October 16, 2013 (Wednesday): JERUSALEM – BETHLEHEM – JERUSALEM
Our early breakfast was at 6:15AM. We left the Commodore Hotel at 7:29AM and drove to Bethlehem for our 10AM Mass at St. Catherine Church near the Church of the Nativity. Morning Prayer was said and Bible passages were distributed. I got this one: “You are mine. Before I formed you, I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you,” (Jer. 1:5).
Under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, visiting the Bethlehem may require special arrangements, including coordination for transportation and guides because the site is in the West Bank and West Bank is under the control of Palestine. Bethlehem, literally mean “House of Meat,” or the Hebrew Beit Lehem means, “House of Bread,” located in the central West Bank in Palestine, approximately 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem. The Old Testament identifies Bethlehem as the City of David because he was crowned here as the king of Israel. The New Testament Gospels identified Bethlehem as the Birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth and has been a prime destination for Christian pilgrims for centuries: “And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” (Lk. 2:4-7).
The Basilica of the Nativity is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Church and one of the earliest and most important of all Christian ecclesiastical buildings, enshrines a grotto believed to be the place where Jesus was born (Luke 2:7). The Church of Saint Catherine, a Roman Catholic Church, is connected to the Church of Nativity at its northern end. Steps leading down from the main hall of the Church of Saint Catherine arrive at a series of caves, one of which is the Chapel of Saint Jerome.
The Milk Grotto located in the crypt of a small Franciscan chapel, celebrates the tradition that the cave was used as a place of refuge by the Holy Family before their flight into Egypt.
We arrived in Bethlehem at 8AM and entered the Three Arches Co. Ltd., a souvenir shop located in 388 Manger Street, Bethlehem, Palestine. We bought some souvenirs to be our ‘pasalubong‘ to friends back home and to help Christians who are living in Israel according to Joseph, our tour guide. Christians in Israel count only up to 135,000 as of 2013 census.
At around 9:15AM we went to St. Catherine Church for the Mass at 10AM. Fr. Roming Subaldo presided at Mass. His homily focused on Nativity. According to him that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (or House of Bread). Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is not after popularity but of saving people. Jesus loves all.
Kissing of the Baby Jesus and Picture taking took place after the Mass. We went into the Chapel of St. Jerome which, according to Christian tradition, is the site where St. Jerome translated the Greek Holy Bible into the Latin Vulgate.
Besides the Chapel of St. Jerome, there are other chapels in the Church of Nativity which include the Chapel of Saint Joseph, commemorating the angel’s apparition to Joseph, commanding him to flee to Egypt: “When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him,’” (Mt 2:13); the Chapel of Innocents, commemorating the children killed by Herod (Mt 2:16-18).
We entered the Church of the Nativity and fell in line Church and down to the Grotto of the Nativity which marks the spot of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-18). Beneath the altar, there is a silver star with the Latin inscription: “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary). We ended at around 12:15PM.
Nearby the Nativity Church is the Crystal Restaurant where we had our lunch. After lunch, at 1:20PM, we drove to Shepherds’ Field. We entered the Church of the Shepherds’ Field; a gospel passage was read by Fr Roming Subaldo, the shepherd of the day, and toured the place.
The Franciscans, the Custodians of Holy Land places, have a lovely Chapel of the Shepherds in the form of a tent, about 3 kilometers east of Bethlehem, whose cupola, with tiny glass windows, reminds one of the heavens and the stars. The place is located in the Village of Beit Sahour. The Shepherds’ Field is identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the Shepherds’ Field and informed them of the Birth of Jesus: “Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. he angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord,” (Mt 2:8-11). The shepherds saw the Star of Nativity. This image of the Star of nativity is enshrined beneath the Altar of the Church of the Nativity.
Afterwards, we went to the Garden of Gethsemane. The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last hours praying before he was arrested, is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives: “And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray” (Mk. 14:32). To get there, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley: “… he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered,” (Jn. 18:1). It was also in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus and His disciples often retired and meditate and pray. When we arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, we waited for awhile and then entered the Garden; spent 15 minutes there, and burned all the petitions sent to us and our own petitions too.
After the Garden of Gethsemane, we entered into the Church of Agony, a Roman Catholic Church, also called the Church of All Nations, home to some magnificent mosaics depicting the Agony of Jesus. According to tradition, the Rock of Agony lies inside the church where Jesus is said to have prayed before His arrest (Mk. 14:32-42). This Church is in the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and next to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Grotto of Agony is not far from The Tomb of the Virgin Mary and The Church of St. Mary Magdalene. And near the top of the Mount of Olives is the Chapel of the Ascension: “And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight,” (Acts 1:9).
After touring, taking pictures and praying silently at the Church of Agony, our tour bus driver Saher, brought us to Pater Noster Church, one of several splendid churches in this sacred place called Mount of Olives. Mount of Olives is also called Mount Olivet, is a mountain ridge in east Jerusalem and is administered by Israel as part of the country’s capital, Jerusalem. It was named after the olive groves that once covered its slopes. The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in connection with David’s flight from Absalom (1Sam 15:30) in the Old Testament: “And David went up by the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up.” The Mount of Olives too is frequently mentioned in the New Testament (Mt. 21:1; 26:30) as the route from Jerusalem to Bethany and the place where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem. Jesus spent time on Mount of Olives, teaching and prophesying to His disciples (Mt 24-25), returning after each day to rest (Lk 21:37), and also coming there on the night of His betrayal (Mt 26:39).
Pater Noster(The Lord’s Prayer) Church was named after the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples: “Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name…” (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4). At the wall, inside out, of the Pater Noster Church, the Lord’s Prayer is translated into several languages of the world including Tagalog, Ilonggo and Pampango.
And then we went to Dominus Flevit Church, another splendid church of Mount of Olives, passing the Palm Sunday road: “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it…” (Lk. 19:41). While walking along the Palm Sunday road, we saw cemetery of Jews (necropolis) and Muslims. Upon arrival at Dominus Flevit Church, a prayer was said and took some pictures. And then we went back to our tour bus waiting us near the Church of the Agony down below the Mount of Olives passing again through the Palm Sunday Road.
We drove to Commodore Hotel and arrived at 5:22PM. Bishop Gutierrez blessed all religious articles we bought. Dinner at 6:30PM, rest and sleep.
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