What an Interesting, Crazy and Glorious Day

Trip Start Dec 18, 2010
Trip End Jan 04, 2011

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Well, the day started out like most of our trip, except Laura went to the Israeli Museum because she had seen all the sites we were visiting today when she was here a year ago...we met our guide, Uri at the hotel entrance after another good breakfast.

First we drove through the Old City (didn't know they allowed cars there, but they do) entering through the Jaffa Gate and exiting through the Dung Gate (so named as it was once a large garbage heap for the Old City). We proceeded to the Mount of Olives where we entered the Church of the Pater Noster (Our Father, for those of you, like me, who don't speak Latin). Cool church. Supposedly where Jesus taught his desciples the Lord's Prayer (he also taught it to the multitudes at the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee). The Lord's Prayer is written on the walls in large letters in every known language of the world. We came around a corner and a group of Korean tourists were singing the Lord's Prayer in their language. In another part we came upon a group of folks from Singapore singing it in English (but with a different tune than we usually hear). I didn't have the guts to break into it when we came to the English version, even though I've sung it many times in church and at weddings.

Next, the Church of Dominus Flevit where Jesus supposedly wept for the people and the city of Jerusalem as he saw a vision of the city being destroyed. As you probably know, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD ratifying his vision. It is a tear-shaped church denoting Jesus' tear, and the shortest verse in the Bible (Luke 19:41 - "Jesus wept.")

We progressed down the Mount to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Very cool garden and church. The garden has eight olive trees, three of which have been dated back 2000 years, thus witnessing the events of Jesus' day. Pope Paul VI planted a new one on his visit in 1964. Your thoughts can't help but turn to sadness in this place.

We then visited Mt. Zion with the Room of the Last Supper (the fourth most holy place in the Christian world). Interesting site. In the basement is where King David was burried (Jewish faith), the Room of the Last Supper (Christian) and the Muslims converted the place to a mosque when they ruled the city. All three religions in the same place!

Next, the Church of Dormition (going to all these churches...do you think God is getting even with me for playing golf on a lot of Sundays???) This is the site where Mary died and ascended into heaven. The basement was the coolest place. Very somber. It held a stone effigy of Mary asleep on her deathbed with Jesus calling her to Heaven. Very cool.

Next, the Church of St. Peter of Gallicantu where Peter supposedly denied Christ three times before the cock crowed, bringing one of Jesus' predictions to truth. It's very top and other paintings and sculptures include the cock crowing. It's also suppose to be the former home of the high priest Ciaiphus where Jesus was taken after his arrest. There is a cave beneath the church (open to the public) supposedly where Jesus was held before his trial. They say if you turn the lights out, its pitch dark in the cave where the man who was suppose to be the "light of the world" was incarcerated in darkness...very moving.

Next we drove to Ein Kereem, just outside of Jersalem, the birthplace of John the Baptist. It was also the place of what is known as "Mary's visitation." They know Elizabeth and Zachariah's house was there and John the Baptist was their son. It's also the place where Mary visited Elizabeth when she was three months pregnant with Jesus and first felt him move. The walk up the stairs was tough for a couple of oldies like Sandy and me, but it was worth the walk. We also saw the church over the grave of John the Baptist.

Then the day got interesting. We circled back to pick up Laura at the Museum and then it was off to Jerusalem. Our Jewish guide could not go into Jerusalem; it's Palestinian territory. But as I like to say, he "knew a guy who knew a guy" and got us connected.

Going through the border checkpoint is quite unnerving. Uzis on the Israeli side and AK-47s on the Palestinian side. Our American passport was like a magic wand though...cleared through with no problem.

On the other side, we met Zyed, our driver to Manger Square. Loved what Zyed said first, "Welcome to Bethlehem...this is no longer the "little town of Bethlehem" you sing about." It has 220K people and it's very crowded. We picked up our guide, Adel on the way. And a short ride later, we were in Manger Square...on Christmas Eve Day (about 2:30 PM)...already the massive crowds were growing for the evening's festivities. Adel quickly got us into the Church of the Nativity. As you enter you have to stoop down low - some say it was to keep Muslim horsemen from entering on horseback, others say so you are bowing and getting humble to see the birthplace of Jesus of as you enter. You choose.

So, there's this line about 45 minutes to an hour to see, kneel down, touch and kiss (if you want) the rock where
Jesus was born. Adel's cousin works security there...about five minutes later we were in the grotto viewing, kneeling down and touching (sorry, didn't kiss) the rock where Jesus was born. And the manger as well! That was amazing! Then we were out of there to see the adjacent Church of St. Catherine. Very beautiful. Little did we know we'd see it again.

Adel (who we tipped very well) walked us back to Zyed, whose family owns a small souvenir shop...we felt obliged to buy some souvenirs...it was expected, otherwise when Uri (our Jewish guide) calls Zyed (our driver) back again, he may not pick other tourists up. That's how the Middle East works. We got a few souvenirs and then back to the border checkpoint. We tipped Zyed pretty well, but not as well as Adel, feeling we purhcased some things in his family's shop which made things right.

