Father Benny, the chaplain of the Holy Family Filipino Community in Nazareth, reports on the trip of members of the community to Bethlehem on Saturday and Sunday, December 9 and 10, 2017.

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Just a couple of days before our scheduled recollection/pilgrimage to Bethlehem, US President Trump made his announcement on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Consequently, our Philippine Embassy at Tel Aviv immediately made an advisory to all Philippine citizens in Israel to avoid certain places, like Jerusalem, especially the Old City and Bethlehem, during the coming days. Both our HFFCN Coordinator, Ms. Genvieve Zohair, and I investigated the safety of the activity, scheduled on December 9 and 10, 2017. Assured by competent people in Bethlehem’s Casa Nova and Friary, we assured all the 36 intended participants, that it was safe to go. Only four backed out.

Thus, late in the afternoon of December 9, we sped to Bethlehem’s Casa Nova. Upon arrival there at around 19:00, we settled into our designated rooms and had dinner. At 20.45, I conducted a 45-minute conference on the challenges of the Advent season, and the group was invited to reflect on some questions given in the course of the talk. At the end there was a spontaneous singing of some Christmas carols. For safety sake, nobody went to Manger’s Square for the night.

Very early at dawn, at 4:55, on December 10, we had our mass at the Grotto of the Nativity. Some early pilgrims joined the group for mass. Then the time before breakfast at 7:00, was left free for everyone to do things in silence. Some lingered in Saint Catherine’s Church and grotto, while others went back to their rooms, etc.

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After breakfast we walked to the Milk Grotto nearby but it was still closed. Two of us, however, had to return quickly to Galilee because the elderly whom one of them took care of, died at dawn and the burial was supposed to take place by mid-afternoon. Thus, after some time of waiting in vain, we headed back to Casa Nova and proceeded with the bus to the Shepherds’ Field at Beth Sahour, where we reflected on the Lukan text of the announcement of the good news to the shepherds and their visit to the newborn Messiah. We milled around the place for some time again and returned to Casa Nova. Since there was still time before lunch at noon, most of the participants went to the Milk Grotto, which was already open. A rally at the Mangers’ Square was then taking place. Notably it was also International Human Rights’ Day.

Soon after lunch, the group from Galilee sped back to their work with the tourist bus. Some had gone back earlier to Tel Aviv and Haifa because they had some errands to do in Jerusalem before returning to their posts.

We always schedule our recollection/pilgrimage ahead of Christmas to have more quiet time and avoid the surge of people around Christmas Day itself. Hopefully everybody is then ready to celebrate Christmas more meaningfully.

Through the website, we want to greet all of the Hebrew-speaking communities and the other migrants’ communities under the guidance of Father Rafic Nahra, our Vicar, and wish them a very joyful Advent and Christmas seasons!

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