To anyone who still happens to track this blog, my apologies for the dearth of posts in recent months. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
This post picks up from my recent series recounting my March, 2016 trip to the Holy Land.
Day 6: Bethlehem (March 18, 2016)
Today, we left Jerusalem for a visit to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. This was the only time that I really felt any safety concerns. Maybe there were other times when I should have been concerned, but this one I remember.
As we left the guest house, just outside the Old City, we had to walk several blocks to get to our bus. A marathon, or some sort of race, was going on in the city and security was very tight. Being reminded of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was very aware of the large Israeli security presence. Every few yards you could see heavily armed police and military personnel. Armored vehicles and guard posts were very conspicuous as well.
Soon we were on our way, without incident. Our guide Shafik gifted us with some local bread, so we snacked our way into the Palestinian West Bank sector where Bethlehem is located.
Our first stop was the Kando Antiquities Souvenir Store. It’s quite the place. Here’s a Youtube video I found online that gives a good look at what it’s like.
We spent a fair amount of time there. I bought a number of gifts and souvenirs including a pieta olive wood carving that I really admire. The shop is owned by some of the small number of Christian families remaining in Bethlehem. If your parish is visited from time to time with a group selling olive wood items, I believe they are related to these folks.
The shop is just across the street from part of the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. Pope Francis visited this same area.
Church of the Nativity
Traveling on into the heart of Bethlehem, we visited the famous Church of the Nativity, site of Christ’s birth.
It’s awe inspiring to visit this site. So important, so ancient and at the same time, so fraught with political significance.
The WORD was made flesh, and dwelt among us. – Gospel of St. John
The Church is under renovation, which it dearly needs. Still, we were allowed to place our hands through the marble and silver-starred hole and touch the ground beneath that is revered as the spot where Jesus was born. What an honor and a blessing!
Learn more about the Grotto of the Nativity here.
Grotto of St. Jerome
Also located here, we visited the Grotto of St. Jerome – the cave where some say St. Jerome used while translating the Bible from in to Latin (the Vulgate).
Our visit to the Church of the Nativity seemed a bit rushed to me. I wish we could have stayed longer and get a better sense of the place.
Still, to visit THE PLACE of the Incarnation. The site that we think about so much at Christmas. It surely needs to be visited by every pilgrim.
The Chapel of the Shepherd’s Field
Leaving the Church, we ventured out into Manger Square. It was a bit of a shock to enter into the glare of the day and the blare of a sermon coming from the nearby mosque. I don’t have a clue what was being said, but it was obvious that they wanted it heard. I’m not sure why that stuck with me so much, but it all seemed so “in your face” as a pilgrim.
We mushed on to visit the Shepherd’s Field, nearby in the suburb area known as Beit Shahur.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” – Gospel of St. Luke
This chapel marks the place where the Angel of the Lord and the Heavenly Host appeared, proclaiming the birth of the Messiah.
Hard to imagine what that must have been like. To see and be more or less confronted by the Army of God. Gulp.
Next up: Mount of Olives & Dominus Flevit.