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Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 7

Today we started early in the morning heading over to Bethlehem. We had to go through a checkpoint to get into the Palestinian part, which was smooth. I did see a lot of workers standing around at the Israeli side of the checkpoint waiting to be picked up for work (Palestinians cannot take their cars through the checkpoint).

We were at the Church of the Nativity for the whole morning and as the morning went on, the crowds got bigger. The Franciscan House gave us a wonderful lunch and then it was off to shop at a Christian-owned store in Bethlehem.

Church of the Nativity

The Church of the Nativity, or Basilica of the Nativity, is a basilica located in Bethlehem in the State of Palestine, in the West Bank. The grotto holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus. The Grotto is the oldest site continuously used as a place of worship in Christianity, and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.

The church was originally commissioned by Constantine the Great a short time after his mother Helena’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 325–326, on the site that was traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Jesus. That original basilica was likely built between 330 and 333, being already mentioned in 333, and was dedicated on 31 May 339. It was probably destroyed by fire during the Samaritan revolts of the sixth century, possibly in 529, and a new basilica was built a number of years later by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (r. 527–565), who added a porch or narthex and replaced the octagonal sanctuary with a cruciform transept complete with three apses, but largely preserved the original character of the building, with an atrium and a basilica consisting of a nave with four side aisles.

The Church of the Nativity, while remaining basically unchanged since the Justinianic reconstruction, has seen numerous repairs and additions, especially from the Crusader period, such as two bell towers (now gone), wall mosaics, and paintings (partially preserved). Over the centuries, the surrounding compound has been expanded, and today it covers approximately 12,000 square meters, comprising three different monasteries: one Roman Catholic, one Armenian Apostolic, and one Greek Orthodox, of which the first two contain bell towers built during the modern era.

The silver star marking the spot where Christ was born, inscribed in Latin, was stolen in October 1847 by Greek monks who wished to remove this Catholic item. Some assert that this was a contributing factor in the Crimean War against the Russian Empire. Others assert that the war grew out of the wider European situation.

Since 2012, the Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site and was the first to be listed by UNESCO under ‘Palestine’.

Since 1852 the rights of the three religious communities are ruled by Status Quo.

The Birth of Jesus According to Luke

1 Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world.

2 This census — the first — took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria,

3 and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

4 So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David’s town called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line,

5 in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

6 Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child,

7 and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space.

8 In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night.

9 An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified,

10 but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.

11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

12 And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’

13 And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words:

14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.

15 Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehemand see this event which the Lord has made known to us.’

16 So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

17 When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him,

18 and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them.

19 As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

Luke 2:1-20

Shepherds’ Field Chapel

The Shepherds’ Field Chapel or the Sanctuary of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima and St. Theresa of Lisieux, is a Roman Catholic religious building in the area of Beit Sahour, southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank in Palestine. The chapel marks the place where, according to Catholic tradition, angels first announced the birth of Christ.


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