Our hotel was a short walk from Manger Square, Bethlehem and was called Manger Square Hotel! At 8.30 we gathered and walked to the square, before the crowds arrived.
It was very cold and we entered the Church of the Nativity through the tiny door and escaped the cold wind. Inside the church was reminiscent of some of our home churches, there was scaffolding everywhere and as they are not able to close the church, the building work carried on.
Interestingly, they still had the most magnificent chandeliers amongst the scaffolding. We waited in a line, for 30 minutes, often being told to stay quiet! We went down the tiny steps to the place where the star marks the place which is thought to be the place of the nativity. And there we met Father Johnny, who was at the seminary last night, he and some students were holding a service. It was an emotional place, although for some, the presence of so many thurifers and icons was confusing with the simplicity of a stable or cave.
In the square we made our way to the Church of St Catherine, a relatively recent Roman Catholic beautiful church with caves where it is thought the remains of the children who were killed by Herod were placed.
Back on the coach for a short trip, we entered the Bethlehem University Campus. We entered the grounds and the gates were closed behind us. The university was established in 1973, on the site of the secondary school. We met in the chapel, which is dedicated to the street boys of Paris,above the altar and outside at the top of the tallest building is a statue of the boy Jesus.
We were welcomed by staff and students, 10 students gathered and animatedly told us of their lives, their studies and their hopes and dreams. It was such a good experience and we listened in shock as they described how hard it is for them to be able to study and live a daily life at the university, in the Palestinian Territory of the West Bank.
But their spirits were high and they are all actively working to their finals or Masters, with hopes to travel and to become employed. There are many more girls than boy students and some of the reasons for are that boys can travel and study abroad, which is very hard for girls to do. Many boys also need to firstly take care of their families and do not have time or money to study.
They made a strong impression on us all and as we were leaving, one of the girls climbed on to the coach to tell us they were delighted to have met us. I think she was also on the way to the basketball court, her passion is to be a basketball player, maybe in the USA. How we hoped that she achieves this.
After lunch we went to the site of the Shepherd’s Fields and you only had to imagine the sheep and the shepherds. We went into the caves where they would have sought shelter. As we stood and gazed to the other side of the valley, we saw a new settlement that had been built on the hillside for the Israelis settlers, behind high security fences.
We celebrated Eucharist and sang O Little Town of Bethlehem and O Come All Ye Faithful, enthusiastically, as we celebrated on that special day.
The Very Reverend Jane Hedges celebrated Eucharist and gave the address, in the space of the cave and we all managed to find a space to sit somewhere nestling into the cave.
The address was about sheep and shepherds, and that as we go back into our communities we can be as that good shepherd.
About this journey?
These web pages are part of the Faith Goes Walkabout family of web sites. Designed, produced and edited by the Reverend Sue Martin of the Norwich Diocese. Supporting the work of the Diocese and communities of faith in the East of England.