by Sister Patricia Ann Taube
The bus stopped in front of a large, beautiful church. We all got out. I noticed that there were two entrances to the church; the big, huge elaborately decorated door that we were going into on the right and over to the left there was a door that was smaller. The floor of the church that we walked on was covered with wood. The floor on the right side revealed beautiful tiles. I guess they didn’t want us to walk on that side. When we got to the front altar we were met by a Franciscan Friar. He was to be our guide. He took us down a very narrow staircase that led to a huge cave. There was a large altar in the cave. It was made of marble and was beautifully decorated. Directly under the table of the altar, on the floor of the cave was a beautiful golden star of Bethlehem with a glass in the middle that you could look through. The friar told us that we could kneel down, look through the glass and kiss the glass because it marked the place where Jesus was born. I felt sad that the actual place that He was born was covered over by the huge altar. However, I felt a lot better when the friar pointed to another altar. Under it was a trough-like cradle. The friar said that was like the cradle that Mary and Joseph laid Jesus to rest for his nap. We each took all the gifts that we had bought and placed them in the cradle to be blessed by the presence of the Christ Child. I smiled and was thrilled with expectation. I would give those gifts the following Christmas. After lighting candles, the friar led us, surprisingly, out of the door that had looked so small when we were on the upper level of the church, the Church of the Nativity.
After this we were going to the Shepherds’ field which was about two and a half miles from the Church of the Nativity. The field was marked by low stone fences about three feet high. They were to keep the sheep flocks in place. We had Mass there, under two beautiful trees with white blossoms. We also exchanged gifts to celebrate Christmas in this special place. During the Mass I heard a low whistle sound. I didn’t pay attention at first but I heard it again and again. I looked behind me. On the other side of the fence I could see a cute little face and a little hand holding something on the top of the fence. Now that he had my attention, he motioned for me to come over where he was. He pointed to it and said, “You buy!, you buy!” He was pointing to a small stable scene. I didn’t want to disturb everyone during the Mass so I shook my head “Yes” and put my finger over my lips so he would be quiet. I stood there until Mass was finished. The little shepherd boy then took me by the hand and led me to a place where a very old man sat whittling away at olive wood. I learned that this was the boy’s grandfather. Of course I had to buy one of these precious manger scenes made by a genuine shepherd. His little grandson grinned, happy to make a sale. As we walked back to our bus, the two beautiful trees with white blossoms shook in the wind and white blossoms fell like the snow and the famous Bethlehem Bells rang. What a Christmas!