BY ELISA MOED, TRAVELUJAH-—
He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.'” Mark 1:38
With a heart full of emotion, Valeries Ramirez, 24, looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Genasseret Valley on the path Jesus likely took from his hometown in Nazareth to meet the residents living in the seaside villages along the Sea of Galilee.
“To walk where your savior walked – it’s a very beautiful experience and something that will change your life,” Ramirez said about her visit along a portion of the Gospel Trail, the newly completed 65-kilometer path inaugurated last week by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.
The Gospel Trail is part of the Tourism Ministry’s effort to attract more Christians to Israel in general, but more specifically to the Galilee, which does not attract the high number of tourists that Jerusalem does, despite the fact that Jesus spent most of his life in this region and walked the very countryside that Ramirez was walking.
Ramirez was visiting Israel as part of a 70-person tour organized by Pastor Alberto Mottesi, a radio and TV personality and Evangelical minister from Santa Ana, California, who led a group of 70 believers from Latin America and the United States on a 10 day journey to Israel on what he estimates is his 15th visit to the Holy Land.
Mottesi’s radio program ‘Un Momento Con Alberto Mottesi’ (A Moment with Alberto Mottesi) is transmitted approximately 2000 times daily throughout Latin America, USA, and Spain. His new television program Café Libre can be seen on 5580 channels in 57 countries.
“The first time I came to Israel I wanted to experience the Bible exactly as it is,” said Pastor Mottesi.
And to do that one must feel the land. Even Jesus and his disciples couldn’t rely on cars to take them around the Galilee 2,000 years ago, which is why Mottesi felt it was important to include the new Gospel Trail as part of his group’s itinerary.
“When we walk here, Israel opens up in front of our eyes,” explained Mottesi.
The Gospel Trail provides an unparalleled opportunity to replicate Jesus’ probable footsteps from Nazareth to the villages in which he ministered along the Sea of Galilee.
The 65-kilometer trail begins at the Mount of Precipice in Nazareth where, according to Luke 4:14-28, Jesus was rejected by his townsmen who threatened to throw him over the mountainside. It crosses part of the Galilean landscape providing views of many important holy sites and places where Jesus performed miracles and taught. The trail dips into part of the Jezreel Valley and continues along the Nazareth Range providing views of Mount Tabor where Jesus was transfigured and the village of Cana where he performed his first miracle, turning water into wine.
It passes nearby to the Horns of Hattins, the site of the clash between the Crusader forces and the Muslim armies under Saladin, and past the antiquities of Magdala to Tabgha, and below the Mount of Beatitudes, eventually ending at Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.
Those who prefer to add a bit more adventure to their Gospel Trail experience can do so by taking on the trail by bicycle or even horseback. Bikes can be rented in Nazareth and Tiberias. Horseback riding can be arranged through Vered HaGalil, about 5 minutes from the Mt. of Beatitudes. Gospel Trail maps can be viewed online and are available through Ministry of Tourism offices.
Father Juan Solana, director of the Legionaries of Christ, said the Gospel Trail is “a great initiative.”
“You can’t follow the footsteps by car – only by walking or biking or horseback riding,” he explained.
The Gospel Trail will pass by Father Solana’s new Magdala project, Notre Dame du Lac, which is under construction just north of Ginnosar on the Sea of Galilee.
The Ministry of Tourism spent 3 million shekels ($750,000) upgrading the trail, much of which is also part of Israel’s National Trail. Separate signs, rest areas and other enhancements were added to the Gospel Trail in order to cater to the Christian tourists anticipated to hike the trail.
The trail was planned more than 10 years ago but was shelved due to the second intifada. It was revived a couple of years ago when, coincidentally, another hiking trail – the Jesus Trail – created by two young entrepreneurs, began generating much buzz and interest in the area. The Jesus Trail follows a similar route as the Gospel Trail and serves the same function and market, though the Jesus Trail encourages a bit more diversity and interaction with the local population as its path passes through some outlying Arab villages in the Galilee and passes many more churches.
The Ministry of Tourism route, which was planned and completed with the help of KKL, Israel’s forestry organization, focuses more on exploring the indigenous nature of the region and includes many forests. Be forewarned though: The trail itself offers no infrastructure such as bathrooms, hotels or restaurants so travelers must bring supplies with them and carefully plan their journeys themselves or hire a specialist to coordinate the logistics of the trek.
While no one really knows the exact paths Jesus took, he did spend many days and nights traversing the Galilean landscape.
Jesus spent most of his life and performed many of his miracles in this very region yet the Galilee attracts far fewer tourists than Jerusalem. Pastor Mottesi encourages all Christians to spend time in the Galilee.
“People must come here to walk the same trail Jesus (walked),” he explained. “That’s all I have to say to convince them (to come to Israel).”
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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah, the leading Christian travel network focused on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.