Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
Our second full day in Jerusalem was labeled “Mother’s Day” for good reason.
After breakfast, we left our hotel at 8 a.m. and drove immediately west of Jerusalem to the village of Ein Kerem, the hometown of John the Baptist and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. It was a hilly area, like most of the topography here. We were let out of our bus and made our way to “Mary’s Spring”, a place where Elizabeth and the other women of the villiage would have come to draw water and take it back to their homes. As Fr. Kamal would say, “no gossip ever took place here”. 😉
We then turned and walked up a steep hill to the Church of the Visitation. The church was built on the site of the home of John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. It was there that the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the baby that would be named John. This was also the place where Elizabeth would have hidden John from the Roman soldiers during the slaughter of the innocents at the command of King Herod.
This was also the site where Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat. Outside the church are large posters with the Magnificat translated into scores of languages. Our incredible teacher, Fr. Kamal, gave a brilliant teaching on the ways in which The Magnificat is actually her response and greeting to all three of her hosts in Ein Karem. Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the unborn infant John. Truly, a thing of beauty.
A small world sidelight: A group of pilgrims from Nigeria were also at the Church of the Visitation and one of them was wearing a Charles Woodson Green Bay Packers throwback jersey.
From there, we walked back down the hill and then up the neighboring hillside to the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This was built on the site where it was believed that John the Baptist would have been born. Interestingly enough, this church was one of only 2 churches in Jerusalem that were not destroyed by the Persian invasion in 614 AD. The reason being, the Koran mentions both John the Baptist and his father, Zechariah. The Muslims who came not only didn’t destroy it, but honored and respected the church as a place of worship. The other church, The Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born.
We set out by bus for Bethlehem, about 25 minutes away, but stopped briefly on a hillside on the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory, occupied by Israel. From there we could view Bethlehem and the Separation Wall that weaves randomly through the West Bank.
The weather was turning cloudy so Bishara Khoury, our guide, decided to have us visit The Shepherds’ Field and caves where shepherds tended the sheep when they saw the star that signaled the birth of Jesus. We walked into beautiful caves where the shepherds lived with their sheep as well as walked through the fields of Boaz, yes, Boaz, from the Book of Ruth. It was in those fields that the shepherds were keeping their sheep.
We continued into Bethlehem and had lunch on a dish called Maklobah – rice with chicken and vegetables, and very tasty. It followed salad and hummus.
Our bus was parked and we walked up the hill along the streets of Bethlehem, which, for many of us, did not fit the image we had in our heads.
Then to the highlight of the day for many of us: the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where historians believe that Jesus was born. The church was built in the 6thCentury after the first church built there was destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt.
We entered the church and were led to narrow steps that led us down to the place that is believed to be where Jesus was born. Fr. Kamal said there is more solid evidence to indicate where the manger was in the grotto but there is a spot nearby identified by a 14-point star to show where the birth took place.
We then twisted and turned and descended some more and came to a chapel in the Church of the Nativity which is named for Saint Jerome. Jerome was a pilgrim to the Holy Lands, like us, who upon reaching Jerusalem, felt the fall of God to translate the scriptures into a language people could understand. However, in order to do so, he spent 36 years in Bethlehem learning the biblical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac Aramaic. He eventually completed the translation into Latin and it remained valid in the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican II in 1965.
It was then time to be tourists and we spent time in a gift shop near the church before returning to the bus and going back to our Jerusalem hotel.
We will relocated for the next three nights, going first to Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea, then on to Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, and Jericho. Pray for us as we travel, and as always,
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6