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Next was the Dead Sea, where some of us took a dip. The water surprised me: it has no smell and feels like mineral oil. It is used in many cosmetic products. After a great time in the Dead Sea we headed to Bethlehem. Our first stop was the Milk Grotto Chapel. It is a serene grotto considered sacred because tradition has it that the Holy Family took refuge here during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. Tradition has it that while Mary was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. It is believed that scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility.
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Church of the Nativity
Then our anxious hearts walked towards the birthplace of Christ. We bent low to enter the Church of the Nativity. The door is small (to have prevented horses from entering the Church). But bending low is a sign of reverence entering this holy place. We descended the many stairs leading down to the place of Christ's birth. People knelt and touched the star of Bethlehem that marks the place. We prayed with hearts filled with thanksgivings and some tears were shed. One of the most overwhelming experiences of each one of our lives. We were all glad to be a part of this historic place and we gathered for a quick picture at the Manger’s square. Manger square is a wide open plaza in the middle of the city directly in front of the Church of the Nativity. It is here that crowds gather on Christmas Eve to be close to the traditional site of Christ’s birth and to join in the carols at Midnight Mass. Besides the church of nativity stands the Chapel of St. Catherine which is identified as the burial site of the young victims of Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents. Also the Tomb of St. Jerome is situated here, who translated the Bible into Latin Study of St. Jerome, where Jerome is said to have written and worked on his translation. Our last stop for the day was Shepherd’s field .Many were moved as sang carols in the Shepherd's Field, where the angel called the shepherd to visit the new-born Babe. Every day in Bethlehem is Christmas, so the hymns used were all Christmas carols. After all, this is the place where Christ our Savior was born.After five days of an overwhelming experience of the life of Christ we were heading towards the Old city of Jerusalem for almost our final and the most important destinations of our journey. The day began with clouds bursting into rains at church of St. Anne’s the birthplace of Mary. This magnificent Crusader church is one of the finest buildings in Jerusalem. This site marks both the birthplace of the Virgin Mary and the pool of Bethesda spoken of in John’s Gospel. One can still view the ruins of the 6th century church and look over the pool where Jesus cured the crippled man. The acoustic in the Church is stunning and many groups who visit cannot help but burst into song. We offered mass for all the three priests accompanying us and reflecting on the lives of St. Anne and St. Joaquim –parents of Mary our Mother. Next we visited the Church of the Dormition, where Mary's body was laid before she was assumed into Heaven. We also visited the site of the Last Supper where Jesus broke the bread with his disciples. There is no Church there, and no one is able to celebrate Mass there. We ended the day at the Church of St. Peter of Galicantu where Christ was beaten and scourged and where Peter denied Him three times. We stood together in the deep cave that marks the spot and viewed the stairs into and out of the Kedron Valley that quite likely were the stairs that Jesus walked.