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December 7, 2014December 7, 2014  0 comments  Geography


Imagine spending Christmas where it all began, in the city renowned worldwide as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem. Imagine still, celebrating mass in the one of the oldest churches in the world, the Church of the Nativity, situated in the heart of the ancient city of Bethlehem, on Manger Square.


Now is your chance.


church of the nativity



The highly coveted midnight mass tickets are now available online free - but register today at this link - Tickets are limited.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


December 24, 2012December 24, 2012  0 comments  Masses

Can't come to the Holy Land but want the next best thing to being here. Now you can watch mass live from Bethlehem! Each day at 9:30 am Israel time tune in and see mass live online, direct from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This daily mass in currently in Italian only.

Click on this link to watch mass live at 9:30 am Israel time.

For those of you in the Holy Land and prefer to see  a listing of all the Holy Land masses available click here.

Our special Christmas schedule of masses can be viewed here.

Merry Christmas!

January 23, 2013January 23, 2013  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

Ruins of Kathisma, an important Byzantine church and monastery, are located near Mar Elias Monastery, on the side of the ancient road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Kathisma means in Greek: ‘seat’ or ‘place of rest’. According to the Proto-Gospel of James, the Holy Couple, while on their way from Nazareth, stopped to rest when already approaching Bethlehem, the place where Jesus shall be born.


A tradition says that the Blessed Virgin Mary seated there at the stone khatisma for a little while and then suddenly some water sprang out of a rock to quench her thirst. Until the 17th century, pilgrims saw there a large tree which, according to the legend, had lowered down its branches to provide shade for the Virgin.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Ruins of Kathisma)


There is also located Bir el Qadismu or the Well of the Magi, called in this way since 16th century. According to another tradition, it was there the Magi saw again the star which had guided them during their journey from the East (Matt. 2:9) Therefore, the well is also named "the well of the star".


Archaeological Excavations


What is interesting, the existence of this unique Kathisma church was known from Byzantine literature, but its location was a mystery. Its ruins were completely buried in the grounds of an olive grove.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (The Sacred Stone)


It was actually discovered by chance in 1992 after the construction works of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem road hit the edge of the site. The rescuing excavations revealed a large church, so the road was therefore shifted to prevent damage to the site. In 1997 archaeologist Rina Avner and Yuval Baruch continued the excavations and it was only then identified as the long forgotten Kathisma church.


In 1999 the archaeologists  reconstructed the foundations of the church, uncovered the beautiful mosaic floors, and conducted other preservation works. However, there is still need of funding in order to prepare the site for a public opening. Nowadays, the area is neglected.


History and Architecture


The unique octagonal church (43 m x 52 m) - Ecclesia Kathismatis, was built in honour of the Virgin Mother of God – Theotokos in 5th century (around 450 – 458 AD) by a rich and pious widow – Iqilia (some sources call her Hicelia). It was the earliest Marian church in the Holy Land and one of the first in the whole Byzantine Empire.


Kathisma was a martyrium, a special structure that functioned as a church (or a mosque) marking the site of a holy event. The church was built over a flat limestone rock in the center – the place where according to the legend, Virgin Mary sat. As in all ancient churches, its main prayer apse was oriented to the east. Its octagonal shape could have been inspired by the Constantinian structure built over the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Ruins of Kathisma)


Kathisma was enlarged at the end of the 6th century. Probably because of the rising number of pilgrims visiting the site, the second layer over the inner octagon was added. As well, because of the growing demand for the secondary shrines within the big monumental martyria, the exterior ambulatory was divided into chapels and entrance rooms, which were connected by small corner rooms. These enabled worshippers to pass from each entrance room to a next chapel.


Archaeological evidence indicates that during the 8th century the building was used simultaneously as a mosque within the church. A mihrab, or prayer niche facing Mecca was built into the southern wall of the outermost octagon. This means that the church was not destroyed during the Persian conquest (614 AD) and existed at the time of Abd el-Malik who commissioned the building of the Dome of the Rock, which was also built on the octagonal plan with a rock in the middle.


The most remarkable feature of the church is a group of beautiful, very well preserved ancient mosaic floors from the 7th century. Their designs are geometric with palm leaves and flowers. Yet there are still in few places, distinguishable bits from the original 5th century mosaic floor.

Kathisma was destroyed in around 11-12th century, probably after the defeat of the Crusaders. Since then its location was forgotten and discovered just recently.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Mar Elias Monastery)


How to get there: Ruins of Kathisma are located near Mar Elias Monastery, on the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Bus no. #24 from Jerusalem to Bethlehem leaves from the bus station next to the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. You will notice the ruins just after passing a gas station when approaching the Mar Elias Monastery.


What to see nearby:




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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.


March 3, 2009March 3, 2009  3 comments  Pope Benedict XVI Visit to the Holy Land

The Israel Ministry of Tourism officially announced the upcoming itinerary for Pope Benedict's trip to the Holy Land. The Papal delegation with is to include 40 representatives from the Vatican and approximately 70 representatives of th foreign media, will arrive on May 11th. The Pope will meet with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat, local leaders, President Shimon Peres as well as the Council of Religious Community Leaders in Israel (the Chief Rabbis, the President of the Moslem Religious Court of Appeals, Christian religious leaders and the heads of the Druze Community). The Pope will also meet with leaders of the Palestinian Authority Mohammed Abbas during his visit to Bethlehem on May 13, 2009. The official itinerary is posted below: •


May 11, 2009 - Pope to arrive in Israel; official ceremony with President Shimon Peres and visit to Yad Vashem Martyrs' and Heroes' Memorial of the Holocaust. Pope Bernedct XVI will also meet with the Council of Religious Commuity Leaders in Israel. In the evening there will be an Interfaith Dialogue meeting at Notre Dame Center.•


May 12th, 2009 - Visit to the Temple Mount and meeting with the Grand Mufti. He will also visit the Western Wall, Mt. Zion and the Cenacle (the Site of the Last Supper), Heichal Shlomo Synagogue (the Great Synagague) as well as a visit to Gethsemane Church. A mass will be held at the Kidron Valley. •


May 13th - Visit to Bethlehem and meeting with Palestinian Authority Leader Mohammed Abbas. A mass at Mangar Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, will be held. •



ay 14th - Visit to Nazareth and meeting with local leaders. A Holy Mass in Nazareth at the Mount of Precipace overlooking the Jezreel Valley will be held. A prayer at the Church of the Annunciation is also planned as well as a meeting with local religious leaders in the Galilee. •


May 15th - Meetings with local religious leaders at local Churches in Jerusalem. A farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport will be held. Pope Benedict XVI will return to Rome on a special EL AL flight at the conclusion of the ceremony. If you wish to plan a tour following in the footsteps of this memorable Papal visit, please let us know. We have arranged special priced tours for groups of 15 people or more.

