Betty Bowersox at Church of the Nativity

Betty Bowersox at the Church of the Nativity touching the 14-pointed star, symbolizing the number of generations between David and Jesus. The cave rock below marks the place of Christ’a birth.

Jane Klieve and Betty Bowersox compiled the following reflections from the group after a day spent in Bethlehem and Hebron:

The Church of the Nativity is right next to our hotel.  It’s shared (sometimes uncomfortably) by three denominations – Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and the Armenian Church.  The church is built over a cave where the holy family may have taken shelter for the birth of our Lord.  We were interested to learn that more than likely storage of goods and animals was located at the rear of the cave – the room farthest from the entrance; this is where the baby Jesus would have been born.  People come from afar to touch a 14 point star that marks the spot of the birth.  The original wooden cradle was moved to the Vatican years ago and today a stone cradle has been placed in the cave.

Fr. Todd at Shepherd's Fields

Fr. Todd celebrates Holy Eucharist at the Shepherds’ Fields

For our morning Eucharist service, we visited The Shepherd’s Fields which gave us an opportunity to visualize what it would have been like to live in a cave home.  In many of the historic places we have visited, layers of churches have been built over the site throughout the centuries.  In contrast, this cave was basically unadorned and the church is located close by.  We entered the beautiful sanctuary and sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”   The acoustics were wonderful and it was the probably The Holy Spirit that made our voices sound angelic. 🙂  Our worship was held in an outdoor grotto on the grounds.

Mosque of Abraham

The Mosque of Abraham

In the afternoon, we travelled to Hebron to the Sanctuary of Abraham.  This 1000 year old mosque is shared by Muslims and Jews.  It contains the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. It is considered to be the fourth holiest site in Islam.  This has been the site of great conflict over the years and our guide called ahead to make sure it was safe to visit today.  We had to pass through security checks along the way and on entering the mosque. The women were given hooded gowns to wear to honor Islamic customs.

The trip to Hebron was interesting in itself.  On our way there, we were surprised to see a shepherd on horseback, herding his sheep on the shoulder of the highway. We saw this again on our return trip.

The topography was quite different than what we saw yesterday.  We passed terraced fields planted with fruit trees, grape arbors and vegetable patches. The fields are divided by stone walls.

Other reflections from our group:  Gus, our guide, did a great job of explaining the caves.  We’ll think about the nativity scene in a whole different way.

Dick Entenmann:

Muslim prayer times

Prayer times posted at the Mosque

It was my first time in a mosque.  I thought it would be more religious… with more religious symbols on the wall… instead people were just praying to the south.  It was interesting to see the time clock on the wall that tells people what times they should pray.  Todd noted that people can pray in any place, not only the mosque.  The core of Hebron was a ghost town. It used to be a bustling town but the increased violence over the years and resulting security has changed that.

Hebron reminded Jim of the demilitarized zone in Korea in terms of the security and the loss of population.  Ours was the only tour bus there.  When we visited the glass factory in another part of Hebron, it was bustling.

Betty Bowersox:

One of the things that sort of surprised me was the private security… the totally fenced Jewish area.  The kids were roaming freely within the gates, but the security was tight.

Gus shared the explanation of refugee label.  People who were removed from their homes (within the country displaced by the 1967 war) when control changed now live in refugee areas.  We saw refugee camps (really housing settlements)… densely populated.

Becky Entenmann:

I found it fascinating to hearing the call to prayer for Muslims, the shofar (horn sounded at the start of Jewish Shabbat) and then the ringing of multiple church bells calling people to Mass outside our hotel.

Click here to view the entire photo gallery from Grace in the Holy Land.

holy land - bus ride

The pilgrims enjoy a little time for reflection after lunch on Saturday.

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One Response to Reflections from Bethlehem & Hebron

  1. David Geddes says:

    (From Sheila’s husband, David): sounds and looks like you are having a rewarding time! Massive snowstorm on the east coast. Good you guys were not returning this week!!

    PS: Sheila, I got back from Baltimore three days late due to the massive snowstorm. Rigo is delighted to see me.

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