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Christmases, New Years roll in from Gallilee

By Evelyn A. Opilas
Photos: © Evelyn A. Opilas
The Holy Land
December 19, 2017


“Ho Have a lovely Christmas,” the two priests said as I paid for items bought at St Paul’s Publications in Parramatta.
“I’ve had my Christmas,” I said, adding inwardly, “and New Years, too.”
They seemed amused – it was 15 December, a good ten days before the world of Christendom marked one of its great feasts.

“I’ve just arrived from Jerusalem,” I explained; they nodded approvingly, “Yes, you’ve had your Christmas.”

And New Years too, I said under my breath, recalling the day I threw my stone into the Sea of Gallilee, then and there privately celebrating Christmas and welcoming all the New Years I could ever have.

I was called, like the 54 companions I travelled with – Filipino pilgrims from Canada, the United States, the Philippines, and two of us from Australia.

 “How was it for you?” asked Josie Pilao who, with husband Chris and other Australia Philippines Services League members, had travelled a month earlier to Jordan and Israel to places we collectively call ‘The Holy Land’.

 “It has always been a trouble spot,” I echoed, and I knew then I would travel without a Sydneysider.

Yet I was among friends.

God will reveal Himself, and it will be different for each one of you, Exie promised with conviction.

The choices beckoned: the River Jordan for everyone’s renewal of baptismal vows, Cana for those reaffirming their marriage vows, Tabgha where five loaves of bread and two fishes fed a multitude, Capernaum where Jesus performed most of His miracles, the Mount of Olives from which Jesus ascended into heaven, the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the Church of the Pater Noster that enshrines The Lord’s Prayer, floating on the Dead Sea, carrying the Cross along Via Dolorosa, the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent hours in agony before His Crucifixion, Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Western Wall (erroneously referred to as the Wailing Wall due to prayer sounds from Jewish supplicants), the list goes on.

Mine could have happened at Tabgha, perhaps at the Western Wall, most definitely at the Church of All Nations. In fact He was always there, everywhere, even in what seemed to be ‘Really?’ moments.

For example, we discovered that St Peter’s fish caught aplenty in the Sea of Galilee is actually tilapia; that the locusts St John the Baptist ate to survive in the desert came from nutritious locust trees that also provided ample shade from the sun; that the Dead Sea is not a sea but a lake and while the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee get their waters from the River Jordan, they have very different ecosystems, one so dead, the other so alive.

I chose to throw my ‘heavy stone’ in Tabgha – that spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally draining load potentially able to wear you out if you allowed it. My siblings and I were denied a Christmas celebration in 2016 when one of our brothers, Rodolfo, died on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – the first one out of eight to go. The year before, Mother joined her Creator so that coming home to Manila never felt the same again. In March this year, another brother Renato was diagnosed with brain cancer; that it should happen so soon after Rodolfo’s passing seemed unbelievable, truly a test of faith.

I walked towards the Sea of Galilee hoping to find a square-shaped nugget and, by some miracle found a flat stone about 5mm thick, 1.5in square, the only one among the rounded, oval and unevenly-shaped pebbles, rocks, boulders on the beach. I picked it up, prayed, and threw it as far away into the Sea as I could. Vanish, I decreed to the physical representation of my ‘stone’.

Deep breath. Deliverance. Fortitude. Fiat voluntas tua. My Christmases and New Years rolled into one with that single throw. –

    Add a Comment

    Evelyn Opilas
    Sydney NSW Australia
    Sun 24th December 2017

    G day from Sydney  Ellen   Betty
    Many thanks your kind comments. What we went through seemed more than a retreat   I attended the Christmas Vigil Mass at our parish tonight and had a deeper appreciation of the Readings and the Gospel   they were so fresh  so now  so present day yet they happened so long ago. I wish you and those for whom your heart beats a blessed Christmas season and the promise of a grace filled New Year  🎄😇💕

    Hello  Ms Lorna  Thank you. Our God never sleeps  He knows how much we can take so we come out the better because of the challenges. The violin gives its sweetest sound when its strings are at their tightest. See you at Christmas lunch   what you cooking  💕🎄🎉🎁🍰
    Betty Lacson
    San Francisco CA
    Sat 23rd December 2017

    What a wonderful travelogue Peelee Thank you for jogging my memory and re inspiring me anew.

    May the rebirth we experienced in the Holy Land stay with us this Christmas and beyond the New Year.

    God bless you in the Divine Will.
    Lorna Opilas Manodon
    Thu 21st December 2017

    truly a wonderful experience Ate Vicky. throwing all that heaviness into the sea represented by your stone surely lifts us up as a family in this time of trial.We praise God for His wonders
    Marilyn  Sacramento
    Houston. Texas
    Wed 20th December 2017

    Peelee  What a wonderful article  Congratulations  Wishing you a blessed and joyous Christmas  and a Happy and healthy 2018

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