Tag Archives: Bethlehem

Where is your Bethlehem? Closer than you think.

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Last week I overheard a young woman ask someone if they celebrated Christmas. The person responded “Yes, of course I do!”. The young woman said, “Oh, do you know that some people don’t celebrate Christmas?” Upon hearing this, I began to think about those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps they haven’t experienced God’s love or mercy directly. Perhaps they don’t believe in God.

A Long Time Ago

What happened in Bethlehem, Palestine over 2,000 years ago has impacted millions upon millions of souls. God, the Creator of the Universe, sent His Son to be born of a virgin in a humble place, a grotto or stable. You have heard the story – Joseph takes Mary from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census held by Caesar Augustus (ref. Luke 2:1).

It is impressive to learn about St. Joseph through John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Guardian of the Redeemer. In it he describes Joseph as a just and righteous man who was obedient to the law:

“Journeying to Bethlehem for the census in obedience to the orders of legitimate authority, Joseph fulfilled for the child the significant task of officially inserting the name ‘Jesus, Son of Joseph of Nazareth’ in the registry of the Roman Empire (Jn 1:45). This registration clearly shows that Jesus belongs to the human race as a man among men, a citizen of this world, but also as Savior of the World!” (#9)

Not Very Different From Today

Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary see the hustle and bustle of the town – people arriving from various areas for the census, donkeys and camels in the streets, marketplace busy, Joseph searched for a place at the inn, and perhaps several inns.

No room at the inn for them! So thanks to an innkeeper, they are told they can stay at a grotto where animals are kept. Here, in this simple, humble, and most likely quiet place, the Son of God is born.

“Joseph, together with Mary, is a privileged witness to the birth of the Son of God in the world on Christmas night in Bethlehem. Joseph was an eyewitness to this birth, which took place in conditions that humanly speaking, were embarrassing.” (#10)

The Journey Home

The first time I experienced visited Bethlehem, I was quite emotional because I was able to touch and pray at the place where my Savior was born! My husband and I have led numerous pilgrimages to the Holy Land and our time in Bethlehem is very special. The birthplace of Jesus, our Savior, is still there! A church, the Basilica of the Nativity, is built over it to protect it. Thanks be to God for this – now, we can visit this sacred site, where the Son of God was born, where Hope was born!

Do Mary & Joseph have a place in your home?

Oh, but what if one cannot visit Bethlehem in the Holy Land? Bethlehem can be our parish church and our homes where we have a nativity scene set-up.

Parish churches can be called “little Bethlehems”. It is there where we unite with other Christians to worship God and see the Creche, or the Nativity.

Let us approach the Creche with new eyes, not as before, as we casually looked at it and thought it was nice. Let us look at the Nativity – whether it be plastic, clay, metal or whatever it is made of – and see what took place 2,000 years ago in a small town in ancient Palestine.

Have you prepared a place for Jesus?

Imagine the scene! Mary and the Child Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes… Would you be attracted to spend time with this family? The Shepherds did! The Magi did!

A Nativity scene, a Creche – as simple as it may be; this symbolic representation of Christ’s birth can help us meditate and contemplate God’s love for each of us, God’s mercy to give us a Redeemer born so poor and yet majestic, because He is the Savior!

When life throws challenges at us, whether it be elderly parents, sickness, problems with family or work; think about the Holy Family. They certainly faced their challenges!

Oh yes, let us humble ourselves before the infant Jesus. His gifts of peace, hope and joy last forever! The Christmas Season (Dec 25 – January 6) can be our time in “Bethlehem”, let us take advantage of this time to thank Him for His gifts and humbly present ourselves to Him.

The Pilgrim Center of Hope seeks to offer you opportunities to encounter Christ as a gift. We pray that you and your family find ways to encounter Christ wherever you are and have a blessed Christmas season.

Why did the Angels announce Christ’s birth to shepherds?

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b-shepherds-fieldMy husband and I enjoy watching A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Who could forget that classic moment, when a deeply perturbed Charlie Brown yells, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” and Linus recites from the Gospel of Luke? It’s a real tear-jerker.

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

How often have you pictured that scene in your mind: so many angels singing God’s praises, their glory contrasting with the poor, amazed, and simple shepherds? Did you know that even to this day in Bethlehem, shepherds continue to tend their flocks in the very same fields? During my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit and see this amazing place with my own eyes.

Shepherds’ Field, Bethlehem

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Have you ever realized that this historic event is commemorated during Mass on Sundays and major feast days? Each time we sing, “Glory to God in the highest…”, known as the Gloria, we are echoing those words of the angels that forever changed the world and sent a message of hope for all people! Wow!

However, have you noticed that during Advent, we skip this part of the Mass? Why?

Shepherd of Bethlehem

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish people lived under the Roman Empire’s occupation, and they longed for a Savior. They looked for a “Son of David”, because the prophets had promised a Messiah (Savior) from the line of King David. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus was born into such a family.

Now recall King David’s background: he was a shepherd from Bethlehem. He was the youngest and smallest of his father’s sons—an unexpected new king, yet the most famous and revered of all Israel’s rulers.

Why Shepherds are Significant

Imagine spending your days and nights outside with a flock of sheep…not the most exciting gig in the world! Shepherds were servants, hired by landowners to tend their flock. An ideal shepherd was a patient, loyal, strong person, willing to stay with his job despite boredom, bad weather, and the occasional predator or wandering sheep. To these simple servants, the host of heaven revealed itself!

