John Paul II Center fellows reflect on trip to Nazareth, Israel

The John Paul II Center’s Russell Berrie Cohort XII traveled to Israel this month on a study tour, where they studied Judaism at the Shalom Hartman Institute, visited museums such as Yad Vashem, and saw holy sites of all three monotheistic religions.

Below are reflections by Reverend James Miriago, a Pentecostal minister from Kenya, and Deacon Floyd Gatana of Papua New Guinea, about the visit to Nazareth, Israel:

Reverend James Miriago’s reflection:

Nazareth is one of the oldest and loveliest cities in Israel. From the explanation of our guide Mr. Gilad, Nazareth means a “branch” of a tree. The city is situated in the northern part of Israel about two hours drive from Jerusalem. Nazareth is divided into two parts, the old city, and the cosmopolitan city with its unique and strong unifying cultures that seem to coexist with super cultures.

On arrival, we went first on top of the mountain and had a beautiful view of the entire city and villages around. Consequently, our guide explained in detail the surrounding villages and the transformation that has taken place since the first century until now. Nazareth is surrounded by beautiful mountains and also the sea of Galilee. It is beautiful with lots of caves lining the Jordan River bank, which pours its water into the sea of Galilee. In the mind of each and every one of us, we tried to imagine how a small, marginalized village of Nazareth could turn into the desire for the whole world.

Our guide Gilad said Nazareth was once a small, isolated village in ancient times and very poor. It is believed to have been the home of Joseph and his wife Mary. As we walked through the corridors of the old city of Nazareth, we arrived at the big Basilica. On the left side stands the statue of the blessed Mary, and on her feet, she steps on the head of a snake. We entered the Basilica of the Annunciation, which was established on the site believed to be a place where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will conceive and give birth to a child through the help of the Holy Spirit. The lower part of the church is designated as a minor Basilica and considered sacred by Christian traditions. The upper part has a beautiful mosaic and a gold floor that Gilad said represents the transfiguration story. This basilica is under the control of the Franciscans who discovered what was excavated to be the presence of a Jewish Christian synagogue and pieces of small stones. All this reminded us of the reflection of the true biblical stories that is now made a reality in our sights.

Afterward, we left and visited Canaan, where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine, at a wedding feast. According to Christian understanding, Jesus’ first miracle signifies the sanctity of marriage. This site at Canaan is now utilized by Christians for weddings and wedding vow renewals.

I was fortunate to have this great privilege to visit Nazareth and experience significant sites connected to my faith. I want to raise this question as a reflection: Why did God choose this little poor village of all the places in Israel? This village was looked down on, to an extent, as Nathanael had to ask, what good can come out of Nazareth? (see John 1:46)

Why did God choose Nazareth a poor town and a peasant carpenter as Joseph and his betrothed poor lady, Mary? The setting of the two couples and the story of Nazareth has enriched my spiritual journey. On the reflection of Nazareth, Joseph, and Mary the mother of Jesus, visiting this place has enriched theological perspective that will continually shape my spiritual journey and understanding of God, and His kingdom.

Deacon Floyd Gatana’s reflection:

Nazareth is in the northern part of Israel, 30 kilometers west of the Sea of Galilee. It is known to be the place of Joseph and Mary, as noted in the Bible. It is the town where Jesus grew up and spent most of his time with his parents. It is also known to be the place where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation.

Today one cannot imagine what the town was like during the time of Jesus, considering the modern existence of the city. But there is something unique that one can feel about Nazareth today. In the near surroundings of the city we have few significant spots mentioned in the Bible. The annunciation church, St. Joseph Church and the Mount of Precipice, located just outside the city. These holy places give a significant atmosphere to the place.

One experiences in Nazareth a place that is simple and calm. It is moving because the place welcomes and unites people in the spirit of the Holy family. Nazareth is a place where one can contemplate the life of the Holy family and what it teaches.

Jesus learned everything from His parents in Nazareth. It is a place that offers different spirituality one can learn and take. Today the spirit of Nazareth is unique because of what it offers to its visitors – appreciating the holy sites and breathing the spirit of the Holy family that once lived in that place.