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On our first day in Jerusalem, we visited the Palestine-occupied Bethlehem to pay tribute to the birthplace of Jesus, and to celebrate a Christmas mass. πŸ™‚

Here’s a photo essay of Day 5 of our Holy Land Pilgrimage to Bethelem…

JERUSALEM BREAKFAST

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We were excited to have our breakfast buffet at Crowne Plaza and to get a taste of Jerusalem food.

Here are our favorites…

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Almonds, dates, and crackers.

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Date honey.

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Yoghurt.

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Fresh fruits.

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Sweet oranges. 

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Freshly cut vegetables.

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The salad bar was awesome…
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…but I usually prefer mixing and matching vegetables on my own.

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We love hummus with our salad! This is always a staple in any kosher meal.

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I love to add balls of mozzarella soaked in olive oil and other herbs.

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I also like the white and cottage cheeses in various forms.

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My personal favorite — White Cheese with Paprika.

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Admittedly, it was tempting to sneak out these triangular cheeses in foil.

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You can also enjoy these medium soft cheeses and some cheddar.

Day 5- Jerusalem Breakfast - Our Awesome Planet-68.jpgBreakfast is a great time to meet other people from the other bus groups so make sure to mingle during this time.

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One of the must-eat breakfast foods in Jerusalem is Shakshouka.

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Shakshouka is a kosher breakfast dish of poached egg, tomatoes, with chili peppers, onions, and cumin, served on a pan.

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During Shabbat, they don’t serve anything that’s cooked like rice and shakshouka so they have alternatives like above.

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Hard boiled eggs and quiche.

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These Jerusalem bagels are also a must-try. πŸ™‚

Day 5- Jerusalem Breakfast - Our Awesome Planet-48.jpgThey have a good selection of croissants and bread in the buffet.

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My favorite is croissant with volcanic chocolate. πŸ™‚

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There’s a decent fish spread with tuna salad and herring in oil.

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Herring in marinade. 

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The Pinoys’ favorite is this tuyo-looking fish cooked tinapa style. A must-try when you are in Jerusalem! πŸ™‚

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The best seats in the dining area are these tables overlooking the garden outside.

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During Shabbat morning, they offer this bagel sandwich…

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…with cheese and tomato.

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Overall, Jerusalem kosher breakfast is very healthy. Although after three days, you kind of miss the tapsilog and longganisa with garlic rice and vinegar.

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For dessert, our favorite is the block of halva! It’s made from sesame seeds with the consistency of chocnut.

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Final tip: Always make it a point to sit with other pilgrims and get to know them. 

 

SHOPPING IN BETHELEM

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After breakfast, we proceeded to Bethlehem, which is a Palestine-occupied territory 10km south of Jerusalem. It’s 20 minutes away, passing through a checkpoint. 

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We visited one store meant for all of us so that we could manage our shopping time. They say it’s required by the Palestenian government to shop since the main industry in Bethlehem is Tourism.

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We were already preped by our guide that Bethlehem is the best place for good quality and reasonably priced religious products and Holy Land souvenirs.  

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I’m sure they get a commision from our purchases but we don’t mind…

Day 5- Shopping in Bethlehem - Our Awesome Planet-47.jpg…since the store has an extensive assortment of religious products, especially the olive wood crosses and figures by visual artist and scupltor Ghassan Michael Bishara Salsa.

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This is the Jewish interpretation of the Last Supper, which is a realistic depiction based on the local traditions and culture during the time of Jesus.

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The Holy Family in olive wood.

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The Nativitity scene in olive wood.

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We bought olive wood rosaries for pasalubong

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…Nativity Crosses…

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…and these green crosses with an embedded St. Benedict’s medal.

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I would recommend buying one of the big crosses for your home.

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You can choose a Jerusalem Cross with the different elements from the Holy Land.

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Our Father Cross.

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Olive wood cross from the Holy Land.

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Another interesting item is the cross pendant that tranforms.

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A bit expensive but a good personal souvenir. 

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Bethlehem perfumes, anyone? 

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These different rings are worth trying… 

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…with the Jerusalem cross and other intricate designs. 

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The Mama Mary with Baby Jesus icon and the Holy Water and Holy Oil from the Holy Land are also popular pasalubong

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Candelabras for your dining tables…

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…with intricate designs based on the ancient ruins.

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For those who collect icons, the store has an extensive collection from different parts of the world. 

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Check out the Icon Gallery below…

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We checked out this 18th Century Deisis Icon…

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Deisis is a traditional iconic interpretation of Christ’s Majesty, sitting on His Throne with a book, with the Virgin Mary on the right and St. John the Baptist on the left, and with other saints surrounding Him.

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Deisis Icon. Moscow School of Letters. Home – 18th Century. Tempera on Wood ($7,800).

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There are a lot of vendors selling postcards for $1.

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Our tour guide Ronin endorsed him and everyone bought afterwards. It’s generally recommended to not buy from vendors outside.