October 23, 2013October 23, 2013  0 comments  Music

Dabke is a popular folkloric dance that is common to the Levantine Eastern Mediterranean region. The synchronized “stamping of the feet” (Arabic. dabke) is the basic movement for the dance, which can be danced either in a straight line, in an arch or in a circle.


One of the folk traditions states that dabke originated from the common work at house building. In the past, the houses of the Levant were made from stone with its roofs made of wood, straw and dirt. The parts of the roof had to be assembled, and that required stomping it hard in a uniform way.



There are a couple of Middle Eastern instruments commonly used to play the background music for dabke. Mijwiz – kind of a reed clarinet, tablah - a small hand-drum and a tambourine (riq) are the main ones. Oud (lute), a pear-shaped stringed instrument with the characteristic deep and mellow sound, can be used as well.

Traditional Palestinian Dance Dabke

For a better understanding and imagination, have a look at this video with a great collection of pictures and music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwx5cgkFNr0

Dabke in the Palestinian tradition

Dabke is deeply rooted in the Palestinian culture and is often performed at joyful celebrations, especially at weddings. Sometimes it is danced spontaneously by the gathered guests (since most Palestinians know the basic steps), but it is also very common that a wedding couple would invite a group of professional performers to give a show.

Often during the performances the dancers wear costumes based on the traditional clothes. Women wear embroidered long dresses and men wear baggy trousers with wide belts and long leather shoes. Both genders might cover their heads with a plain white or white with a black pattern kofiyeeh (a scarf).

Traditional Palestinian Dance Dabke

The dance has become a way of preserving Palestinian culture as well, thus learning dabke is a common after-school-activity for youth. The young performers have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills during various folkloric festivals, e.g. Olive Harvest Festival celebrated in October – November.

Dabke in Contemporary Performances

Within the Palestinian contemporary art scene dabke evolved from a simple dance consisting of only 10 to 15 steps into a complex musical and theatrical performances with a plot. Actors often captivate the audience with complex choreographies inspired by “stamping of the feet.”

Traditional Palestinian Dance Dabke

El-Funoun from Ramallah and Diyar Dance Theatre from Bethlehem are considered the most outstanding and distinguished dance troupes that aim to express the spirit of Arab-Palestinian folklore and contemporary culture. Their unique combinations of traditional and stylized dance and music have made them the leading dance organizations within  Palestinian society and they play an important role in reviving and fostering Palestinian  identity.

Where to go to see Dabke?

Dabke shows are an inseparable part of various annual Palestinian folklore festivals.

There are also many nice restaurants in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour that besieds delicious traditional meals and oriental atmosphere offer a possibility of organizing Dabke shows and musical performances for groups at any time of the year. Please contact the following places in advance:


  • Al-Areeshah Palace at Jasir Intercontinental Hotel (00 972 (0) 2 276 6777)

Beit Sahour:

  • Citadel Restaurant (00972 (0) 2 277 7771)
  • Dar al-Balad (00972 (0) 2 274 9073)
  • Grotto Restaurant (00972 (0) 2 274 8844) tried and highly recommended by Travelujah
  • The Tent Restaurant (00972 (0) 2 277 3875)


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

March 27, 2014March 27, 2014  0 comments  Christian Guesthouses

Dar Sitti Aziza (House of My Grandmother Aziza) is a newly opened boutique heritage hotel in Bethlehem. This recently renovated traditional Ottoman-era urban home is located just next to the Nativity Church, on the junction between Milk Grotto Street Street and Anatreh Street.


Hotel manager, Nabil Rishmawi aims to create a unique and comfortable lodging experience, where the visitors could enjoy the serenity of a boutique hotel and in the same time learn about the history of Palestinians from Bethlehem. He merges traditional with modern and functional.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


Who was Grandma Aziza?


According to an old Middle Eastern custom, a house would be rather given a name of a family member than have a postal address. In this case, the hotel was named after Aziza Shaheen, a special member of the family and wife of Issa Shaheen, a son of a Syrian bride that came from Aleppo to live in Bethlehem at the end of the Ottoman Era.


Interior & Rooms:


Dar Sitti Aziza was built as a hosh – a typical Levantine residential building with a open roof common space in the middle, surrounded with different rooms. Now the common area functions as a dining space and is decorated with a small fountain.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


Each room in this heritage house had a different use. Today, the visitors could stay in the beautifully renovated hotel rooms that previously functioned as storage areas for wine, grain, olives and vegetables or even as a stable. The purpose of the last one, immediately makes us associate it with the Biblical story of Christ being born in a stable and shows that it was completely natural to keep animals within the living space.


At present, there are nine rooms on two floors. Each room has its private toilet and two comfortable twin or one double bed with a possibility of adding another bed. The rooms are equipped with a desk, TV set, electrical cattle and a small fridge. The interior design of each space aims to reflect its previous function, for example walls of the ‘olive room’ are painted in green.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


One of the special rooms is named after Emily Shaheen, mother of the Dar Sitti Aziza manager Nabil Rishmawi. Emily was actually born in 1946 in this room and now she is ready to welcome guests to her family house. It is also her image incorporated in the hotel’s logo. Emily, as a young woman, wears a traditional Bethlehemite dress and takes on water to her jar.


The visitors can also enjoy their time in an outside café in a shadow of two pistacio trees – probably the only ones in Bethlehem.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem




For more information and reservations visit Dar Sitti Aziza’s official webiste: http://www.darsittiaziza.ps/


Related articles:





Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah, the leading faith-based social network in the Holy Land. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

December 12, 2014December 12, 2014  1 comments  Food & Drinks

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity may be the city's most visited tourist attraction, but there is no doubt that the  narrow stone streets of Bethlehem’s historic centre offers the tastiest attractions in this historic town renowned as the birthplace of Jesus. Beginning at the edge of Bethlehem's central Manger Square, begins a trail of  stores and vendors, where you can also get a taste of the regions unique culture.

