper on the banks of Galilee lake/sea to open up again, to which he kindly obliged. I slept that night on Mother Earth with some fear of dogs barking yet recalling the words of Jesus: ‘Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests but the Son on Man has no place to lay his head’.

Early next morning when the outer gate opened I entered and knocked on the door of the house. After some time a Franciscan priest opened the door and eventually asked, ‘But
where do you live?’ I replied that people asked Jesus, ‘Where do you live? And I have come to see where he lived’.

After a refreshing swim in the waters of Galilee it was time to take the road to Jerusalem. I felt some sadness on ascending a hill and looking back towards the waters of Galilee and Capernaum recalling that Jesus himself must also have felt that parting deeply as he took the road to Jerusalem. A puff of wind on my face on climbing to the top of the lovely Mount Tabor, the traditional place of the Transfiguration, was enough of feeling the presence of God who comes also in the gentle breeze. I recalled the words, ‘This is my son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him’’

On trekking from Jerusalem towards Bethlehem I was confronted in my tracks by the high wall which weaves its way through parts of Israel and Palestine. I felt much tension there, though on showing my passport I was permitted to continue on my way to Bethlehem. There I waited my turn to touch the traditional place where Jesus was born. A walk to the Shepherd’s Field was invigorating. ‘You need a taxi to go back to Bethlehem’, I was told. I opted for the walk, like the shepherds and the sheep!

Spending time journeying through the Old City of Jerusalem was captivating. The walled city, The Via Dolorosa with the people dressed in different cultural/religious garb was a most interesting place. A few precious minutes in the small tomb where Jesus is said to have been laid and the place of Resurrection and I reflected: ‘Tis it and I am here’. I am here in the sacred place of the Mystery of Life, of God, Death and Resurrection.

Then through Gethsemane, the Church of the Pater Noster and after many inquires I found the Church of the Ascension, a small run-down round building with only two friendly young Muslim men there. It was, though, an exciting missionary experience feeling once again empowered in the missionary call to ‘go to the ends of the earth and proclaim the Good News to all Creation’.

It was truly a wonderful blessing to be able to respond to the invitation from Jesus, ‘Come and see where I live’. The reflected experiences God has gifted me with have made a deep impression on me for which I am eternally grateful.

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