It’s Christmas Eve. In the news we have constant reminders that “Peace on Earth” is still a hope not a fact. This is evident at Shepherds’ Field outside Bethlehem where you can easily see the security apparatus that meanders around the hilltop where shepherds first heard “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” (assuming the angels sang in Latin). The Franciscans control this hilltop and when we were there in 2010 we listened to them field questions from tourists looking out over the fields asking what exactly they were seeing. In one of the pictures in this post you can see an Israeli settlement that looks more like a modern condo development than a settlement of rugged pioneers. You can also see the security road with barbed wire. Looking the other way you can see Bethlehem itself. (There is a second Shepherds’ Field claimed as “The Spot” by the Orthodox. There were probably lots of Shepherds and lots of angels.)
A church designed by the Franciscan Architect Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed the Church of the Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, sits on the hilltop itself. Barluzzi was the architect responsible for many Catholic buildings in the Holy Land. His church on Shepherd’s Hill is supposed to represent a shepherd’s tent. It has frescoes depicting events around the nativity.
The limestone caves in the hill probably provided shelter to agricultural and pastoral communities in Roman times. The Franciscans have cleaned them up and made them into chapels. There are also outdoor chapels for services. The hill can accommodate several services in different languages at one time.
I can only pray that that message of peace and goodwill reported from this hilltop comes to pass, if not for us for our children. I have hope because this is the season of hope of renewal and rebirth.
These pictures are from April, 2010