I was a little disappointed at breakfast this morning because the spread wasn't as expansive as it had been at the other hotel, but one of the hosts explained that it was Shabbat breakfast: things that could be cooked ahead of time and easily reheated.
Our first stop this morning was the Church of all Nations, also known as the Basilica of the Agony of Christ. It is built next to the Garden of Gethsemane, which translates into "the place where the olives are pressed." And this is where Jesus came when he was pressed and had no way to avoid what was ahead of him. The olive trees were gorgeous, and the weather was perfect. The altar of the church includes a huge stone which commemorates the place in Gethsemane where Jesus might have settled to pray the night before he met with death.
While we were all inside and sitting around the rock, each in our own moments of prayer and contemplation, our teacher, Bob, began reading to us from Luke. He was standing outside of the church but was reading into our earpieces that became an integral part of our touring experience.
We left the Church of all Nations and went to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. We had to cross over a Palestinian checkpoint to get in. We began our journey on the plaza of the church. We knew we would have to wait in line, but may not have been quite prepared for the wait. The church is jointly owned by three different congregations, a Catholic congregation, an Armenian Orthodox congregation, and a Greek Orthodox congregation. Each of them was having mass, so we had to wait for those to finish.
Then there was the line. It funnels into a tiny descent into a grotto where Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus. The stairs open up into a small room where you can crawl into a tiny space where a star indicates the birthplace.
Then you can see the altar to the Three Wise Men before being ushered back up the stairs into daylight. Overall it was a bit underwhelming and somewhat aggravating. But it's all part of the experience I guess. My favorite part was probably watching a group of four teenagers take selfies, proving that teenagers are, in fact, the same everywhere!
Our next stop was the Church of St. Catherine, connected to the Church of the Nativity, and then to the Chapel of St. Jerome, an underground structure where St. Jerome translated the bible into Latin. There was a Korean congregation celebrating mass while we passed through, and on the way out we saw the tombs of the innocents killed by Herod.