We started our day with a drive to Hebron, where we hoped to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (Genesis 23…Abraham bought a burial place at Machpelah for Sarah who had died. It became the family burial place and is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.) This day is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, so we knew we might need to adjust our expectations. Our access point to the tomb was to be through a Jewish settlement, but because it is a feast day in Islam, the Israelis granted access to the tomb only to Muslims. We were able to see it from a short distance. So, having come there, we laughed with the young soldiers guarding the entrance when a cat swiped the plastic-wrapped sandwich of one of the guards and made off with it in its mouth, running like the wind. And we had our picture taken, just to show that we were there.
Then, we drove back to Bethlehem where we had an appointment at Bethlehem University, the only Christian University in Israel. 3000 students attend, with 78% women students, the majority of students are Muslim (about 30% Christian) and professors are mostly Palestinian. The acceptance rate is one in three, and it is a rigorous university. We met students who told us their professional goals and the challenges of getting to the campus if they must pass through checkpoints each day to come to class. Lovely students who are hopeful and motivated.
Their Chapel of the Divine Child is extraordinarily beautiful, with frescoes of child martyrs from around the world on the walls (even contemporary martyrs, including children of Uganda in the 60’s).
After lunch, we drove to Bethpage and walked the path of Jesus and his disciples into Jerusalem that we remember on Palm Sunday. On the way down the Mount of Olives, we reached the Garden of Gethsemene and the Church of All Nations.
We checked into the Gloria Hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. In the evening, some of the group got pilgrim tattoos from the Coptic Christian tattoo artist whose family has been practicing this art for pilgrims for over 300 years.