Bethlehem

The guesthouse where we are spending two nights shares a wall with the Church of the Nativity. From a door in the lobby, we can walk into the cloister of St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, then pass through another door into the Church of the Nativity, itself. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Appostolate churches are the caretakers of the Nativity. Our guide is an Armenian, educated in Hebrew studies and his own tradition at St Vladimir’s Seminary in Queens, N.Y., we are learning much from him. These churches are open very early for prayer and worship each morning, so we have been able to slip in and experience their spaces, scents, and beauty, along with small groups of worshippers. The Church of the Nativity is undergoing painstaking renovation. The gold frescoes from the Crusader era are just being uncovered from under plaster. The older icons and wood carvings on pillars and capitals are cleaner and now visible. Our group went to the area called Shepherds Fields where the appearance of angels to the shepherds in Luke’s gospel are commemorated. After lunch, we visited an orphanage operated by the Sisters of Charity (a French Roman Catholic order) since the 1800s. Very young women who are victims of rape (primarily by family members) are brought here by their mothers when the girls are found to be pregnant. Most such girls don’t have the understanding of what has happened to them, so they are very surprised and horrified when a doctor diagnoses the cause of their intestinal distress. They stay overnight at the women’s delivery hospital next door, give birth by induction to premature babies, then quietly return home. Otherwise their families would kill them and their babies. The infants who survive are raised at the orphanage for six years, then go to caregivers for the rest of their childhood. At 18, they are on their own. The sisters (all 2 of them presently), a small paid staff, and a few volunteers do the good work of this ministry of love. We sat in the chapel to hear the story of this place, then had a chance to play with some of the toddlers before returning to the chapel for communion. I’ve come with pilgrims to this place on each of my pilgrimages, and each time I find it both heartbreaking yet hopeful. The sisters realized 150 years ago that there were young mothers and babies who needed compassion and quite literally salvation. With the help of people like us who pray for and with them, plus provide a little financial support, they are doing the work of the gospel in the very place that Jesus was born.

One thought on “Bethlehem

  1. My heart soars with recognition of each place you visit even while knowing that all is not well with God’s people in the land of His choosing. This trip (and ours) can only help to spread the news of the current situation in the Holy Land. And to keep the faith alive! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and beautiful pictures. They certainly speak to my longing to be on this pilgrimage again. And again. And again.

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