Ka’ak Bakery

Start your day with a traditional breakfast at Abu Fuad’s Bakery located next to the King David Wells at the entrance of the Star Street. Try a ka’ak,  a ring-shaped, slightly sweet bread sprinkled generously with sesame seeds. Most locals will eat it with a freshly baked egg or a baked falafel, and top it with a blend of zaatar (thyme) and salt. 

There are  many street vendors selling this type of bread, and you can see several each morning as they walk the city with their pushcarts and sing: ka’aak, ka’aak or ka’ak sokhon, if it is still hot. 

Street Vendors

Mobile stalls are very popular among Bethlehem’s food vendors. One can find all sorts of specialties sold on the streets of Bethlehem’s souq, a traditional bazaar. We recommend that you try some of the local snacks like turmus, which are yellow pickled lupini beans. Arabic sweets like harissa (or basbousa), a syrup covered semolina cake is also a worthy favorite. 

Arabic Sweet Harissa

Seasonable Vegetables and Fruits

The highlight of the souq are the elderly women who travel to Bethlehem from their nearby villages to sell their seasonable vegetables and fruits which they plant and gather themselves. They often will sell dried fruits like figs or raisins, and even their handrolled and stuffed grape leaves and pickles. These women, wearing traditional Palestinian embroidered robes, that are unique in design to each village, usually sit at the street curbs and display their goods on the ground. Do not hesitate to bargain with them, but in the same time be generous.

Palestinian Woman Selling on the Souq in Bethlehem

Coffee and Spices

Strong coffee, often spiced with cardamom, is a very common drink in the Levant. It is brewed in a Turkish style and is quite thick and strong. The locals prefer to drink it freshly grounded and there are several small shops selling coffee and spices in Bethlehem. One  popular store is called 'The Mill' or 'Al Ama' after the owner’s family name - and is located at the intersection of Pope Paul VI and Star streets. The shop offers also all kinds of spices, grains, nuts and even stones of incense that are quite popular among pilgrims and that cost significantly less than those found in the souvenir shops. 


Knafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, may be speciality of Nablus, but it can also be found in Bethlehem, and quite delicious too. Dana Cafe serves this traditional delicacy as well as with other kinds of sweets and us located just a couple of steps past The Mill shop as you walk towards  Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.   

During the month of Ramadan, this area becomes very busy with the sale of qatayef, small pancakes that locals will purchase and when they return home they will then stuff with sweetened akkawi (name means ‘from Acre’) cheese or a mixture of walnuts, cinnamon and sugar. These are then baked  in the oven and served at night. It is possible to watch how the baker  pours the qatayef batter on a huge pan to prepare the pancakes.


Old City of Bethlehem

Falafel & Hummus

Afteem Al-Yafawi Restaurant, located next to the Manger Square, has been welcoming its guests since 1948. This spot is renowned as Bethlehem's most famous place for falafel & hummus and enjoys a good reputation among locals and visitors alike. The restaurant has a simple, traditional menu serving falafel sandwiches, hummus, foul, (a dip made from cooked, mashed fava beans, as well as fresh lemon), mint drink, seasonal juices and different kinds of salads. The restaurant is set inside a historical building further adding to the overall experience.

Helpful Phrasebook

Perhaps you want try conversing with locals as well? Some phrases in Arabic that might be useful when buying and tasting food: 

hello - marhaba 

How much is that? - Keddesh hada?

ten - ashara; twenty - ashreen; thrirty - talateen

(not) expensive - (mish) ghali

tasty - zaki

thank you - shukran

you’r welcome - afuan


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

December 3, 2009December 3, 2009  0 comments  Events

There is clearly one very special place to celebrate Christmas and that's here in the Holy Land. Should you be fortunate to be spending Christmas in this region, you will likely want to attend one of the very many special masses and other Christmas festivities planned during this holiday season.

Below is the schedule of major Christmas Events happening in Bethlehem this year!


Book Now - Special  Christmas Tour: 4 Day/3 Nights or 5 Day/4 Nights



DECEMBER 24 (Thursday)

1.00 pm at the Tomb of Rachel:
His Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twall, is welcomed by,
Latin Parish Priest of Bethlehem and representatives of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and
Beit Sahour.
1.30 pm at the Manger Square:
Solemn Entry of His Beatitude into the Basilica of the Nativity and
St. Catherine Church followed by Pontifical Vespers.
4.00 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Daily Procession to the Nativity Grotto.
10.00 pm at St. Catherine Church:
is opened. Tickets, free of charge, required.
11.10 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Solemn "Office of Readings".

DECEMBER 25 (Friday)

Midnight: at St. Catherine Church:
Pontifical Eucharistic Concelebration.
Midnight: at the Grotto:
Low Masses till 5.15 pm with interruption at 1.30 am
for one hour approximately, and at 5.30 am till 7.00 am approximately.
1.30 am at St. Catherine Church:
Solemn traditional Procession to the Grotto.
10.00 am at St. Catherine Church:
Chanting of Terce and Pontifical Mass.
2.00 pm Pilgrimage to the Orthodox Grotto:
of the Shepherds and the Latin Chapel of Shepherds' Field.

DECEMBER 26 (Saturday)

10.00 am at St. Catherine Church: Mass.

DECEMBER 27 (Sunday)

5.15 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Procession to the Grotto of the Holy Innocents and Sung Vespers.

DECEMBER 28 (Monday, Feast of the Holy Innocents)

6.30 am at St. Catherine:
Masses at 6.30, 7.30 am, 9.00 am, 11.00 am and 4.30 pm.
10.00 am in the Grotto of the Holy Innocents Sung Mass
3.00 pm in the Grotto of the Holy Innocents: Vespers

DECEMBER 31 (Thursday)

4.30 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Mass and Benediction with the Holy Sacrament.


JANUARY 1 (Friday)

10.00 am at St. Catherine Church:
Low Masses followed by Procession to the Milk Grotto.
4.30 pm at St. Catherine Church: Mass.

