In God’s Land: Nazareth and Mount of Transfiguration

21 09 2019

20th September 2019

We had early breakfast, by 6.30am to be precise, and departed for Nazareth by 7.20 am prompt. Nazareth has about 70,000 inhabitants today, but in the time of Jesus, it had just about 100 people. It is a two hour drive from the city of Jerusalem.

We took the shortest way; high way 6, because we needed to get there on time to see Nazareth and celebrate Mass is at 11 am at the Church of Annunciation.

Our mission is to visit Mary’s well; a well that ancient tradition says was frequently used by the Blessed Virgin Mary and the boy, Jesus. We also hope see the workshop of St. Joseph, and the cliff from which the people of Nazareth wanted to push Jesus down in an act that is best described as an attempted murder. After Mass we intend to visit the ancient village of Cana where Jesus turned water into wine at the insistence of his mother and finally we will end our tour with a visit to mount Tabor, the mountain where Jesus transfigured and his clothes became dazzling white, in the presence of his apostles and with apparition of Moses and Elijah. (Mark 9:3)

As you can see it’s a tight schedule for one day thus the early rising.


350m above sea level, Nazareth was where everything started. God took flesh in the womb of a woman, the most pure womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lk 1:26-38). On the way, we saw the Chapel of our Lady of the freight, to commemorate Mary seeing the people of Nazareth trying to cast Jesus into the cliff. (Lk 4:29)

In the time of our Jesus, there were just about 30 families living in Nazareth. Today, Nazareth is the biggest Arab town owned by Israel. Most of the inhabitants are Muslims.

We entered Nazareth using the Via Maris (the way of the see), a high way that begins in Memphis in the delta of the Nile towards the lake of Galilee. We passed through the valley of the “seed of God” also called Jezreel, very fertile plain with abundance of agriculture. From the bus we saw rows and rows of cultivated fields. Agriculture is the highest export of Israel and a huge source of income. We passed through the land of Gideon
Finally we left the plains of Jezreel up to Nazareth.

Story of two Churches and Mary’s well

In Nazareth, there are two Churches of the annunciation. One belongs to the Greek Orthodox, who claims that the first apparition of Arc Angel Gabriel to Mary took place at the well whilst she was fetching water; she took fright and ran to her house. It was at the second apparition that she was finally calm enough to listen to the Angel and thus the orthodox built a Church near the well, and to give tourist something to see, they diverted the spring that fed the original Mary’s well to the Church, so Mary’s well is no longer flowing because this.

Pictures of Mary’s well

Mary’s well
Our guide, Oliver explains why Mary’s well is dry

Sad and unfortunately, this the only spring of fresh water in Nazareth, and they are using it up all for themselves.
We stopped to look the dry well of Mary, before proceeding to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, at least to have a look at the original water of the well.

Pictures of the Visit to the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation

Pictures ate the courtyard of the Greek Orthodox church of the annuciation
Seated inside the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation
Roof of the Church

The grievance between the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox goes back many century and many versions of the conflicts bear the bias of who is telling the story. Some say that the bone of contention was that the fourth crusaders sacked Byzantium, stole the true cross, crown of thorns, which led to the mutual excommunications between the two branches.

The synagogue that almost murdered Jesus

Next, we visited the 1st century synagogue where the boy Jesus and his father and mother often went to pray. It was a stone throw from Mary’s house. It was here that they wanted to throw him off the cliff after he had read the scroll. The story is told in Luke

It reads:
“Jesus returned to his hometown Nazareth, from Capernaum, and he went to the synagogue. The synagogue official gave him the scroll to read, they didn’t like his interpretation and they tried to cast him of a cliff.” Luke (4:16-29)

The Jews had a custom they called Bar mitzvah in which every boy who comes of age is given the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah to read and afterwards asked to explain or interpret the verse he had read for all in the synagogue. If he passes, he is included as one of the ten that can start a synagogue. Jesus was given the scroll and the people didn’t like how he interpreted it and wanted to kill him.

