The Day started, after breakfast of course, with a visit to the Church of the Nativity which is at LEAST 25 yards from our hotel.
Ducking down to get through the very small door it is worth reflecting that in this, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, only a child can enter without having to bow their heads.
I can never be quite sure how groups will ‘take’ the churches in the Holy Land, so many are significantly different from those to which we are accustomed, the smells, the iconography, the lack of furniture in the Eastern Orthodox tradition .. And this church has all of that and more yet the young people seemed to find it a spiritual place – at least until someone’s phone rang with the ringtone of Hotel California – not all pilgrims are as well behaved as we are!
Leaving the Church of the Nativity, we visited St Catherine’s church next door and went down the steep stairs to the caves where St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin.
I can never come to Bethlehem without visiting my good friend Jack Giacaman in his olive wood shop in Milk Grotto street and, after visiting Milk Grotto Church, that’s where we headed next. A local Christian who employs local people to produce wonderful olive wood carvings, I was pleased to see the group buying many of their souvenirs here. It was also great to see Jack’s beautiful wife, Tamara, along with their youngest daughter. Nabil (Jack’s brother) was also their along with his mother – it was quite a reunion :)
Lunch was a falafel sandwich and we then headed up to the Bethlehem International Center (sic) where we were able to pass on the books we had brought as part of the suitcase ministry. The librarian explained to us that many of the books they needed were not allowed across the border from Israel so they rely on pilgrims from other countries to bring them in as we won’t be stopped and questioned. We were glad to take part in such a worthwhile scheme.
Walking back down to Manger Square we stopped off at the Bethlehem Museum where we were given a fascinating tour of what Bethlehem was like in the late 18th to early 20th century. The visit, including a personal guided tour from the curator, cost less than £1 each which was really value for money!
This evening we will be joined by some of my Palestinian friends who will share what life is like ‘behind the wall’.
There is so much more to see in this wonderful land – but there is just not the time. I hope that the young people will want to come and visit these places, and meet my friends, again.