Our final day in Jerusalem and we didn't think it could top the previous day; maybe not but but it came very close. We were off to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is a mountain village about 10 miles south of Jerusalem. It is located in the West Bank, so it's under Palestinian control. If you are an Israeli citizen, you cannot enter this area. And the area is primarily Muslem.
Our first stop was The Shepherd's Fields, the traditional site where the Angels announced to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus. There's a nice church with colorful paintings depicting the event and and some caves that I can't remember who wrote in them.
There's a cooperative of Christian shops just outside the gate and we spent an hour souvenir shopping.
On to the Church of the Nativity, another church under rule by several religions, although there is a bright Catholic Church, St. Catherine's adjacent. The church is undergoing major renovation and was covered in sheets and scaffolding. The entrance to the nativity site is a small cave called The Door of Humility, very small and you must bend over to enter this site. It's a small cave and altar and below the altar is a 14 point star denoting the birth site. Across the cave is a small area representing the manger. We did have time to kneel and touch below the alter for a short prayer.
There is a series of caves below the church, one is St. Jerome, famous for the first translation of the Bible to Latin back around 1000. Just outside was another cave, which actually is the walled off original entrance to the Nativity site and that is where we had our final mass. The altar is on the wall with the Nativity on the other side and the cave made our singing sound great. It's called the Chapel of St. Joseph and it was probably our most memorable service. Right next to the nativity site, Christmas songs being sung in the church and by us, sitting on stone seats. Paul, our church deacon gave his third sermon here and he was like a kid in a candy shop-I don't think he could believe he had this opportunity. He's a great singer and sang a good portion of his sermon "Mary Did You Know" along with some very inspired words. It was a very uplifting, great sounding, and emotional mass. Easily the mass highlight of the trip, and that's saying something given some of the other places we celebrated mass.
After walking around Manger Square, a real disappointment, the official tour and pilgrimage was over.
On the way back to Jerusalem, several of us were dropped off at the Israeli Museum. There is a huge replica of the City of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. It's 1:50 scale and the size of a banquet hall. It really gave us perspective on the Second Temple and how large the city was. After that, we got to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. Just fascinating to learn of their history and actually see a Bible portion written before Christ.
We, including Bonnie and Manny, took a taxi back to the Old City and visited the two sites in the Holy Sepulchre again, this time we had a few more seconds and got a pic or two. Wandered around the city streets, purchased lunch and a few souvenirs before walking back to the hotel.
We exited thru the Damascus Gate. We've been told to avoid that gate cause there have been more incidents there, including one just three days ago. It's in the Muslem Quarter and was full of open markets of fruit, veggies and meat. Packed, active and police everywhere, but no issue for us.
That night, our group was treated by our local travel agent to the best dinner of the trip at a local restaurant.