Church of the Annunciation

When we left the synagogue, we went straight the authentic Church of the Annunciation, which is next to the synagogue. According to an ancient tradition passed on by some Fathers of the Church, some relations of Jesus were still living in Nazareth in the 2nd century had preserved both the room in which the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and the house of the Holy Family. There are written testimonies of pilgrims who visited the house in Nazareth in the 4th century when it was already a place venerated by Christians, complete with an altar.

Pictures of the Church of the Annunciation

Catholic Church of the Annunciation
Introduction from Saxum
Walls surrounding the Church is covered with beautiful paintings of Mary from all corner of the world
Different depictions of Mary inside the Church
Side view of the Church
Sculptor of Mary as a young girl over the entrance

The Catholic Church of Annunciation the biggest, most magnificent church in the Middle East. It was built over the site of an earlier Byzantine-era and then Crusader-era church. Inside, the lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. Scientific tests on the house in Loreto matches the one here, in Nazareth, likewise the graffito written on the walls and traces of oil found on the wall dating back to the time of Jesus are identical in both places.

On the front door of the Church, there is a depiction of the major events in Jesus’ life.

Pictures of the Front door of the Church

Inscriptions at the door
Designs on the wall
Pilgrims visiting the Church
Magnificent Image of our lady at the Annunciation from Philipines
magnificent depictions at the door ” the life of Mary”
Inside the upper floor
Church of the Annunciations is the biggest church in the middle east

We recited the Salve Regina inscribed on the wall on both sides of the main door. Above the door, there is a bronze sculptor of Mary as a young girl, looking towards Calvary, Jerusalem

Then on the arcades of the Church, there are paintings of Mary from different countries of the world; Germany, Japan, Philippines and so on.
In 1964, when the Church was being built, the Pope Paul VI wondered if it was necessary to have such a big Church, in such a small town, but today Christians of Nazareth are grateful because they didn’t know that they would become a minority

The Church consists of two floors. The ground floor is at the level of the grotto of the 1st century house where Mary lived, and the upper floor of the Church has many stained glass windows and paintings of Mary donated from every country in the world.

The altar piece is a magnificent painting of heaven with all the saints and martyrs walking towards eternal happiness with Mary depicted in an amazing representation as giving birth to the Church.

Pictures of the upper floor

Preparing for Mass at the Upper floor
dome of the Church

On the ground floor is original room that Mary was in when the Angel visited her. Its white stone wall blackened with age and behind a small stair case going to an upper floor

Pictures of ground floor and grotto of Mary’s house

Loswer floor, house of Mary 1st Century
Reaching up to take a shot
Standing in front of Mary’s house
Panoramic view of Mary’s house
Shot at the circle from which Mary’s house can be seen from upper floor

Nazareth means the of spring water. It is amazing how insignificant this little town had been before the birth of Jesus, for instance, the Old Testament never mentioned Nazareth, neither does Josephus, the Jewish historian, who is reputed to record anything important to the Jews. It is marvelous that God has chooses such a lowly place to come down to meet us. This should encourage everyone one who feels left behind, that God chooses the lowly and enfeebled things of this world to confound the rich and the powerful.

We attended Mass at the upper floor of the Church of Annunciation by 11 am

Pictures of the Mass

At exactly 12 noon, the bells of the Church of the Annunciation started ringing out melodies and the scene of the annunciation was reenacted as the Franciscans gave a benediction from inside the house of Nazareth while we stood aside and watched.

Pictures of Noon Benediction

Like we said earlier, this Church is the biggest Church in the Middle East, and it therefore the envy of all. In 2002, Muslims raised money to build a big mosque directly in front of the Church of the annunciation. The intended that mosque would be bigger and over shadow her glory.

