For the first time on our pilgrimage, we awoke to a cloudy and rainy morning. Due to the rain, we rearranged the schedule a bit, and we traveled first to Bethany, to visit the Church of St. Lazarus, which commemorates the location of the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. (Bethany was the home of Martha and Mary – and Lazarus, and was also the home of Simon the Leper, in whose house Jesus was dining when the woman anointed Jesus’ feet with oil.) The sun had peaked out shortly after we drove away from the hotel, and it continued to come in and out periodically throughout the day.
Our guide Rimon explained how the Christian population of this town has been driven out to such a point that it is a very small minority. We were able to celebrate the Eucharist here in what is known as the Crusader chapel. The acoustics were beautiful, and so we sang “Lord of the Dance” to start and “I am the Bread of Life” to end, and this time there were no interruptions by a Jewish guard.
After our Bethany visit, we moved on back to Bethlehem, where we divided up into groups of 6, and then were carried by vans and cars to the homes of 5 different Palestinian families for lunch and conversation. This was an enlightening experience for all the groups, and gave everyone insight into the struggles of Palestinian Christians living in very challenging circumstances. After lunch we drove to Ein Karem, known as the birthplace of John the Baptizer, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Here we listened to the story as recorded in Luke 1, and then joined in reading Zechariah’s Canticle. Some free time was given for visiting the church and silent reflection.Our final pilgrimage site today was the Church of the Visitation, which is up the hill from the Church commemorating John the Baptizer’s birth. This was a steep climb, but all of the pilgrims marched up the hill together to this peaceful and beautiful spot that commemorates Mary’s trip to her cousin Elizabeth, where both of them are with child. We read the story from Luke 1, and then joined in reciting the Magnificat together. After that, time was given for our own visitation and prayer.