Similarly, we ourselves are charged by our Master to go about our everyday lives accomplishing the tasks he gives us. Under blue skies or gray, rain or shine, in boredom or danger, we are called to be out in the fields, doing our duty.

Advent is a time of preparation and waiting. Unlike the world around us which is already celebrating Christmas, we are called to patiently wait for our Savior. Just like the shepherds, we must stay awake and alert. Then, finally, when eternity explodes into our lives—either by death or Second Coming, we will be ready to run and greet Christ!

So, during Advent, we do not sing the Gloria as a reminder that we are waiting, like those shepherds. For me, Christmas Mass is one of the most emotional of the year, because I can sing the song that, along with millions of other Catholics, I have been waiting so long to sing. Together, our Church family sings the song that brought hope to a people longing for a savior; the song that the host of heaven sang to some humble little “nobodys”…

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

If you’d like to walk across Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem and sing the Gloria where it was first sung, join us for a journey of faith to the Holy Land! I invite you to learn about the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s unique Ministry of Pilgrimages and view upcoming pilgrimages on our website.

How the Blind see the Holy Land

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You may have heard at least once the song Amazing Grace. The song was written in the late 1770’s by John Newton, a British sailor and former slave trader. He wrote about one of his experiences at sea during a violent storm; thinking the ship would sink and would be lost, he shouted to the Lord for His mercy. Surviving the storm, he realized the grace of God and wrote the song Amazing Grace.

I have listened to this song so many times, and often think of the words “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” relating to my own encounter with God’s mercy.

Meet Alco

My husband, Deacon Tom and I, led a group of 40 persons on pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few weeks ago. The Spiritual Director, Fr. Pat Martin, for this pilgrimage is a blind priest with a special ministry. He travels throughout North America and Ireland presenting parish missions about the mercy of God’s love. Also among the group, was another blind person, Alco, a woman who was born blind.Alco

She had searched for an organization or a group that would welcome her, a single blind woman with the desire to experience the Holy Land as a pilgrim. When I first met Alco, by phone, I was most impressed with the enthusiasm and joy expressed in her voice. She explained how, for years now, she wanted to go to the Holy Land and it was most apparent in her voice! I, too, was excited about the opportunity to introduce her to the Holy Land! Isn’t it interesting to discover and observe “God’s hand” in situations? One must believe at this point, this was no “accidental” phone call!

Alco visits the Holy Land

Alco joined us on this pilgrimage, I greatly enjoyed walking with her, arm in arm, I was able to describe the various holy sites related to the life of Jesus in Galilee, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. She was able to touch the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem, kneel at the Tomb of Christ and kiss where His Body laid and resurrected among many other holy sites. One of my favorite sites is Nazareth, a city in the Galilee Region, known world-wide because it is the hometown of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). The Grotto, or the home of Mary, the Mother of Jesus is here; it has become through the centuries, a destination for many Christians who want to see, touch her home and ask her intercession. Today, a large Catholic Church called the Basilica of the Annunciation is built over this Grotto to protect it.

This holy site was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, when he addressed Mary as “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28), it is humble place where today a small altar is located in the center with an inscription in Latin in front of altar  “Verbum Caro Hic Factum Est“; translating – “Here the Word was Made Flesh”. There was complete silence, we imagined seeing Mary as a young woman here. Our pilgrim group spent time in silence and implored Mary’s intercession.
As I looked at Alco, she had a big smile on her face. Do you know something? Alco not only saw with the eyes of her heart, as she listened to the descriptions, because of her open heart and zeal for her faith, she sensed a deep presence of Mary and God.IMG_2227

This experience among many others with Alco and Fr. Pat, the blind priest, taught me so much. For one – how much we take for granted, even our eyesight. One of Fr. Pat’s favorite response on discovering something beautiful or good is the word “Fantastic!”. Alco’s response is a big, beautiful smile with a sweet laughter. Fr. Pat and Alco, the only two blind persons I have ever encountered opened my eyes. Not only my eyes, but my heart as well. So often our minds are distracted with the noise and busy activity around us, we may fail to truly be aware of God’s presence or the ways He may be “speaking” to us through someone’s message, nature, sacred art, beauty and simply by being present to the moment.

The joy of these two blind persons also gave testimony to their deep love for God, because they have experienced His peace, joy and hope in their lives.

Alco wrote her pilgrimage experience, the following is a part of her article.

“We visited a number of holy sites.  One of the highlights of the trip for me was being able to proclaim God’s Word in the church at Mount Tabor.  An architect, Antonio Barluzzi built churches on many holy sites after World War I.  I understand that the visuals are stunning, but for me, the acoustics in his churches are truly amazing!  I have never sung in churches that magnified sound like that.
All I can share with you is what I observed. However, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to meet so many generous, warm-hearted Palestinian Christians as well as the people who went on this pilgrimage; with me.  I never felt unsafe.”

God with Us

These words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I was once lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” continue to cause me to praise God for His omnipotent mercy!

Today, take a moment to praise God for His presence in your life, even if you don’t see him – He is there to receive you, inviting you to approach Him!

Join us on a Pilgrim Center of Hope Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Visit here to see our future pilgrimages. Tom and I have been to the Holy Land 47 times in the last 25 years, we would very much like to introduce you to the land sanctified by the Lord Jesus! Come and See! Did you know that the Holy Land is also called the Fifth Gospel?