Destination: Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee (Israel)

Today, I begin to finally document some of my international travels.  People aren't calling me Worldwide Wes yet but I've been to some fascinating places.  

Fall 2012 took me to Israel as part of a theology class at Notre Dame.  Entitled "The Church After Vatican II," we were traveling to the Middle East to examine how the relations of the Catholic Church had changed in relation to the Jewish faith.  

Basilica of the Annunciation. 

But that took up basically a day of our trip.  The rest of the week was jam-packed with a) Catholic sightseeing (aka pilgrimage), and b) examining the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  Beginning in Nazareth, up in northern Israel, we explored a number of amazing sites, beginning with the Basilica of the Annunciation (right).  This is the site upon which Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, pronouncing that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God.

This was the first holy site we visited.  I quickly began to realize that Catholics, when attempting to preserve holy sites, always build giant churches RIGHT OVER THE SITES.  Example A: here's the interior of the basilica. Lovely enough church.

But then you snoop around, find the staircase, and bam! It's the cave where either Mary lived, or where she was visited. Or maybe both!

Actually, I was initially skeptical about the authenticity of many of the sites, but there is solid historical evidence that does indeed suggest that Mary and her folks did live here.

After long days of sightseeing, I suggested to our group that some early morning yoga might be fun.  Despite the support from the night before, no one accompanied me for sunrise salutations (although some people did get up to see the sun, and then went back to snooze).  This was one of my themes for senior year - attempts to recruit people for yoga, hearing plenty of "Yeah!" responses, and then, NOTHING.*  But I did get this cool picture.

After strolling through the town and eating/drinking local specialties, we moved on to the Sea of Galilee and Copernaum. There were a number of stunning churches here.  Here are two of my favorites - the Church of the Beatitudes (first picture) and the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

And this was right on the beach. However, I can say this firsthand, it is pretty tough to walk on the water.

The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes was also very cool. It is well-noted for its famous mosaics (which I got terrible pictures of).

Finally, we went to Capernaum, Peter's hometown and one of Jesus' main hangouts.  I loved this site, as you could clearly see how it might have operated as a fishing village 2000 years ago.  The ruins of the synagogue and of Peter and Paul's home were highlights.

Overall, Israel was a bit of a tricky place to visit.  On the one hand, there were so many beautiful things you wanted to see and photograph, but there are so many spiritually important sites that it is crucial to maintain reverence.

We had two film majors accompany us on the trip, and here is one of the videos they produced.  Much of it takes place in Jerusalem, but it gives a nice feel to the whole adventure.

Next time, I will try to complete my Israel chronicles and document Jerusalem.

*my buddy Kevin was a great yoga partner, but he wasn't Israel with us.