JANUARY 4 (Monday)

6.30 am at St. Catherine:
Masses at 6.30, 7.30 am, 9.00 am, 11.00 am.
3:00 pm at the Latin Chapel of Shepherds' Field:
High Mass

JANUARY 5 (Tuesday)

11.00 am at the Tomb of Rachel:
His Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land is welcomed by Latin Parish Priest
and other representatives of Bethlehem.
11.30 am at the Manger Square:
Solemn Entry of his Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land into the
Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine Church.
1.30 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Pontifical Vespers and Procession to the Grotto.
3.30 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Procession to the Grotto.

JANUARY 6 (Thursday)

Midnight at the Grotto:
Masses till 9.00 am with an interruption
between 1.00 and 2.00 am approximately.
10.00 am at St. Catherine Church:
Pontifical Eucharistic Concelebration.
3.30 pm at St. Catherine Church:
Sung Vespers and Solemn traditional Procession to the Grotto.

October 5, 2011October 5, 2011  0 comments  Events

Combining pilgrimage to the Holy Land and athletics, the Pope John Paul II Games later this month will feature a peace run from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and a soccer game with Italian, Israeli and Palestinian players. Two lucky people can win an all expense paid free trip to the Holy Land in order to participate.


The mission of the trip, organized by the Catholic Josper community in Italy, an entity of Pilgrimage organizer Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, an activity of the Vatican, is to unite people through sports and to encourage dialogue. Star athletes from Italy are expected to join the tour including, from the famous designer Versace family, Giusy Versace, the paralympic athlete who lost both her legs in an accident, and former soccer stars Demetrio Albertini and Damiano Tommasi.


Peace Marathon

Participants in the Peace Marathon, 2009


Some 500 participants will join the tour from Italy and 100 Haitians will also take part, adding a new international flavor this year. Both Israelis and Palestinians will join the soccer game and the run, as they have in recent years.


According to the website, the JPII Games "evangelizes through the instrument of pilgrimages and promotes values that exalt the dignity of man and his being a creature of God."


The JPII Games, October 21 to 25, are not competitive. This year, the organization is offering a free trip to two people who are inspired "peace builders." The tour allows Christians to participate in a pilgrimage that promotes peace while at the same time allows them to experience their Christian roots in the land where it all began.


Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi and Centro Sportivo Italiano, the Italian Sports Association, brings star athletes and pilgrims from Italy to participate in these athletic events with both Palestinians and Israelis.


The peace run begins at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. A soccer game will take place at the checkpoint in the middle of the 12-kilometer run. The runners then continue together in from the checkpoint to Notre Dame.


Manger Square plaza outside church of the nativity

Plaza outside Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; credit Travelujah


Another highlight of the trip will be a visit to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the Mount of Beatitudes.


"In the Holy Land it is likewise hoped that sports, which by their very nature are a vehicle of peace and use a universal language, represent an opportunity for people who normally live with different rhythms and customs to meet and embrace," the sponsoring organization said.


Church of the Annunciation

Bishop Narcuzo inside the Church of the Annunciation Nazareth with Chilean miners earlier this year. Photo: Travelujah


In a homily, Pope John Paul II once said: "Sports have spread to every corner of the world, transcending differences between cultures and nations. Because of the global dimensions this activity has assumed, those involved in sports throughout the world have a great responsibility. They are called to make sports an opportunity for meeting and dialogue, over and above every barrier of language, race or culture. Sports, in fact, can make an effective contribution to peaceful understanding between peoples and to establishing the new civilization of love."


To register to win the all expense paid free Holy Land trip visit this link: http://www.jpiigames.com/en/educational.html



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Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on connecting Christians to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.



March 13, 2013March 13, 2013  0 comments  Events

President Barak Obama is scheduled to arrive on his first-ever visit to Israel as President of the United States on March 20, 2013. His delegation will be staying at Jerusalem's prestigious King David Hotel.


The president's three day itinerary includes visits to several sites in Jerusalem including Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial, Mt. Herzl, to visit the grave sites of notable Jewish figures including Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism as well as Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister who was assassinated 17 years ago by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist. The itinerary also includes a visit to Israel's most renowned museum, the Israel Museum, which among other artifacts, is also home to the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls on display within the famous Shrine of the Book building.


President Obama will also be giving a speech to approxiamtely 2,000 students at Jerusalem's International Conference Center.


church of the Nativity - travelujah

Church of the Nativity - Bethlehem; courtesty Travelujah



The President will travel north of Jerusalem to Ramallah, located in the Palestinian Authority and currently the seat of the Palestinian Authority government. Bethlehem, located approxiamtely 8 kilometers southeast of Jerusalem was also added to the itinerary. The President is expected to visit the Church of the Nativity, a historical site that was added to UNESCO's list of protected heritage sites on June 29, 2012. 


President Obama's three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories will also include meetings with Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a state dinner with President Shimon Peres. Labor Party leader and the Knesset's opposition leader, Shelly Yakimovich is also expected to meet with President Obama.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian travel network focusing on connecting Christians to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


November 24, 2013November 24, 2013  0 comments  Events

Visiting Jerusalem and looking for Christmas tidings? Or perhaps you are planning to tour Bethlehem and wish to find some authentic olivewood carvings or ornaments to take home.

Jerusalem offers two wonderful Christmas Bazaars which are open to the public on November 30th:


1. Jerusalem Expat Women's Charity Bazaar - 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, American colony hotel Jerusalem Saturday November 30th. Proceeds benefit the UN Sabaya Programme aimed at empowering rural women. Many handmade tunics for women, children and other handmade textiles will be available for purchase. Entrance is free.


2.Church of the Redeemer - in the courtyardof the Church on Muristan Road from 1:00 - 4:00 pm with childrens activities, Santa Claus, gift items and more. Cost 5 shekel to enter.

Tel: 00972-(0)-2-6266800


Bethlehem is also hosting a number of Christmas bazaars which are wonderful for the whole family:



1. Join the Christmas Market (01-08/12/2013) that will take place on the Manger Square in Bethlehem, just in front of the Nativity Church as well as the Childrens Parade. The market will open on the 2nd of December at 11 am. The first part of the day is organized by the Bethlehem Peace Center and  features international Christmas spacialities. In the afternoon the Market remains openuntil 9 pm  under the patronage of the Bethlehem Municipality.



