Our journey to Bethlehem was almost a short one. Our driver received a call… The checkpoints are closed. Security at Bethlehem has been increased again recently although no one could tell us why. Perhaps it’s related to the peace talks but whatever the reason getting in and out is harder at the moment.
After a few calls we decided to try and cross at Herodium. We approached the checkpoint and our driver told the guard we were going to visit the old Roman Fort and we were allowed to pass. A quick U-turn just up the road and we were on the road to Bethlehem.
Our hotel was right next to the Church of the Nativity in the centre of the bustling town.
It was a noisy night punctuated by a very loud call to prayer at 4am from the Mosque across Manger Square.
In the morning we visited the place where it all began. The Church of the Nativity is the oldest church in the world… with the smallest door I’ve ever seen in a church!
As Leo pointed out, everyone but a child must bow their head to enter. I like that thought. The inside is vast and we explored the cave of St Jerome who first translated the Bible into Latin before waiting to go down the stairs to see the spot where Christ was born.
We descended slowly and as we approached the place a phone began playing Hotel California. It seemed so appropriate, and very funny! We stifled our giggles and passed by the star on the ground and the phone rang again. Our giggles exploded and when we emerged we just couldn’t stop laughing. What was odd was the reaction of the people around us… we were told to be quiet and to move.
Imagine being told to stop being happy in the place where Christ was born?!?! I couldn’t help but think that moment summed up all that is wrong with the church as an institution but that’s for another day.
We then ventured to the ‘Milky Grotto’, perhaps the oddest stop on our tour. It is reported to be the place where Mary nursed the baby Jesus and is complete with a painting of Mary breastfeeding her child.
Leo’s friend Jack owns a shop selling olive wood carvings just down the road from there so we visited and were warmly welcomed.
In the afternoon we visited the Bethlehem International centre to drop off the books we had ‘smuggled’ for them. It’s a brilliant example of how international money can serve the local community providing health care, schools, training and work.
Next, the Bethlehem Museum, a brilliant example of life in Palestine in years gone by. If you get the chance try and visit!
In the evening our friends from Youth 4 Hope visited and we had a great time catching up but also hearing stories of what life behind the wall is like.
In the morning we relaxed, talked and worshiped a little before heading for the Wall.
The checkpoint was closed coming in to Bethlehem but thankfully open for people leaving. We were stopped and asked for passports but that was all. It was a reminder of how difficult life is for those who must negotiate the checkpoints every day.