A day to explore Bethlehem
We have stayed many nights in Bethlehem, but until now, we haven’t really had a chance to get to know the city. We remedied that today by starting with a visit to Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution with 3000 students, about 70% Muslim and 3/4 female. The chair of its Religious Studies Department has his Masters degree in Theology from Saint Michael’s College! Then we headed to the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest church buildings in the world, still intact as established in 326 AD by Helena, the mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine. Getting under the altar to see the birthplace of Jesus was not for the claustrophobic, but it was a moving experience nonetheless. Because tomorrow is Epiphany, we saw a number of parades and celebrations in the street. We traveled out of the city to see the Shepherds’ Fields, traditional site of the angels appearing to “poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” Nearby was a restaurant under a huge tent serving traditional Palestinian cuisine; one of the best meals of the trip. We ended the day at the Palestinian Cultural Center, founded to promote culture and heritage. Just a couple of blocks away is the Wall, slicing through everyone’s lives in this region, now a platform for protest graffiti and spontaneous art from Banksy and dozens of others like him. Walking back to the hotel, I got a good shot of the building that has been our home away from home for most of the trip.