This morning I went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. I like saying that. What average morning starts like that? But after a full day of traveling to the Holy Land Wednesday, the dive into the water was refreshing, welcome, and very, very salty. I arrived safely in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and touring began Thursday with a very rainy tour of Jaffa, followed by a drive to Caesara to see Herod's Palace and Old Caesara. Then on to Nazareth, where one of the stops included a visit with Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Macuzzo, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel. A very welcoming host, the bishop took time to speak with us and describe the Catholic Church in Israel. He has a great concern and love for Catholics in the Holy Land -- and he is not alone. There are a number of religious congregations taking care of the pilgrimage churches in Israel, including the Franciscan community that cares for the Basilica of the Annunciation (just around the corner from the Bishop's residence).
With this tour and these conversations, I am being woken up - just like I was this morning with my saltwater swim - to the realities of the Catholic church in the Holy Land. There are a number of difficulties and challenges with a pilgrim church where, it is said, 80 per cent of the people at Sunday Mass are tourists and won't be there to support the parish on any other day. But there are also many privileges, including the presence of a number of priests and religious to guide parishioners in their prayer, the visual inspiration of being in Jesus' homeland, and the layers of history that make up this Holy Land.
These are not necessarily the realities of the North American Church, but they are worth the exploration and consideration. And so is that Mediterranean swim.