2. Children's Parade -December 1 - 3 pm -  - 1000 Palestinian children bearing messages of peace, love, and hope will march from the Catholic Action Center (Kind David Wells) through the Star Street towards the Manger Square. The ceremony of Lightning of the Christmas Tree will start at 6 pm and will be followed by fireworks and an artistic program.



3. Christmas Market -December 2 -  December 8, 2013  continues from 3 pm till 9 pm on the Manger Square and  features a great choice of food, toys and local products.



For more information contact: vicbethlehem@gmail.com



Happy holidays and happy shopping!


December 7, 2014December 7, 2014  0 comments  Events

Advent is derived from the Latin word "advenio" meaning ‘ coming to' and refers to the fact that Jesus Christ is on his way to this world.


The actual term "Advent" was introduced as the name of  the first season in the church calendar in the 7th Century A.D. and begins four Sundays before Christmas. Advent is important for Christians because it serves as a preparation period leading up to the birth of Christ which took place in Bethlehem as well as a reminder that they are anxiously looking forward to the return of Jesus one day. Should you take a Holy Land tour during the Advent or Christmas period, visiting the ancient city of Bethlehem is definitely a must during this holy time.


Just as Jews celebrate the month of Elul as a preparation period leading up to the Jewish high holiday season, Christians view the Advent  also as a preparation period that will "prepare the way of the Lord".   While preparing for Christmas, believers should never forget to prepare themselves for Jesus who is considered to be ‘the light of the world'.


The Second week of Advent is marked by lighting a purple candle that signifies the hope that comes with the birth of the new baby, Jesus. During the Old Testament period hope was that the Messiah would come while during the New Testament period, it is considered hope of the Messiah's return by Christians.


Interestingly, the Israelites too also anticipated the coming of their Messiah (though its not believed to be Jesus Christ) and its not uncommon to hear Jews celebrate by singin  "we want Messiach now". The Scriptures are full with references to the Messiah and contains over hundreds of scriptures and prophecies discussion the birth, life, death, resurrection and return of the Messiah.


Of course, Bethlehem remains the centerpiece of the story of the birth of Jesus and Christians continue to pray confident in their hope that the Messiah will return one day.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


"The birth of Christ is the central event in the history of the earth -- the very thing the whole story has been about." -- C.S. Lewis

this blog only for friends
December 16, 2014December 16, 2014  0 comments  Events

Planning a Christmas visit to the Holy Land and wondering what special Christmas festivities are taking place? Travelujah has compiled our guide of ‘to do'  special Christmas activities taking place in the city where it all began, Bethlehem.



December 19  - Jadayeel Group France, Bethlehem and Sweden at Dar Ad Nadwa

December 19  - Jadayel, Sabil Duo and Bela Quartet Concert Tour, Dar Annadwa

December  20  -  Bethlehem Arabic Music Ensemble at the Womens Trade Union BethlehemDecember 30 - Sri Lanka Choir at the Roman Catholic Church

December 21 -  Shubert, Mass No. 5 G Major, Concert at the Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem, along with choir and Christmas carols (70 shekel)


Church Christmas Feast Celebrations:


24th December 2014, Christmas Eve:
Church of the Nativity - St. Catherine
13.30 Entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Basilica of the Nativity and into the Church of St. Catherine
13.45 First Vespers
16.00 Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity
23.30 Office of the lectures
00.00 Christmas Vigil presided by H.B. Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
01.45 Procession to the Grotto

25th December 2014, Christmas Day:
St. Catherine's Church
10.00 Solemn Christmas mass
14.00 Spiritual pilgrimage to Shepherd's Field

26th December 2014, Day of St. Stephen:
St. Stephen's Church
16.00 Spiritual Pilgrimage

28th December 2014, Feast of the Holy Innocents
St. Catherine's Church
10.00 Solemn mass


1st January -2015, Feast of the Mother of God

Jerusalem - Con-Cathedral (Latin Patriarchate)
10.30 Solemn mass celebrated by the Latin Patriarch, H.B. Fouad Twal

Bethlehem - St. Catherine's Church
10.30 Solemn mass and procession to the Milk Grotto


Monday, 5th January 2015 (Vigil):
11.30 Solemn Entry of the Custos, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM
13.45 First Vespers
14.45 Procession to the Grotto of the Nativity
15.30 Compieta and second procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

Tuesday, 6th January 2015, Feast day:
Nativity Church and St. Catherine's Church
10.00 Solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land
15.30 Second Vespers and procession to the Grotto of the Nativity

If you go: Christmas sites to visit in Bethlehem:grotto

Church of the Nativity
The   Church of the Nativity off of Manger Square is an obvious place to visit at any time of the year as it is the focal point of the city. The Roman Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches share custody of the church. The Grotto of the Nativity is   a cavern beneath the church believed to be the site of Christ's birth and is the primary focal point of this historical church.

The Milk Grotto
 The Milk Grotto has long been a prayer site for women and is much less known than other parts of the Church of the Nativity. This site is where Joseph, Mary and Jesus took refuge before their escape to Egypt and most importantly, according to tradition, it was at this spot that Mary was nursing Jesus and a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. This is why many women revere the site for its believed that it the chalky white walls hold special fertility powers.

Shepherds' Field 

The plains of Beit Sahour, are celebrated as the spot where "shepherds kept watch over their flock" on the night Jesus was born. Chapels built over ruins commemorate the appearance by angels to the shepherds in what is known as Shepherds' Field. The Greek Orthodox church, Kanisat al-Ruwat, is a cave which was used as a church from the 4th century - the only 5th-century church outside Jerusalem to have survived intact. The Catholic chapel is at Khirbat Siyar al-Ghanim. Protestants consider the YMCA of Beit Sahour to be the place. 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Luke 2:4-1


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian travel network focused on Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

October 28, 2010October 28, 2010  0 comments  Historical Sites

Once infamous as a hotbed of hostility and terrorism against Israel, Nablus is now thriving with a mall, a movie theater and the head offices of the Palestinian Securities Exchange. The city is also more recently becoming a tourist destination with key biblical sites like Joseph's Tomb, Jacob's Well and an ancient Samaritan community nearby attracting tourists through the checkpoints from Israel.