The day the foundation, the fundamentalist Muslims were gleefully shouting in unison “Today Nazareth, tomorrow the world!”
But things quickly went out of control, and riots broke out, many Christian shops were burnt and looted causing the Israeli government intervene and cancel the project, forcing the Muslim to stop the constructions and uprooted the foundation already begun.

The city of Nazareth is run by Muslim families, thus sanitation is poor, laws are not enforced, and the town is badly run. In the ottoman where here for 400 yrs and they really didn’t care about the local population, so no hospitals where built. Thanks to foreign countries that mercifully came and built and built hospitals, there might not have been any hospitals in Nazareth today.

There’s a minaret and a mosque on the highest point in Nazareth. How it happened was that 23 yrs ago, a family asked if they could hire this highest point, and the owner said yes, the family lived there for a few months and then gradually built a mosque on top of the peak. The problem is that once a mosque is built, it’s impossible to remove it. That place becomes holy ground. That’s why the foundation of the one that they attempted to build over the Church of annunciation had to be removed. So they built the mosque by stealth.

After spending time in the Church of the annunciation, we walked over to another Church, called the Church of St. Joseph. It is said that the workshop in which Joseph the carpenter and the foster father of Jesus was located here. What we saw were ritual baths and what looked like a place for baptism. The workshop must have been converted into a church during the first century and hence the ritual baths.

Pictures of the Church of St Joseph

Ritual births in the Church of St. Joseph


We finally left Nazareth about 1 pm to go to Cana. We passed by the ancient Roman town of Sephoris. This town is not mentioned in bible but was very rich and close to Nazareth. Perhaps, some of Joseph’s clients lived there since it was just 3km from Nazareth and perhaps Jesus used to accompany his father there to make deliveries. Sephoris was rich Roman city, and Jesus must have seen luxurious life, huge balcony and opulence, in contrast to his cave like home in Nazareth.

Pictures on the road to Cana

Pilgrims who came to renew there marriage vows

When we entered the city of Cana, we saw that all the shops here advertise “the Wine of Cana,” the Miracle of Jesus in Cana. Archeologically, there is no certainty of the authenticity of this Cana and as it where, many other Canas have cropped up, with competing claims of being the authentic Cana of scriptures. Still, it was good to be here.

Pictures of Church of Cana

Underneath the Church at Cana

As we were at Church of Cana, a group of people came to renew their marriage vows.
Cana is about the superabundance of the grace of sacraments. We bought the wine of Cana, sweet wine

Mt. Tabor

When we left the Church of Cana, our next destination was Mount Tabor.
Tabor is on the outskirts of Cana and before we could leave Cana and get to the outskirts, we encountered lots of traffic because the Muslims were coming from the mosque and school children closing from school.

Pictures of the road to Mt. Tabor

Mt Tabor
Tabor and surrounding district
On the bus up Tabor
Church of Transfiguration at the back ground

We passed by the Bedouin town of Shibli is set at the foot of Mount Tabor. It consists of a single clan, and everyone has the same surname and they intermarry between themselves. This is not only a health hazard but a logistic nightmare for a postman who has to deliver parcels to them.

We had a quick lunch at the base of Mt. Tabor before boarding taxis that took us up to the peak of Mt Tabor. Tabor is 640m above sea level and this is where Jesus transfigured before three of his apostles, Peter James and John. Moses and Elijah appear during the transfiguration. This is also where in the Old Testament, Deborah fought and killed the Canaanites.

Church of Mt. Tabor

Nowhere in the gospel is the Tabor mentioned, yet Jesus chose this mount to display his glory to the apostles to strengthen them for his coming passion and death. The Byzantines have originally built a church at this peak. The crusaders also built a church here. They were all knocked down by the Muslims until the Franciscans came and bought the property and gave the contract to the same architect that built Shepherd fields, and many others churches

Pictures of Inside the Church of Mt. Tabor

Entering the Church of Transfiguration
A group of south African pilgrims having Mass
Painting of Moses on the Roof of the Church
Views from the hieght of Tabor
Church of transfiguration

On the left inside the church, is the Chapel of Moses with Ray of light.
Then the Chapel of Elijah, with his animals.
At the bottom of the Church, a beautiful image of Jesus transfiguration. On the longest day, the light shines in on this image and it shimmering and beautiful. The roof is made of alabaster, because the architecture wanted people to be transfigured.

