Bethlehem, without reading about it too much, is a city that you would imagine as being the home of peace, and the place where goodwill to all men is said to have originated from. However, today, although it is a wonderful city, there are signs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict everywhere. The separation barrier splits what used to be bustling main streets in two, it circles peoples’ houses, and is a constant reminder to the Palestinians of their occupiers.
However, while this concrete barrier may affect the economic prosperity of Bethlehem, there is no detracting from its religious significance. Let us not forget that the New Testiment states Bethlehem as being the birth place of Jesus. Our afternoon in Bethlehem saw us visit the Church of the Nativity, a basilica standing upon the place where Jesus was allegedly born.
I am not a particularly religious person. I have been christened, but I would not say that I am a practicing Christian. Having said that, the visit to the Church was a powerful experience. Indeed, a silver star in an underground cave marks the spot where Jesus was born into the world. Despite not being religious, I found that touching the star was a moving experience. This is a spot that holds the beliefs of many millions of people around the world and I was aware of this as I placed my hand onto the silver star.
Just a few metres away from the star is a grotto commemorating the place where Jesus was placed into the manger shortly after he was born. It was here that I was overwhelmed by the emotion that was present in that cave. There were people in that cave who were deep in prayer, and you could see in their faces what it meant to be there. To them, it was truly a special place and they were glad to be there. It was humbling to be a part of it.
This powerful visit to the Church of the Nativity certainly showed how a common interest trumps all. Indeed, no matter what the occupiers do to this city, Bethlehem will always maintain its religious significance. A barrier will never stop people making the pilgrimage to Bethlehem, or Jerusalem for that matter, whatever their religion and the place of religion they are visiting.