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Here’s our shopping basket with Jerusalem shirts for the kids.

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This is the receipt. They would usually give a discount and you can pay via credit card.

 

CHRISTMAS @ BETHLEHEM

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After getting shopping out of the way, we proceeded to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

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We entered a fortress-like basilica…

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…through the door of humility, where every Christian would need to bow down to enter.

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The structure is a bit dilapidated.

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The Nativity Church is managed by three Christian denominations: the Greek Orthodox Church, the Custody of the Holy Land, and the Armenian Church. 

Note: There’s an ongoing conflict among the denominations on who should shoulder the maintainence of the Church.

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We fell in line to see the grotto cave where Jesus was born. This is the longest queue we experienced during the pilgrimage.

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The Church of the Nativity is the oldest Christian Church in daily use and has survived invasions, rebellions, and earthquakes.

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This is the original Roman-style floor of the Basilica.

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As you enter, you’ll see the Greek Orthodox Church built over the Nativity Cave with an iconostasis and a complex display of lamps hanging from the roof.

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We decided to hear mass first then continue to visit the Nativitiy Grotto afterwards. We passed through a complex until we reached the Catholic church.

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This is the adjoining Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, where the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is broadcast around the world.

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A solemn and happy Christmas Mass in February.

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Bro. Bo giving a Christmas message and blessing.

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After the mass, we venerated the image of the Baby Jesus.

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Kudos to the choir for the wonderful Christmas songs throughout the mass.

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A view of the modern Gothic revival architecture of the church from the altar.

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The colorful window mosaic of the Nativity…

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The facade of the St. Catherine Franciscan Church. 

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They say this is where Christ appeared to St. Catherine of Egypt, who shared the vision of her martyrdom (around 310 AD) of being tortured on a wheel.

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After the Christmas mass, we went back to fall in line to see the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

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We waited for one hour and 40 minutes in a standing-room-only queue.

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We had a local tour guide to support the tourism economy in Bethlehem. He gave us a background, some trivia, and what to expect.

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The scene after waiting in line for 30 minutes. You can go to the restroom and ask other pilgrims to reserve your space.

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When you visit the restroom, make sure you stop and appreciate this artwork of a Knight on a horse slaying a dragon.

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There’s also a nice mosaic map of Bethlehem, the Milk Grotto, and Jerusalem.

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The elderly and the pregnant women can actually sit and wait in the Greek Orthodox Church.

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You wait until your group passes through the door leading to the grotto on the right side of the church.

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After waiting in line for an hour.

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As you pass through the door, you’ll see the iconostasis and the beautiful array of lamps.

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Here’s a closer look at the wall of icons.

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For those sitting on the chairs, this is the point where you insert yourself to your group.

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Everybody funnels into a small entrance into the Nativity Cave.

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As you get nearer, people enter the door one at a time. You need to be careful because of the narrow steps.

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At last, the entrance to the cave!

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Everyone was excited to enter after waiting for one hour and 20 minutes.

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As you draw nearer to the place of the Nativity, you are overwhelmed by the surreal experience of being able to visit where Jesus was born.

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This is the Nativity Grotto, adorned by carpet, lamps, and different icons.

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An altar is built on the right side where Jesus is believed to be born.

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Each pilgrim has a chance to touch the spot and offer their prayers. Some take photos for Instagram. πŸ™‚

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This is the exact spot where Jesus was born, marked by a 14-pointed silver star set into the marble floor, lighted with the silver lamps, and adorned with icons.

(Matthew 1:18-2:23) The Birth of Jesus Christ

18  Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

The Visit of the Wise Men

2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Herod Kills the Children

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The Return to Nazareth

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

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On the left side of the grotto is the altar for the manger.

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Pilgrims would touch the altar and offer their prayers to Jesus.

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Christians believe this is the spot where Mary laid the newborn Baby Jesus.

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The line is long because the pilgrims want to spend as much time as possible in the Nativity grotto after traveling a long way from home.

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This is the exit door from the cave. This is the door where the organizers and tour guides would enter, and for the elderly who would have difficulty falling in line.

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We had a group picture of the Blue Bus group in the front of the Basilica of the Nativity.

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An official Bethlehem photographer would take the photo and sell a 8×10 picture with a commemorative folder of Bethelem.

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There are lots of street vendors. It’s recommended not to buy from them because some of the products are made in China.

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After visiting the Nativity, we went on a rolling tour of Bethlehem going to our lunch stop.

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BETHLEHEM literally means house (bet) of bread with 46,000 people composed of Palestinian Arabs, Christians, and Muslims.

 

SHEPHERD’S VALLEY TENT RESTAURANT

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Lunch was really nice. This is one of the best meals we had in the Holy Land.

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We ate lunch in a tent restaurant overlooking a valley.

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This is the traditional Arabic airconditioned tent setup with hand-woven carpets and art.

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We were seated in groups of 10-12.

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We were served family-style.

