ISRAEL - Holy Land - Pilgrimage
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St. Catherine's
BEN-GURION AIRPORT IN TEL-AVIV
Hotel - Golden Park Resort
Hotel
Shepherd's Field - Chapel
Shepherd's Field - Cave
Bethlehem
ST. CATHERIN'S CHURCH
Manger Square
Church of the Nativity
MILK GROTTO
Next
Our pilgrimage started at the AIRPORT IN TEL-AVIV. We expected security would
be enormous but it was not much different than it is at all the other airports. The
first interesting things for us were actually the people. Most of us have never
seen an orthodox Jew up close before, so when we saw the first few we got all
excited and found their outfits very interesting and tried to take their photos,
hoping they would not notice us (sorry guys!). We got on our buses, it was night
time, and the second thing we all took photos of, were the road signs that said
"Jerusalem". It was just so surreal to see a street sign with the actual name of the
city that you have only seen in the Bible or occasionally heard about it on the TV
before.

By the time we got to our hotel in Bethlehem we had seen
the night view of Jerusalem, crossed the border to the
West Bank and seen the 8m tall wall that separates the
Palestinian territory from Israel's territory and filled our
cameras with a bunch of blurry night time photos. We
found our rooms, had some dinner and it was the end of
DAY ONE.
BEN-GURION AIRPORT IN TEL-AVIV
GOLDEN PARK RESORT
Even if we were all fully aware that we were on a
pilgrimage and not on vacation we were all in a bit of shock
when we found out we would be getting up at 6 o'clock
every morning - our guide, Fr. Frank, had no "mercy" for us
tired and "I am not a morning person" people. He was in his early eighties (!!!), and has been in the Holy Land more often
than we go to the grocery store; he was extremely knowledgeable and had the energy of a twenty year old. If we got
distracted by an interesting historical artifact (also meaning an interesting display at many, many street shops) he would
quickly disappear from our view, which usually resulted in panic and lots of running and eventually ended in a humble walk
with the rest of the group. Over all we loved him. He took his role very seriously and we managed to see everything on the
list and he also made sure we all heard the chapter in the Bible that had a connection to the places we visited.

DAY TWO

Our first stop of the day was at the

SHEPHERD'S FIELD that is located in the
village of
BEIT SAHUR which is about 2 km
out of Bethlehem.

There are two rival places that are both
believed to be the fields where the shepherds
saw the angel: A Greek Orthodox and a
Roman Catholic site. We visited the Roman
Catholic site which features a Franciscan
Chapel designed to resemble the shepherds'
tent. Behind the chapel we found a natural
cave that would have served the shepherds as
a shelter for their flocks. Both are surrounded
by a very lovely garden and a fantastic view of
the rolling hills that surround Bethlehem.
The Bible says: "And there were
shepherds living out in the fields
nearby, keeping watch over
their flocks at night. An angel of
the Lord appeared to them, and
the glory of the Lord shone
around them, and they were
terrified. But the angel said to
them, "Do not be afraid. I bring
you good news of great joy that
will be for all the people."
(Luke 2:8-10)
The fun thing was, that, like else where in Bethlehem, it is completely appropriate
to sing Christmas songs all year around and so we did and not just one. Soon we
had more chances to sing Christmas songs: we were on our way to downtown
Bethlehem to visit the oldest church in Israel (its beginnings go back to the year 326
AD) which is considered as the place of Christ's birth.
The Bible says: "Now in those
days a decree went out from
Caesar Augustus, that a census be
taken of all the inhabited earth.
This was the first census taken
while Quirinius was governor of
Syria. And everyone was on his
way to register for the census,
each to his own city. Joseph also
went up from Galilee, from the
city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the
city of David which is called
Bethlehem, because he was of the
house and family of David, in
order to register along with Mary,
who was engaged to him, and
was with child. While they were
there, the days were completed
for her to give birth. And she gave
birth to her firstborn son; and she
wrapped Him in cloths, and laid
Him in a manger, because there
was no room for them in the
inn." (Luke 2:1-7)
BETHLEHEM is not only the birthplace of Jesus
but also King David who, according to the Old
Testament, lived here as a child and was also
named the king as he was watching his father's
flocks. The church, just like Bethlehem has an
impressive and long history. Present day
Bethlehem is one of 16 Governorates of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip within the Palestinian
Territories. It covers an area of the West Bank, south
of Jerusalem. At this time there are no Israeli police or
military in Bethlehem. The city itself is lovely and full of life. Local businesses seem to
be doing well and tourists are flocking to the city. We especially admired the
woodcarvers whom you can observe carving beautiful sculptures from olive wood. We
first stopped at
ST. CATHERIN'S CHURCH which is attached to the CHURCH OF THE
NATIVITY
and MANAGER SQUARE. It was hard to tell from the street where exactly
they are located because they are partly hidden behind the high thick walls.
BETHLEHEM
CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY
MANAGER SQUARE
SHEPHERD'S FIELD - CAVE
SHEPHERD'S FIELD - CHAPEL
ST. CATHERIN'S CHURCH
MILK GROTTO
We gathered at the beautiful cloister outside the
west door of St. Catherine's with its gothic
pillars and arches which use to be a part of the
12th century monastery. I was taken by colorful
flowers, bushes and orange trees who's white
blooms filled the air with the most pleasant
fragrance which escorted us into the sanctuary
where we attended the daily mass which is also
a regular part of a typical catholic pilgrimage.
After the service we were led into a cave which
had a shaft and we found ourselves in the
Church of the Nativity where we joined a line of
people in front of the Entrance to the Grotto
which is the churches' focal point. I followed the
line and ended up in front of the star that marks
the place where Jesus was born. I followed the
example of the people that were there before
me and kneeled down. I did not know though
what exactly they did after. Did they kiss the
place, touch it, look at it???
I bent down, my backpack came tumbling down on my head and
that was that. There was a long line behind me, lunch was
waiting and I had to get up and go before establishing what to do.

In between all this we also succeeded to visit the
MILK GROTTO
which is not far from the Manager Square. Tradition has it that the
Holy Family found refuge in this grotto during the Slaughter of the
Innocents and just before they escaped to Egypt and while Mary
was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning
the Grotto white. Both Christians and Muslims believe scrapings
from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother's milk
and enhance fertility.