If you look, a map will tell you Caesarea Philippi is way north of the area in Galilee where Jesus and the Apostles spent so much time. It is up in what we now call the Golan Heights.
You may have heard there is a big rock there, as indeed there is. But that is only part of the story. It's not just a big rock--it's a very substantial, rocky hill. Within it, even in our Lord's time, was yet another cave. And at the foot of this rocky hill, in front of the cave, or grotto if you will, were a series of pagan temples. This was the heart of the city built here, by Herod, to show his loyalty to Rome.
So while the rock is prominent, what must have been even more obvious to the Apostles was the pagan worship all around them. And it was here that the Lord asked them to declare themselves.
It occurred to me such a setting--for Jews whose country was under the boot of Rome--must have been intimidating. So how much more striking it is that our Lord said, upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Right there, all around them, would be the worship of idols and, as they may well have thought, demons--particularly the temple of the god Pan which was especially prominent right at this sport.
One of the other priests reminded us of the prophecy of Daniel, foretelling both a series of worldly kingdoms, and then a giant stone that would smash those kingdoms and would itself be an everlasting kingdom. Might the Apostles have been reminded of that.
One more detail--and I bet you didn't know this. This site is noteworthy for something else. It is one of the headwaters of the River Jordan. Streams form right at the foot of this giant rock!
Recall the journey of God's People in the wilderness, when they needed water? God commanded Moses to give the people water...from the rock. And what did Saint Paul say of this passage? And the rock is Christ. Christ, the source of living water, the water of baptism, the water of the Holy Spirit.
That's something I only learned by coming here. That's one reason why Saint Jerome called the Holy Land "the fifth gospel."
As I write this, I'm in Rome, and tomorrow I travel--with another group of priests--to Turkey. We'll take a couple of flights, first to Istanbul (Constantinople), then to Antakya (Antioch), on the Mediterranean coast, where Peter was the first bishop, and where Paul began his missionary journeys to then Asia Minor and Greece. We'll spend eight days traveling west across Turkey, till we reach sites in the west, associated both with Paul, but also with Saint John, and his book of Revelation.
As time allows, I hope to give you some reports.