Our senses full from the experience of Jerusalem and the mystery of our Christian faith, we headed north for the second part of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. (See first part in March 25 issue.)

We left the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and entered the less-crowded towns around the Sea of Galilee.
Our journey would fill in the missing pieces of the Christian story: understanding Mary and Joseph, as well as exploring the public ministry of Jesus. While studying the geography of the area and contemplating the humble beginnings of the apostles, disciples and the Holy Family, my faith grew.

The Fiat
As the bus slowed to turn off the highway, I saw the sign: Nazareth. All the Bible stories would be coming to life shortly. What would my eyes behold in this little town?

Entering the lower portion of the Basilica of the Annunciation, I prayed at the cave in the center of the church: the site of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance to the young virgin. Here, with the assent of Mary, the Word became flesh. Nine months before the world could see the Son, he was incarnate in this little place — all because of Mary’s fiat. What an example! What a call!

I found myself floored by the awesome things to be accomplished when people of faith cooperate with the will of God.

Climbing to the upper portion of the church, I found mosaics of Mary commissioned by nations across the globe. The differing styles, materials used and even postures of the Virgin reconfirmed my insights and highlighted the universality of answering “Yes” in order to do beautiful work for the Father.

Call and Mission
We began Thursday morning with a morning boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I had my doubts about this excursion when first perusing our pilgrimage itinerary, wondering if a spin on the water was merely a tourist trap.

I’m glad it was on the schedule.

In the Gospels, they speak of Christ rising early to pray at the water — this very same Sea of Galilee.

A deep peace resonated in my soul as the boat stopped in the middle of the sea and all became silent.

Biblical stories raced through my mind: I could imagine a raging storm arising, shaking a fishing boat. I looked at the barren, brown hills and envisioned the swine herd being sent off a cliff to the water below. And I saw crowds anxiously gathering on the banks to hear Jesus’ famous preaching.

As we exited the vessel, I imagined being approached by Jesus himself with his famous invitation: “Follow me.” It is the call of every Christian and a question for every day of our earthly journey.

There — on that ancient, holy ground — I renewed my resolve to continue to give my assent through my daily decisions and actions.

Living the Lessons
Arriving at the last stop of our weeklong journey, I shunned the taxi and opted to hike up Mount Tabor to the Church of the Transfiguration: It was an apt end to the Holy Land experience.

The silence our group voluntarily held during our ascent allowed my mind to begin to reflect on the blessings of the pilgrimage.

After 35 minutes, I passed under a tunnel and entered the black wrought-iron gates of the church grounds. Heading to the interior of the church, I admired the golden mosaic of Christ’s transfiguration. Ingeniously, the construction of the church is such that on the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6) the sun strikes a glass plate in the ground to gloriously illuminate it. It is hard to imagine the picture in greater glory.

Making our descent down the mountain, the sun was slowly setting. As the flaming ball took on orange and then fiery-red tones, it slowly disappeared, leaving us in darkness.

Like Peter, James and John, our group wished to “stay on the mountain” and keep basking in the glory and blessings of the Holy Land.

But we were called to move on.

As the sun set that last night of our journey, I knew we had been blessed and were called to go out and share our faith-filled trip.

Months later, I am still walking down that mountain, encouraged and strengthened by the gifts of that trip that help me to daily live my vocation.

Niki Kalpakgian
writes from San Diego.