It is said that every year, a batch of young drug addicts come here from Italy, working and praying to be transformed.

Why did the Lord choose to transfigure himself in a place that was so far from where he lived and required a strenuous physical effort over a long trail?” Blessed Alvaro gives the answer himself, saying “that it was probably so that we could see with our own eyes that to reach God, we also have to put in a human effort that is physical sometimes.”

In God’s Land: Bethlehem and The Shepherd’s Fields

5 09 2019

“But you, 0 Bethlehem-Ephrathaha, least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and then the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel.”…Micah 5:2

The saying above was from prophet Micah, a Jewish prophet who lived 700 BC. Today we visited Bethlehem; the place where this prophesy came true 2000 years later.

 Bethlehem is in Palestinian territory, and crossing from the Jewish quarter to the Palestine, we cross the border, from Israel into the West Bank, with border walls and armed check point. We had to carry our passports.

Our first stop was at the Shepherd’s field, where the Angels appeared to the Shepherds announcing to them the good news of the birth of the Son of God.

The Sheppard’s caves

“West bank and Gaza are deserts and like all deserts, temperatures spike by day and by night. During winter, things get worse, and at night, it’s not uncommon for it to snow.

The Sheppard herding their sheep, foraging for what little grass they can find by day had to take shelter in caves at nights or freeze to death.

 One winter night, an Angel appeared to some Sheppard and said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger

These hard, rough living men who would give their lives to save one sheep, tough looking, and yet gently carrying the wounded sheep on their shoulders, caring for them until healthy.  The Angels came to announce them, the birth of the True Shepherd

During Mass at Sheppard’s Cave

After Mass we went to small chapel by the caves, called the Chapel of the Angels. We also went to inspect the ruins of 1st Century Byzantine Church by the side.

Outside the Chapel of The Angels, Sheppard’s Field

Remains of 1st century Byzantine Church near the caves and the Chapel of Angel
A look at Palestinian homes at Bethlehem from the Shepard fields
Exterior view of the Chapel of Angels
Taking pictures behind the Chapel of Angels

Inside the Chapel of the Angels

Bethlehem: the Church of the Nativity

We continue to thread on the footprints of Christ.

While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne.

Our next visit was to the Church of Nativity, built on the rock on which Christ was born.

Door of humility

To enter the Church of the Nativity, one must stoop low because the door to this most holy site is very low. The story goes that in ancient times, robbers on horseback would ride into the church, snatching anything they can grab. So the door was made low so that a horse cannot enter.

Providentially, it became a good metaphor of how to reach God. To approach God we must stoop and come down from our high horse.  We must bow and admit that we do not have a monopoly of knowledge. Those who refuse to do this will not find God.

Outside the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Arriving the city of Bethlehem
Sites and sounds of the city of Bethlehem
Queing to enter the door of humility at the Church of Nativity

Inside the Church of Nativity

Columns inside the Chuch of Nativity
Queue of people waiting to enter the Nativity grotto
Getting nearer to the Nativity grotto

Crowd of people waiting to enter the Grotto of the Nativity

Line waiting to enter the Nativity grotto
At the tip of the entrance of the the Nativity Grotto

Inside the Grotto of the Nativity

O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.