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Clean-tasting vegetable soup.

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I love the mezze of small appetizers…

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…served with brown toasted Arabic bread.

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Olives.

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Hummus with olive oil and whole chickpeas.

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Corn.

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Spicy tomato salsa.

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Vegetables.

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Greek Salad.

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Awesome pilgrim lunchmates at Shepherd’s Tent Valley in Bethlehem.

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During lunch, Pam shared with us that she visited the milk grotto to get the milk and the prayer for couples who want to conceive.

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It sells for $2. Another great pasalubong for friends. 

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The highlight of the meal was this Chicken Makloba, sometimes spelled as Maqloubeh, which means “upside-down”. 

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It is cooked in a big container and part of the drama is to turn it over for diners to see.

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It’s chicken cooked in rice with spices and different vegetables.

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A piece of roasted chicken is served with palestinian rice, eggplant, carrots, and spices.

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The chicken was juicy and the rice still a bit moist. Love the spiced flavors of Arabian cuisine.

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Dessert was like baklava. Don’t expect too much from the desserts in the Holy Land.

 

SHEPHERD’S FIELD

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After lunch, we visited the Shepherd’s Field.

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This is where the angel appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Christ.

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2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

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15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

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This is the small chapel of Shepherd’s Field… 

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Like the Shepherds, we couldn’t help but sing Gloria.

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We also visited the grotto, which is the cave believed to be used by the shepherds during Jesus’ time.

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It was turned into a small chapel… 

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…with a nativity scene depicted in the stone walls.

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We said our final goodbye to this little Palestenian town of Bethlehem around 3:30ish.

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This is the border crossing checkpoint to Jerusalem. Good thing we didn’t need to get off the bus.

 

GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE

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After Bethlehem, we proceeded to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.

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We entered the garden of olives where we would offer our prayers.

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Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.

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It was raining a bit when we visited here, so best to bring a portable umbrella with you all the time.

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We sat around a furnace where we would burn our prayer petitions to symbolize lifting them up to the heavens.

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If you are asking someone to pray for you, it’s best to give him your prayer written down in 3 copies:

  • One for the Mass prayer petition, which will be burned in the Garden of Gethsemane,
  • One to be put into the Wailing Wall – the Western Wall of the Jerusalem Temple, and
  • One as a copy of the pilgrim.

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We have an e-copy of our petitions and we prayed them during the service.

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We sang songs and worshipped the Lord…

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…as we burned the prayer petitions.

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After the burning of prayer petitions, we headed back to the hotel for a buffet dinner.

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Make sure to check out the ice cream for dessert.

After dinner, we went back to the The Basilica of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane for the Holy Hour.  

 

HOLY HOUR @ BASILICA OF OUR LORD’S AGONY

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Gethsemane literally means olive oil press. It got its name from the ancient olive trees in the garden.

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It was an optional service for the pilgrims, but I would highly recommend it if you would like some time to thank and talk to Jesus fervently.

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The basilica is designed by Antonio Barluzz, which houses the rock where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. There are six monolithic columns to support the 12 cupolas designed with mosaic tiles depicting national emblems of the different donor communities. 

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The church is ran by the Franciscan fathers and this is where the Maundy Thursday services are held on the eve of Good Friday in the Holy Land.

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We prayed for one hour mostly in silence. This is where I was able to hear the message of God in my life.

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After the Holy Hour, the pilgrims are allowed to enter to touch the rock.

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This is the rock where Jesus prayed to the Lord before He was crucified the next day. 

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This is one of the best Holy Hours I’ve experienced. 

To be continued…   

HOLY LAND PILGRIMAGE with BRO. BO SANCHEZ

Live an Awesome Life,

Anton
Founder, www.OurAwesomePlanet.com 

Disclosure: We paid for our Holy Land Trip. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here

P.S. The Next Holy Land Pilgrimage by Bro. Bo Sanchez is on February 10-19, 2015. For more info, you can email Tita Beckie at [email protected]

P.P.S. The pilgrimage tour costs P340,108 (exchange rate P44.65 – $1) for a couple, broken down into the following:

  • Tour Cost: $2,995.00 x 2 = $5,990
  • Airline/ Other Taxes: $495 x 2 = $980
  • Tip Fund: $100 x 2 = $200
  • Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner: $130 x 2 = $260
  • Travel Insurance: $45 x 2 = $90
  • Philippine Travel Tax: P1,620 x  2 = P3,240
  • Airport Tax: P550 x 2 = P1,100

Note: There’s a $300/person non-refundable reservation for the trip, which is deductable from the total amount.

Overall, the Pilgrimage tour with Bro. Bo Sanchez is relatively more expensive than the other pilgrimage trips organized with Executive Resources. But it is the best experience for us because of The Feast (Community Worship Gathering) and the Feast Builders who make the trip awesome. πŸ™‚ 

TIP: You can decide to book your own airfare if you plan to visit other countries after your pilgrimage.