With biblical sites, a new cinema and an old city where merchants sell spices, olive oil and the famous cheese sweet knafeh, this Palestinian city is turning out to be a West Bank gem. Just a few years ago, unreachable by foreigners, Nablus' recent economic upturn has opened a new door to tourism. The city was isolated and inaccessible during the intifada as Israeli checkpoints cut off the area from non-Palestinians. Nablus was not alone in this predicament.


Fear of violence and the prospect of crossing military checkpoints kept tourists away from many Palestinian sites in the last decade. While the intifada raged from 2000 to 2005, holy sites in Palestinian areas fell by the wayside in terms of tourism. Even Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, suffered from a drastic drop in visitors as a majority of tourists to the Holy Land avoided the West Bank and stuck to sites within Israel.


"I was a little worried about going back to Bethlehem late last year, but this time, I experienced nothing but friendliness from the people there," said Dan Wooding, the founder and international director of Assist News. "This visit to Bethlehem, was completely different to the one I made back in 2001 with my wife Norma. Then, we were held up by Palestinian gunmen. This last trip to Bethlehem was completely different - I went on my own - and the town was completely peaceful."



Dan Wooding outside Church of the Nativity

Photo Courtesy Dan Wooding: Dan Wooding standing outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem


Now, as tourism to Israel is reinvigorated by several years of relative calm, tourism to the Palestinian territories has also picked up. Out of the 3 million tourists that came to Israel, more than half visited Bethlehem last year. In 2009, 1.7 million foreign tourists visited the West Bank. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reported that the number of guests staying in Palestinian hotels tripled since 2006  to over 450,000 people. So far 2010 could outperform last year's record with the year's first two quarters on pace to surpass 2009.



 Main Indicators for Hotel Activities in the West Bank by Month, 2006-2009)



No. of


No. of


No. of


No. of


No. of

Guest Nights

Average Number of  Rooms Occupied

Room Occupancy Percent
























































Source: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Travelujah


Since  2006 to 2009, the overall West Bank rooms supply has increased dramatically with  a compound annual growth rate of over 25% while the corresponding number of guest nights rose at  compound annual growth rate of over 40% during the same period. Clearly, should the strong growth continue, demand will soon outstrip supply, and, according to those in the industry, there is already a need for more higher end properties. So far all indicators point to 2010 is being a banner year. , Despite these increasing numbers, many destinations in the Palestinian territories, however, remain a largely untapped market for tourism.


The Middle East Quartet, a diplomatic peace initiative comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, has been working to build up the Palestinian economy, and has identified tourism as the sector that can make the quickest impact on the Palestinian economy.


"The tourist assets in the West Bank are unrivaled," said Ian Smith, business adviser to Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair. 


In a speech at Conde Nast Traveler World Savers Congress in September, Quartet Representative and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said tourism is one "huge economic opportunity for the Palestinian people."


The West Bank is ripe, Blair said, for a "major joint marketing campaign" with Israel to promote tourism to the Holy Land.


"Tourism is obviously an area that we believe is under exploited," Smith said. "There are 3 million visitors to Israel and the West Bank in one year and yet 4 million to the London Eye ferris wheel each year."


Smith said that for every dollar spent by tourists in the Holy Land 90 cents goes to Israelis and 10 cents to Palestinians. Visitors spend less time in the West Bank than in Israel and few spend the night.



A panel made up of officials and business people from both Israeli and Palestinian tourism industries, working under the auspices of the Quartet, has been brought together to promote tourism to all parts of the Holy Land as an integrated concept, not exclusively to Israel or Palestine.


"Cooperation allows both Israelis and Palestinians to offer a variety of travel packages designed to reach new, and for the most part, untapped markets," said Elisa Moed CEO of Traveluah, an Israel based Holy Land tour and travel site aimed at Christians interested in visiting the Holy Land.  "If the increasing numbers on tourism were the same anywhere else in the world, the industry would be on fire. But here it is not - yet."


Elisa Moed inside the souk in Nablus

Photo courtesy Travelujah: Elisa Moed inside the Nablus Souk


This concept of working together on the ground level complements the peace process, said Tim Williams, movement and access adviser for the Quartet.


"Israel and the West Bank are a single unit when it comes to tourism," Williams said. "It can be sold as a single entity, which means you can increase size of the tourism market. And increasing the regional market is mutually advantageous."


One goal is to enable tour operators to approach Holy Land tourism cohesively. During the intifada most Israeli tours ended up dropping visits to the West Bank and itineraries featured only the traditional sites in Israel.


With the Quartet's urging in the past two years, additional crossings into Bethlehem for tourists were promised, the northern checkpoint Jalameh has been opened, several West Bank checkpoints and roadblocks have been removed, Israeli tour guides are now allowed into Bethlehem and Jericho, and a route called the Footsteps of Christ is being promoted, starting from Nazareth in Israel, leading south to Jericho and Bethlehem.


Ibrahim Hafi, general director of Palestinian Tourism Services, said the Palestinians are already feeling a positive effect of the changes.  And with better policing in the territories, it is much safer these days.


"You can come and go easily. In the past three years, nothing bad has happened," he said. Five years ago maybe there were some problems. Today, you will notice there is a difference."


Smith maintains that the West Bank has much to offer in terms of tourism.


"It's not just interesting for Christians, but people who want to see a different side of life than Tel Aviv," he said. "In Jericho, you have the Mount of Temptation on one side, the Jordanian skyline on the other. It could've been Moses looking over the Holy Land."


Moed said that Christian tours would benefit from expanding the normal repertoire and adding to their itineraries sites in the West Bank.


"With Christians representing more than 60 percent of tourism arrivals, Christian tourism is the largest and fastest growing segment of tourism to the Holy Land and affords the greatest opportunity for future growth," Moed added. "If Christian tours were to include sites in Jericho, Hebron and Nablus, tours would be more diverse and, offered together in cooperation with Israelis and including sites in Israel these visits would help to not only drive the Palestinian tourism sector, but drive the region as a whole."




West Bank Travel is Rich in Biblical Significance


The West Bank is rich with tourism treasures Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, boasts ruins and a Greek Orthodox monastery on the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted by Satan. A cable car brings people from the lowest city on earth up to the cliffs near the monastery. Nearby on the banks of the Jordan river is Qasr al Yahud, the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.