Back across the border. Again, the magic of the American passport.

You know, Laura stayed in a place called Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies when she was in Israel last year. We decided to pay them a visit to say "hi." That changed the whole rest of the day, night and early morning. We walked up a good-sized hill very near the border checkpoint. . We met the Director, Father Timothy. For those of you from Nebraska, he's originally from there and is still a "Husker!" Since we had already been to the Church of the Nativity, and didn't want to fight the crowds in the evening, we asked him for a suggestion for church services for the evening in Jerusalem. He said, "You know, we're having services at 10:00 pm in Bethlehem at The Shepard's Field, if you'd like to join us." It was, as you know, where the shephards were visited by angels informing them of the virgin birth. We jumped at the opportunity.

We taxied back home, rested a while, had dinner at a neat little restaurant inside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City and even listened to some carolers outside the cafe...and then back to Tantur. We met Sister Bridgett, an Irish nun who was going with us to the mass at Shepherd's Field, passing out tickets to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine's. We declined.

Then about 8:40 pm, 20 of us piled into a bus and another group in a van, and headed back across the border checkpoint (one person's American passport got us all in). Then the fun began. Our driver who was Palestinian was trying his best to negotiate the traffic and pedestrians, but we finally had to give up. It was ten till 9:00 and we were not going to make it to Shepherd's Field in time for the service and we couldn't walk to there (too far). So the bus had to turn back toward the border checkpoint. Sister Bridgett told those people going to the St. Catherine's MIdnight Mass they had better get out and walk the rest of the way, or they might miss the mass. Then Laura had a stroke of genius. She turned to me and said, "If she has extra tickets to the mass, do you want to go? " You bet! We asked if she had extra tickets and she did, so we took them. The tickets said "No cameras" so we left ours with Sister Bridgett (remember that).

We headed in the general direction of Manger Square with 5 other people. After walking two blocks, we knew why the bus couldn't get through...all the streets were totally blocked by soldiers with all sorts of major weapons. They were making way for several dignitaries including the President of Palestine who would be attending the mass.

Through the narrow crowded streets of Bethlehem and all the shops and little kids accosting you to buy something, we finally made it to Manger Square. It was almost 10:00 PM. Our tickets to the Mass got us through police lines to get in line for the Mass. They opened the gates at 10:00 pm...what a mass of humanity. It was one step below organized chaos!

After two metal detectors (I got the "magic wand" treatment once - must have looked suspicious with my ISU Redbird Band jacket on! - we finally entered the church with a throng of people....I don't know how many...at least a thousand in a small church that probably held 500!!! They were practicing for mass...I tried to sing, but I don't know much Latin, how about you???? Even the Christmas carols were in Latin...thank goodness for the chorus of "Gloria, In Excelsus Die O" or I might not have been able to sing a note!

They had given all of us the 122 page booklet which contained the Mass...are you kidding me? We Presbyterrian's are used to a 2-page bulletin! Did I mention, we were standing? We stood in that church from 10:15 pm until the mass was over at 1:15 am!!! I probably wouldn't do it again, but I'm very glad I experienced it once! It was an experience of a lifetime! And sharing it with family and two priests in training and other religious folks who were friends of Laura's made it even more special. One Christmas we won't soon forget! Sandy got so tired and like many, sat on the floor and listened rather than looked at much of the mass. Laura and I stood the whole time! As one minister said when we were stuck in traffic, "just remember how tough it was for Mary and Joseph!" Now there's perspective for you!

Between 11:30 and 12:00, they started seating dignitaries - oh yea, they all got to sit! About 11:55 pm the bishop and several other priests entered. We followed along in the book as best we could. The highlight may have been the bishop who spoke much of the mass in about 8 different languages...thank goodness one of them was English. Did I tell you we were good people and didn't bring our camera? Well 800 other people didn't get the message. Sure wish we had!

After mass, we began a half hour walk back to the border checkpoint and on to Tantur. Finally, we caught a cab back to our hotel...time, 2:45 AM Christmas Day! Now that was a truly crazy and glorious day. Sorry this baby is so long, but our day lasted about 19 hours.

One of the most interesting, crazy and glorious days of our lives!


Merry Christmas everyone!
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Mark Collins on

Fascinating day Dave, thanks for sharing it with us. There was television coverage of the 90K+ people in Bethleham but I didn't see you guys. Did you get your camera back from Sister Bridgett or did it end up in Zyed's souvenir shop?

Snowman on

Dave, It sounds wonderful, I really enjoy you writing. With the timing and the place, it is really neat to hear your experience. I am glad Sandy an your daughter is having a good time as well..

Merry Christmas and we will see you soon!

Carol Csanda on

WOW....what a Christmas to remember. Think I better get Mark reading this blog so I can convince him to go sometime. Hugs to Sandy and Laura!

p.s. glad the ISU Redbirds are getting some attention over there!

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