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Franciscans gather at Capernaum in pilgrimage to the city of Jesus

More than 2,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims gathered at Capernaum on Saturday (Oct. 13) amongst the ruins of this 2,000-year-old Galilee fishing town in a joyous yet solemn multilingual sunset service commemorating the life and work of Jesus at this site. The pilgrimage is planned as the first in a new annual tradition to be held on the second Saturday in October, according to Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land – the highest ranking member of the Franciscan order in Israel

The ceremony began at the lakeside of the Sea of Galilee, and then moved past the House of Peter to the site of the ancient syngogue where Jesus preached. The mass celebrated the sacraments instituted by Jesus during his three years in Capernaum: the eucharist, reconciliation, and anointing of the sick.


The collection taken after the mass was designated for the Christian community in Syria, which is suffering great hardships in the grinding 20-month long civil war which has cost more than 32,000 lives in that country.


The decision to rededicate the Franciscan shrine at Capernaum was taken during the Franciscan Discretory meetings held in July 2011 when, at the recommendation of the Secretary of the Holy Places, three new annual pilgrimages to the site were fixed: The Feast of the Promise of the Eucharist, on the 3rd Friday of Easter; The Solemnity of St. Peter the Apostle, on June 29th; and The Solemnity of Capernaum, the City of Jesus, on the 2nd Saturday in October. The three new annual pilgrimages to Capernaum, “The City of Jesus”, commemorate three different salvific events: after his Baptism; after the arrest of John the Baptist at Machereus in Jordan; and before his departure for Jerusalem where he was crucified and resurrected.


The accounts in the New Testament regarding Jesus’ activities at Capernaum can be summarized into three stages: the preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God; the calling of the first apostles; and the miraculous healing of disease and forgiving of sins.
These Gospel passages are particularly linked to the Synagogue, the House of the Apostle Peter, and to the lakeshore.


“Through our celebrations, we intend to memorialize precisely this: faith in the Gospel, the call to follow Christ, the Sacramental life of the Church,” said Father Silvio de la la Fuente, Secretary General of the Holy Land.


“In addition, the solemnity occurs at the season marking the end of agricultural work; and for this, then, one should include thanking God for the fruit of the last annual harvest.”


According to Luke, Capernaum was the home of the apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, as well as the tax collector Matthew.
In Matthew 4:13 the town was reported to have been Jesus’ home. One Sabbath, he preached in the synagogue and healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean devil. Notably this story is the only one common between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke but not contained in the Gospel of Matthew.


Afterwards Jesus healed a fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. According to Luke 7:1-10, it is also the place where a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant.
Capernaum is also mentioned in Mark 2:1 as the location of the famous healing of the paralytic lowered through the roof to reach Jesus. According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus selected this fishing village as the center of his public ministry in the Galilee after he left the mountain hamlet of Nazareth (Matthew 4:12-17).

Capernaum had no obvious advantages over any other location around Lake Kinneret, so he probably chose it because it was the home of his first disciples, Simon (Peter) and Andrew. He also formally cursed the city, saying “You shall be brought down to Hades,” (Matthew 11:23) because of their lack of response to his teaching.
Indeed the town fell into ruin and was never rebuilt.

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Gil Zohar is a licensed tour guide and writes regularly for Travelujah – Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

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