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So much of this land is very different from what we experience at home. From the beginning of the day through the end of the night, we are always aware that we are in a different country. There are, however, a few aspects of human life that manage to stay the same no matter where you go. Today, we saw that no matter where you are, teens will always want to buy souvenirs. This took place at a wonderful little Christian shop in Bethlehem.

When we first went in the shop the owner began by saying the Our Father in the native Arabic and letting us know we were going to receive a 25% discount. (Is it possible that he simply marked everything up to reflect that he was going to give us a discount? Yeah, it probably was overpriced. But there were some really beautiful things there.). We all dug right into the various goods they sold. There were statues and rosaries, necklaces and rings, cups and bowls, kippas and spoons, toenail clippers with the Jerusalem cross and giant wooden carvings, icons and crosses, coffee and grapefruit juice.  Seriously, this was just a crazy amount of stuff.  Sophie saw a ring that cost $50,000.  That’s like a Lexus right? Anyway, the students spent lots of money and came away with lots of stuff.  The only thing we didn’t get was a scarf for a couple kids, but we still have time.

From there we went to the shepherd’s fields where we saw a lovely church commemorating the shepherds being called by the angels. It was quite rainy for the entire first half of the day and we managed to avoid much of the rain while we shopped, but there was still a good amount of precipitation that had us wanting to move inside the church. Father read a nice passage telling the story of the shepherds and how far they wound need to travel to see Jesus. In the church we sang several verses of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and kissed the statue of the Baby Jesus that they had in the Church before moving on to our next experience.

In the Church of the Nativity we were able to touch the rock upon which Christ was born. Inside the chamber is extremely dark and most of the pictures have become quite covered in soot over the years. Apparently the Greek Orthodox do not believe in cleaning the pictures within holy places. It is a shame, but at least we do get to enjoy some of the great beauty. We continued to the shrine of St. Jerome where he translated the bible into the Latin Vulgate. We all said a prayer there and moved on to the next site.

We headed to the Milk Grotto where we saw the rock Mary’s milk turned white. We had the chance to see some truly beautiful artwork depicting Mary holding and feeding the baby Jesus. We were able to talk to one of the priests who maintains the church and several people purchased some powder of the rock for its healing properties.

Moving to the next Church, we made it to the shrine of the Ascension. We were able to see a great footprint left by Christ as he rose from this world to Heaven. We were all able to touch the stone and put our own footprint where he had stepped. This is a particularly interesting spot because the history of it has both Christian and Muslim ownership.

Further we went through our pilgrimage and arrived at the church of Pater Noster, or Our Father. It is a magnificent sight where the Our Father is written in 172 different languages. We found English, Polish, Korean, Chinese, and dozens more. We then went to the center of the church and said the Our Father ourselves. It was both beautiful and overwhelming.

Next we made it to the church of Dominus Flevit. Here we celebrated Mass together and got an amazing view of the city of Jerusalem. We heard about how Christ protects us the way a hen protects her chicks and contemplated how he must have wept to know how Jerusalem was doomed to fall. Oh, and we rode camels. I swear the guys screamed more about it than the girls. (I have a few pictures so you can see how much fun it is.)

Finally we had to depart for the night. Sadly even though Father pulled all the strings he could, there was only enough room for 6 people to accompany him to spend the night at the Holy Sepulcher. We sent Jim, Haley, Elliot, Bridget, and Joe along with Father and Jill to spend the night while the rest of us went back to the hotel to rest up for the night.

Yours In Christ,
Matthew Mileski