June 27th - Day 5

Hello from a sunny and hot Bethlehem.

We have had an amazing day again starting with a visit to the church of the Nativity early this morning. The church is the oldest church in the world dating from the 4th century.

As we enter each holy site our guide Anis who is a Palestinian Christian guide tells us about the history of the place and links it beautifully to the scriptures.

While most of the churches in the Holy Land were destroyed by the Persians, the church of the Nativity survived because when the Persians came they saw a painting of the Wise Men on one of the walls and because one of the wise men looked just like themselves they did not destroy the building.

Mass this morning was in the cave of St. Jerome which is under the Church of the Nativity. It was here that St. Jerome lived for several years while he translated the bible into Latin from the original Hebrew and Greek.

After mass we went joined the line with many pilgrims from all over the world waiting to go down into the cave in which Jesus was born. The actual birthplace is marked by a star.  For many of us it was a very moving moment to spend a moment in prayer at this very special place.

Our pilgrimage is organized by Pilgrimage People a UK based charity which organizes pilgrimages with all the profits going to help support Christian communities in The Holy Land. We are visiting some of these projects while we are here. Today we visited the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, a wonderful hospital providing exceptional care for patients from The West Bank. The hospital is supported by the Catholic Church here.

We had lunch  in the restaurant there which is run by disabled people who are associated with the hospital.  We also met and sang for some of the patients.

A short drive took us to the village of Beit Sahour which is next to Bethlehem and was where the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angel appeared to tell them of the birth of Jesus. The Franciscans have purchased a large piece of land in the valley where a beautiful church shaped like a shepherd's tent is built.

We sang a Christmas carol in this church which had a wonderful acoustic.

The walls of the church have these beautiful paintings depicting scenes from the shepherds' part in the nativity story.

Here we see the angel appearing to them in the fields.

The second painting depicts the shepherds worshipping the child Jesus.

And the last shows the Shepherds rejoicing.

In the hillside near to the church are many caves which the shepherds would have used to keep their sheep safe at night. The shepherds would gather their sheep into the cave and the shepherd would sleep across the entrance so that they would not stray. Hence the saying of Jesus "I am the gate of the sheepfold"

We visited a local souvenir shop which is a cooperative run by several Christian families who rely on our support for their livelihood.

On our way home to our hotel we stopped off again in Bethlehem where some revisited the Church Of the Nativity while others did some shopping in Old Bethlehem.

We are now back in the hotel relaxing before dinner.

Join us tomorrow as we visit Jerusalem.



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