Yesterday we went to Bethlehem for a visit to the Church of the Nativity. The church has been in the news a lot lately due to some fighting between priests. In any case, when we visited everything was calm, and they were preparing for their celebration of Christmas which falls on January 6, the Epiphany.
When I lived here five years ago, there were times when I could go to the Church of the Nativity in the middle of the day and it would be practically empty. This was due to the Second Intifada; many people had chosen not to come to the Holy Land. Yesterday it was quite different. There was a long line to get into the crypt where Christ was born, and many of the pilgrims waiting in line were from Nigeria. I was happy to see the church filled with people coming to the birthplace of Christ.
In some ways the Church of the Nativity is very similar to the Church of the Resurrection. The different denominations have their altars, and there is a status quo that is observed so that all of these different Christian groups can function simultaneously within the same space. Underneath the Roman Catholic portion of the church we visited the caves that commemorate St. Jerome, translator of the Bible into the Vulgate. And of course, no visit to the Church of the Nativity is complete without singing "Silent Night." In the afternoon we visited Shepherd's Field, and there we sang "Angels we have heard on high" in one of the chapels adorning the hillside.
As a side note, I am told that because the government of Nigeria subsidizes the trip for Muslims to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, they also subsidize the trip for the Christians of Nigeria to go to Jerusalem. Hence why we kept seeing so many Nigerians on pilgrimage.
A couple of other items of interest . . .
1. We saw the separation wall when entering into Jerusalem. I had seen it before, but this time there were a series of stories that were placed upon the wall, about how the wall is affecting life in Palestine. Some of the stories were very moving.
2. When we returned to Jerusalem, some of us went for another walk through the Old City, and eventually stopped at the Austrian Hospice. The hospice is in the middle of the Old City, and they have a beautiful chapel and gardens, as well as a cafe. If you want Western coffee, this is a good place to go.
3. Yesterday we heard that one of the pilgrims is a grandmother now! We gathered before dinner for a champagne toast.
4. Yesterday was also our guide's birthday, so we sang Happy Birthday to him in Hawaiian, English and Arabic; we also gave him a bag of Hawaiian treats and a kukui nut lei. The kukui nut represents enlightenment, which is appropriate for our guide, Iyad, because he is enlightening us about this land.
It was a long, but beautiful, day.