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Following is the fifth installment from the Holy Land.

Today we began with the tall order, waking up some of the students after spending the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Then we had the joy of traveling to Bethlehem, which is across the border into Palestine. Before we got to the Church of the Nativity, we stopped and looked at the border wall from the Palestinian side and all of the graffiti on it.

Then we went and visited a Christian store to buy souvenirs. There are very few Christians in Bethlehem, and so we went there to support them. Next we visited the Church of the Nativity where we had to wait in line for a while, but were able to see some of the incredible renovation work in progress while we were waiting. Finally we descended into the cave under the church where there are two spots to venerate; one at the location of Jesus’s birth, and the location of the manger. While still in the cave, we were able to sing “Silent Night” together as a group.

After a great lunch, we went across the street to the Shepherds’ Field and saw a cave where shepherds would have stayed in the time of Jesus. Our guide explained that, because of their nomadic lifestyle, the shepherds were unable to practice all of the Mosaic law. Because of this they were looked down upon, as second-class citizens. This makes it all the more meaningful God chose to announce the good news to such a group. From the Shepherds Field, we went to the Israeli Museum where we were able to see a scale model of the Old City of Jerusalem (one fiftieth the size) which gave a lot of context to the various places we’ve been visiting. Here we were also able to see some artifacts and Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, the place we had stopped at yesterday.Our final stop took us to the hill Country of Judea to see the site of the Visitation where we had Mass, followed by an ice cream treat. A very tired bunch of pilgrims made their way back to the hotel for dinner, before the second group left for their opportunity to spend the night in the Holy Sepulcher.