Baptism at Qasr Al Yahud

Photo Courtesy Travelujah: Pilgrims entering the Jordan River at Qasr El Yahud



In Nablus is Joseph's Tomb, Jacob's Well and an ancient Samaritan community and its church. Nearby Sebastia is home to ruins from six successive cultures dating back 10,000 years.


mt of temptation

Photo courtesy Travelujah - Quarantal Monastary and the Mt. of  Temptation


On the outskirts of Jenin is a church partially built into a cave where Jesus is believed to have healed the 10 lepers. The Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, is in Hebron.


Even though tourism is increasing, Israeli and Palestinian industries still lag relative to other countries. Moed is upbeat, however, and believes that the private sector, working together with common goals, "can be a positive vehicle for cooperation, trust, economic development and a model for peace."


Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can learn, plan, book  and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

July 18, 2009July 18, 2009  0 comments  hiking


Most travelers to Bethlehem and the nearby villages typically visit the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ,  and the expanisve Mangar Square outside the Church. Other popular sites include Shepards Fields and Rachel's Tomb. Few though will take the time to experience the nature beyond the city, complete with its olive tree terraces, arid valleys, numerous burial caves, monastaries, fortresses, and the people. This is what the Abraham's Path is all about.


On my outing along the Abraham's Path, I was accompanied by the country coordinator for the Abraham's Path, Mr. Hijazi Eid, a tour guide and avid hiker, whose mission is expose people to this Holy Land landscape and see it through the eyes of our forefathers by walking through a comprehensive 70 kilometer trail system that has been developed inside the territories. The walking trail follows the footsteps of Abraham  and winds along the surrounding hills of Nablus, through the villages of Awarta and Aqraba and traverses the edge of the Jordan valley until Duma. The path moves through an important water spring, Ein Samia to Kefer Malek, Deir Jarir and to the Christian village of Taybeh before ending at the Auja village near Jericho.


Because of time constraints I only walked the portion of the path that is adjacent to Bethlehem, but along my short journey I was treated to expansive landscapes, ancient pools, aqueducts and other antiquities. We began the journey at the Solomon's Pools, consisting of three great reservoirs, each consstructed furing separate periods, where crucial to Jerusalem's water supply. Situated at a higher altitude, the springs in the area are the closest to Jerusalem and they therefore were critical to the great city. Within Jerusalem, there are remnants of the low level aquaduct outside the gates of Jaffa. The length of this channel is about 21 kkilometers while the vertical difference is some 30 meters. We hiked along the trail alongside the pools and you could still see the remnants of several aqueducts that had been constructed to bring the water down to the difficult terrain to the reservoirs. From the trail we could see the remnants of an old fortress (Murad Fortress or Qala'at el burak-Castle of the Pools) and  Khirbet el Khaukh- Peach Hill, the site of Etam and where Shimshon apparently hid. On the summit there is a magnificent view of the area. We passed numerous burial caves as well as the Kherba where Shimshon apparently hid. As we continued our walk we could see into the hidden valley, the village of Urtas. It is possibly the Hotrtus conclusus mentioned in the Cantlicle of the Canticles, known as the Song of Songs.  We ended the walk at a picturesque Italian monastary, known as the Monastary of Our Lady of the Garden, the Virgin Mary.


Approximately 100 people have hiked the path in 2009. For university students and others interested in hiking a six day organized tour of the Abraham's Path, registration is underway. The tour begins on uly 24 and includes visits to historical sites, accommodations at local families along the way, all meals, professional guiding. Email hijeid@yahoo.com for more information. Day tours including hiking parts of the path can be arranged through Travelujah.


October 17, 2012October 17, 2012  0 comments  Christian Communities

History of the Franciscan Order


The order of Franciscan Friars was initiated by Francis of Assisi and officially accepted by the Pope Innocent III in 1210.

Francis, born in 1181 and baptized as Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, was a son of a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi in Italy and a French mother. The boy was commonly called Francesco (“Frenchman”) likely due to his French language skills.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

His early days were fairly typical, and he was raised in an affluent family.  It is said that one day Francis Francis heard a sermon on the 10th chapter of Gospel of Matthew and was quite moved. This chapter discusses the story where  Christ gives His disciples the authority to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and to not take any wealth with them for their way: Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts; no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff […]” (Matt. 10:9-10) After that, Francis decided to leave behind his life of means and he became a beggar.

Wearing a rough garment and with no shoes, Francis started to preach repentance. Soon he was joined by his followers. However, he knew that without receiving a special acceptance from the Pope he could not work on a larger scale and, in fact, he could be accused for heresy.

Acts of Francis were accepted by the Pope and this enabled Francis to establish the Order of Franciscan Brothers for monastic men and Order of Poor Clares for nuns. He also formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance for lay members who wished to carry the principles of the Franciscan way of life.

Francis of Assisi died in 1226 and was pronounced a saint in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.

The Franciscans in the Holy Land

In 1212, St. Francis set out for Jerusalem, but due to a heavy storm his ship was wrecked, and forced him to return to Italy. In 1219, the friar again tried to reach the Middle East. This time his travel was successful. After visiting Egypt, St. Francis arrived in the Holy Land. During his pilgrimage, the brother visited and preached within the sacred sites.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land had initially begun a couple years earlier, in 1217, with the Brother Elias, the Vicar of St. Francis, as Minister to Acre.  By 1229, the Francisans lived in a small house near the 5th station of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and in 1272, the sultan Baibars let the friars to settle in the Cenacle, which is also called the Upper Room, on Mount Zion. Latter, in 1309, they settled in the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem.

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land received an official status from the Pope Clement VI in 1342 and despite the various obstacles through the centuries, the Franciscan presence has continuously remained in the Holy Land through the present day.

The Franciscans care for many Catholic monasteries in the Holy Land such as Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth to name just a few.

Custody of the Holy Land

The Custos of the Holy Land is an officer of the Franciscan order, and he is appointed by the General Definitorium of Friars Minor, with the approval of the Vatican. He plays the function as head of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.

To learn more about the Custody of the Holy Land check their official website - www.custodia.org . Franciscan Media Center could be also a great source of information about their activities for the local Catholic community – visit their website at: www.fmc-terrasanta.org/en .

