By Mr. Nghiem Nguyen
Upon returning from the Holy Sepulchre, we were treated to a full 2 hours of sleep. Some of us even woke up a little early for breakfast. The pilgrimage mindset has now fully permeated our students. Everyone acknowledged their exhaustion, but no one complained. Onward we went!
Our first stop was the Basilica of the Nativity – the birthplace of Jesus. We celebrated mass in the St. Jerome Chapel downstairs. St. Jerome was a hermit who spent the latter part of his life translating parts of the Bible in the same cave where Jesus was born. In the intimate chapel, we listened to the nativity narrative and sang Christmas songs. At first, it seemed unusual to celebrate Christ’s birth in April, but the physical space overwhelmed our senses and transported our minds to the first Christmas. We then visited the precise location of the miraculous birth and sang Away in the Manger. The “manger” was more of a cold and dark cave. Being here in person gives us a deeper understanding of the tough conditions in which Jesus entered the world.
We continued our journey through Jesus’ infancy by visiting the Chapel of the Milk Grotto. According to tradition, the Holy Family lived here before their flight to Egypt. There have been reports of infertile couples being able to conceive after faithfully visiting this site. The appeal of the Holy Family was clear as Christians from various denominations, regardless of differences in doctrine, arrived, payed homage, and asked for intercession.
The theme of Christmas continued as we went shopping for gifts at local Christian co-op. In the Holy Land, Christians often have a difficult time finding jobs and establishing a business, so it was especially enjoyable for us to support Christian families while selecting high-quality, hand-crafted gifts for our loved ones.
We then experienced the Nativity from a different perspective as we arrived in Shepherd’s Field. This archaeological site marks the place where the angels revealed to simple sheep herders that the Savior was born. The cave, and others like it, were man-made over 2,000 years ago. We were able to enter the cave and pay our own homage to the baby Jesus while singing “O Come All Ye Faithful”.
The day continued with a visit to the Israel Museum. We were able to see the Dead Sea Scrolls in person. Also, the museum had a model replica of ancient Jerusalem. The view of the model city gave us a preview of the next day when we visit some of those sites.
Our day concluded in Ein Karem – a small neighborhood where John the Baptist was born. Mary also visited the Elizabeth in this area. We prayed Zachariah’s benediction together in the courtyard. Inside the Church of the Visitation, Jill sang the Magnificat. Finally, we were able to pray a decade of the rosary in the spot where the “Hail Mary” was prayed for the first time. We continue to pray for all of you back home.