The spot where Christ was born
Touching the Manger where Mary kept the infant Jesus
The star mark the spot
Kissing the spot where Jesus was born
Touching the spot where Jesus was born

Christ is unique, unlike Mohammed, he isn’t only a prophet, unlike Buddha, he is not just enlightened, unlike Socrates, he is not just a wise man; he is much more. He is God.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

In God’s Land : City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel

2 09 2019

Day 1: Arriving Jerusalem

The flight from Abuja to Addis Ababa was uneventful except for the one and half year old baby girl, who was my co-passenger. She was seated right beside me, looking at me with big round eyes filled with mischief. She was comfortably strapped in seat belt as we were about to take off. I was worried she would become frightened by the roaring of the aircraft as we took off, but she didn’t seem to be bothered at all and was busy making faces at me as the plane took off. She would put the index fingers of both hands in her mouth and show me her teeth and I would do the same and be rewarded with giggles and rolling over to her mother. Her mother, a young woman of about 35 was seated by the window was trying to catch some sleep, grateful that that someone was managing baby.

We had a brief stopover over at Aminu Kano Airport where some passengers disembarked and even more passengers came on board. I hadn’t been to Kano for more than twenty years and I looked out the plane windows, I had a faint hint of nostalgia

I grew up in Kano and left after the riots and religious killings of the 90’s. I was pleasantly surprised that among the disembarking passengers where Chinese and some southerners, men and women.

I couldn’t believe many southerners and even expatriates risked living in this place after all that happened. Perhaps things were not as bad as imagine.

We took the air shortly after and soon the cabin crew mostly young Ethiopian girls where bringing out things for lunch. It was standard flight meals: rice and chicken, even for baby diamond. They had no baby food. In any case the mother was there to help if the baby couldn’t finish.

Midway into the flight, the Diamond’s mom felt ill, complaining of headache. Lucky, I had some medicine which I gave her and told her that perhaps all she needed was to get some sleep. I continued distracting baby so that her mom could sleep, but I don’t think I succeeded.
Situation soon deteriorated as mom soon said she felt nausea. Frightened at the prospect of her going all over me, I volunteered to call on of the hostess and see if a doctor was on board.
The hostess soon returned with a sizzling bottle juice and a glass she poured out some and handed it to mother who sipped it and after a while I asked her how it was. She said she was feeling much better.

They say that time flies when you are having fun, and it flew like a jet

Time flew like a jet propelled rocket and we were soon at Addis Ababa
We started disembarking, mother asked me to help with baby since I had just a small hand luggage. I picked baby and was surprised that she wasn’t very light.

Mother and child where continuing to Thailand and there interconnecting flights their terminal was C5. We hurried to find it, and as we searched, baby was getting heavier and my arms were aching. I began to respect for mothers.

I considered myself fit, swim daily fir 2hr and yet a 1yr old baby was giving me a tough time. We finally found their terminal and sweating profusely, I handed her to mom who thanked me profusely.

I wished them a safe trip and proceeded to look for my terminal for my connection to Tel Aviv. I was standing scrutinizing the airline monitor when someone called my name. Spinning 360, I saw Pius, and the Nigerian contingent. We shook hands and I was grateful that I have found my team. Thanks to carrying that baby, I was exactly at the right place to be found, talk of children’s guardian Angels. In another 4 hours we landed at Tel Aviv airport, Israel. We then drove to the great Land of God: Jerusalem. A land where God lived .

Saxum Center 

After about 5 hr wait at the airport, a bus came to take us to Saxum Conference center. It is located in Jerusalem at Abu Ghosh The Saxum Visitor Center helps pilgrims to deepen their knowledge of the Holy Land through different multimedia resources in order to enrich each person’s Holy Land experience.

Saxum Visitors Center

Day 2 City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel
After Mass and breakfast, the group went on a tour of the city of Jerusalem by bus.

Here we enter the great city built by King David

At the gate of the city of David

Hezekiah Tunnel

Next, we experience a bit of the old Testament by climbing down the tunnel of Hezekiah. This tunnel was built in search of water for the old Testament Jews by their king, Hezekiah. Below is a the old Testament scriptural verse that talks about this tunnel

“As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Kings 20:20)

The Bible verses relating to a tunnel in Hezekiah’s time are these: 2 Kings 20:20

Climbing down Hezekiah’s tunnel

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