Pilgrimage sites in Galilee region visit Jesus’ early days

| Father Michael Van Sloan | June 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

The exterior of the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Galilee, Israel. Courtesy of Father Michael Van Sloun

Galilee is not only the name of a lake; it is also the name of a region in northern Israel. It is the area where Jesus grew up as a youngster, where he “advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52), and where he began his public ministry.


Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood and young adult years, and the Church of St. Joseph, built in 1914, honors the place where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived. The church is dwarfed by the Basilica of the Annunciation, which stands next door. The Church of St. Joseph is also called the Church of Nutrition because it is where Jesus was fed and raised as a child, or the Church of the Carpenter’s Shop or Joseph’s Workshop because it is where Joseph worked as a tradesman. Nazareth was a wholesome place to raise a child, a safe distance from Sepphoris, a Roman city, King Herod Antipas’ capital, and a hotbed of corruption and vice. There was a Jewish synagogue in Nazareth and the Holy Family would go there every Sabbath day.

Spiritual lessons   

The Holy Family spent many hours together, a reminder that we need to spend quality time with family. Mary and Joseph tried to keep Jesus away from bad people and bad situations, a reminder that we need to protect our children. Joseph was an industrious worker, a reminder that we need to apply ourselves to our tasks. The Holy Family prayed together at home each day and worshipped together at the synagogue each Sabbath, a reminder that Christian families need to pray together at home every day and go to Mass together every weekend.


According to the Gospel of John, Jesus began his public ministry at Cana (John 2:1-11). Cana is situated between Naza­reth, five miles to the southwest, and the Sea of Galilee, twelve miles to the northeast. Two churches commemorate the wedding feast and Jesus’ first miracle when he changed water into wine — the Latin or Roman rite church built in 1879 and the Greek Orthodox Church built in 1556. Jesus began his ministry by endorsing the institution of marriage, and his first act was to come to the aid of a troubled bride and groom. Cana is also where the Blessed Mother Mary declared: “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you” (John 2:5).

Spiritual lessons

Jesus upheld marriage as a permanent, life-long covenant or sacrament between husband and wife, and his followers are called to uphold the same biblical truth. Cana is an ideal place to renew wedding vows, and married couples are reminded that they should recommit to each other every day. Jesus came to the aid of distressed newlyweds, a reminder that when couples run into trouble, they should turn to Jesus in prayer for help. And as the servers obeyed Jesus’ orders, we are reminded to obey Jesus’ Gospel teaching.


According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus began his public ministry in Capernaum, a fishing village on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, and it served as the headquarters of his Galilean ministry. Highlights include the Church of St. Peter, completed in 1990, built directly above Peter’s house and the archaeological remains of a Byzantine Era octagonal church; a fourth century A.D. limestone synagogue built on the foundations of an earlier basalt synagogue, which dates back to the first century B.C., most likely the place where Jesus preached the first time and cured a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28); and the insulae, the stone foundations of the homes of the ancient village.

Spiritual lessons

Jesus taught with tremendous authority, like no one the people had ever heard before, and the people spread news about him by word-of-mouth. We need to let Jesus have authority over our lives and to spread news about him to family and friends, neighbors and co-workers. The people listened attentively to Jesus as he preached, and we need to listen attentively to the homily at Mass. The people brought the ill and the possessed to Jesus to be cured, and we need to continue his healing ministry to those with physical and mental illnesses.

Mount of the Beatitudes

The Church of the Beatitudes was built in 1938 and is located one and a half miles southwest of Capernaum on a picturesque hillside with a panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee. It traditionally is regarded as the place where Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The dome over the main altar
has eight stained glass windows with the text of each of the Beatitudes in Latin.

Spiritual lessons

The Beatitudes represent a major paradigm shift from the commandments and the Mosaic Law, a set of rules and regulations, to a set of spiritual ideals. Jesus is not satisfied with mere legal observance, often the least amount to get by. Instead, Jesus calls us to spiritual excellence, to practice the virtues, to live good and holy lives, and to conduct ourselves in an exemplary manner.

Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

This church is located down the hill from the Mount of the Beatitudes along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, and it recalls the feeding of the 5,000. The first church on this site was built in the fourth century A.D., and the newest church was built from 1980 to 1982. The famous Byzantine floor mosaic in front of the altar depicts a basket with four loaves (and a fifth unseen loaf at the bottom of the basket) flanked by two fish. The feeding miracle is one of the few events recounted in all four Gospels.

Spiritual lessons

As Jesus fed the crowds with bread and fish, he continues to feed us with the words of eternal life (John 6:68), Scripture, in general, and his Gospel, in particular, and true bread from heaven (see John 6:32,35), the Eucharist. This feeding miracle is repeated every time we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass. It is of paramount importance to attend Mass regularly if we wish to be well-fed spiritually.

Church of the Primacy of Peter  

This church is located at water’s edge between Capernaum to the northeast and The Church of the Multiplication to the south, and it commemorates Jesus’ appearance to Peter and six other disciples after the resurrection (John 21:1-19). It is also known as the Church of the Charcoal and Simon Peter’s Landing. A sacred rock known as the Mensa Christi or the Table of Christ is traditionally regarded as the place where Jesus set both bread and fish.  The newest church, the fourth on the site, was built in 1933.

Spiritual lessons

The disciples made a great catch of fish, 153, and the net was not torn. The net represents the church and the different varieties of fish represent the different peoples of the world. There is room in the church for everyone, and once inside, a person will never be lost but will be saved. After Peter denied Jesus three times at a charcoal fire (John 18:15-18,25-27), Peter told Jesus that he loved him three times by a charcoal fire (John 21:9,15-17). All of us deny Jesus when we sin, and Jesus invites us to reverse our denials by pledging anew that we love him with our whole heart and are willing to serve him with our entire being.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.

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Category: The Lesson Plan