Many gathered in Capernaum on Saturday, October 17, for the Franciscans’ annual pilgrimage. Certain buses from Jerusalem took advantage of the opportunity and they also stopped at the nearby sanctuary of the Primacy of Peter in Tabgha; pilgrims got to dip their feet in the water and admire the Sea of Galilee underneath the sun-lit sky.
Pilgrims of the day, parishioners, Franciscans and volunteers were welcomed by Br. Luca Panza, the sanctuary’s guardian. Three friars live in this monastery and care for it as well as for pilgrims coming from the world over. Recent renovations have in fact allowed them to welcome even more pilgrims. The benches that were installed in front of the lake give people the perfect setting to pray while admiring the same landscapes upon which Christ and the apostles also gazed.
Most Franciscan sanctuaries celebrate a solemn feast day, around which pilgrimages are organized. This was not the case for Capernaum. However, for the last three years, one Saturday in October is completely dedicated to it in order to remember Jesus’ presence, as well as his preaching and miracles in the place where they were carried out. The feast takes place in three parts: first, the congregation goes to the lake in order to recall Jesus’ coming to Capernaum from Nazareth, as well as his invitation to conversion and his calling Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him (Matthew 4: 12-22). The crowd then processes while singing throughout the ruins of the city, near the synagogue where Christ delivered his sermon about the bread of life, an image of the Eucharist (John 6: 25-59). Later on, the mass in Arabic takes place at Peter’s house, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick people (Luke 4:38-41).
In his homily, Br. Michel Shawki highlighted the importance of the city of Capernaum in the Gospel. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and he grew up in Nazareth and died in Jerusalem, and it is in this city, on Lake Tiberias that he spent most of his public life. A church dating back to the fifth or sixth century was found at the site, as well as a synagogue from the Herodian period. The Custody bought the land in the early twentieth century and it carried out excavations that led to the discovery of Peter’s house.
At the end of the celebration, which was livened up by Custody’s choir, the Custos—Pierbattista Pizzaballa—who was also the presider, blessed fruit baskets, and then distributed them to the faithful. The grapes, clementines, apples were a symbol to everyone present of God’s goodness through the gifts of his creation. The meal and refreshments served after mass themselves also served to remind us of the Franciscans’ sense of hospitality and sharing.