Feast of St. Francis

Saint Francis’s Feast comes on 4th of October.  However, this year, the solemn celebrations in Bethlehem’s St. Catherine’s Church was moved to the first Sunday after the feast.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

It was a special day for new members of Bethlehem’s Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, who help the Franciscan Brothers serving within St. Catherine’s Church. During the mass they were formally accepted into the brotherhood after giving a special promise to follow the principals of St. Francis’ life in front of God. As a sign of membership, they received symbolic wooden crosses, which they are to wear on every future meeting of the Third Order.

After the mass  all the members of the congregation brought special gifts for the church: a Holy Communion set in a carved wooden holder, a handmade icon of St. Francis, a beautifully decorated candle, and a bouquet of fresh flowers. These symbolical gifts decorated the altar.

The ceremony was followed by a treat in the building of the Franciscan Froars, prepared for all the people gathered in the church.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



February 23, 2012February 23, 2012  0 comments  Religious ceremonies

According to the Roman Catholic tradition (as well followed by some Protestants), Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Lenten Season of prayer and fasting, which lasts 40 days and officially ends on the Holy Thursday, preceding Easter. The date for the Ash Wednesday changes every year, depending on when Easter is. Ash Wednesday 2012 was on February 22nd.


Why the celebration is called Ash Wednesday?


During a special mass service on that day, a priest applies the ashes on our foreheads in the sign of a cross or simply sprinkles the ashes on our head saying the words: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return". This sentence takes its origin from the biblical Book of Genesis, where God speaks to Adam and Eve: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you will return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (Genesis 3:19) - After committing, so called, the Original Sin.


The act of imposing ashes on our heads indicates our mortality and our sorrow for the sins. However, as the followers of Christianity, we know that Christ died on the cross to redeem us, so we are granted the eternal life in heaven. Marking the cross on a believer's forehead symbolises Christ's death and resurrection.


Ash Wednesday Christians Bethlehem Travelujah
Ashes marketing on forehead, photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah


Now many people might ask the question: Where do the ashes come from? - And the answer is: The Ash Wednesday's ashes are made from blessed palm branches from the previous Palm Sunday. What is more, they are sprinkled with Holy Water and incensed before distribution.

Catholics of Bethlehem celebrate Ash Wednesday:

On behalf of Travelujah, I attended the Ash Wednesday celebration held in the St. Catherine's Church of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem at 9 am. The morning mass was mainly designated for the school children, who came numerously with their guardians. Since Arabic is not my native tongue, I was content that the priest spoke a simple language easily absorbed by children.
 The core words of his preaching were: ALMS - FASTING - PRAYER. (In Arabic, all of the words begin with "S" - so the theme is really "catchy".)

Those three words reflect the character of the Lenten period. Almsgiving is the sign of care for those in need and an expression of  gratitude for all the things God has given. Fasting for 40 days is a way of developing  self-control and it also serves as a reminder of Jesus's fasting in the wilderness, during which he endured and overcame temptation by Satan: "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry." (Matt. 4: 1-2) Fasting should be also linked to our concern for those who are forced to fast due their situation. The main food Christians abstain when fasting is meat - traditionally linked to the poor, who could not afford it for their meals. Prayer means the time of contemplation with God and reflection on our lives. Lent is the time of calming our spirit.


Ash Wednesday Bethlehem Travelujah

 Priest clothed in traditional purple robe for Lent; photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah

Later, came the time for applying the ashes. While the youth choir sang, the people who had gathered in the church formed queues to receive the dusts.


Ash Wednesday Bethlehem St. Catherine Church Travelujah

Inside of St. Catherines Church' photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah

During the mass, part of Gospel of Matthew (6: 1-6, 16-18) was read, which speaks  about being humble during the fasting period and warns against flaunting our good acts in front of others. "But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret" (Matt. 6: 3-4) Our good deeds are going to be rewarded surely, since God the Father "[...] who is in secret" (Matt. 6: 18) is omniscient and knows everything what we are doing. So, there is no place for hypocrisy.

More Lent Facts:

Note: Please note that the priest is wearing purple, the colour reserved for Lent which symbolizes royalty and repentance.


Ash Wednesday Bethlehem St. Catherine Church Travelujah
Choir chanting during Lent; photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah

Note: According to the Roman Catholics, Sundays before Easter are not included in the fasting period, because of Jesus' resurrection on Sunday. However, most people restrict themselves from eating meat  on those days as well and therefore the will eat fish dishes.

Is the Ash Wednesday celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church?

No, the Eastern Orthodox Christians do not have this tradition. Instead, Orthodox Great Lent begins on Clean Monday (27.02.2012) - the day of "clean hearts and good intentions" and rigorous fasting. Orthodox Christians begin their Lent on a different day, because they follow different liturgical calendar. In the opposition to the Roman Catholics, they count Sundays as fasting days.

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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



June 11, 2012June 11, 2012  1 comments  Religious ceremonies

The Feast of Corpus Christi, or commonly called the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is a very important holiday in the Catholic tradition, as it celebrates the institution of the Holy Communion at the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and His disciples. "While they were eating, He took bread, said blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said: Take it; this is my body." (Mark 14:22) The mentioned verses of the Gospel of Mark are always read during the Holy Masses before the Eucharist is distributed to the gathered believers.


Origin of the Corpus Christi Feast

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ commemorates the happenings from the 1st century A.D., its establishment goes back only the 13th century.

"What shall I return to the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD."(Psalm 116:12-13)

In 1246 A.D., Bishop Robert from Belgium, at the request of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, instituted the celebration of the feast. The celebration began to spread fast and on 8th of September 1264, Pope Urban IV issued the papal bull "Transiturus," which established the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast of the Church.

The Corpus Christi holiday is celebrated by the Church on the eighth Thursday after Easter. However this year (2012), the Catholic Christians of Bethlehem celebrated the feast on June 8th, one day alter. The solemn mass took place at the monumental Salesian Church of the Sacred Heart situated in the Old Town of Bethlehem.


Corpus Christi in Bethlehem Travelujah

Salesian Church in Bethlehem; photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah


After the mass, there was a festive procession long the path from the Salesian Church to  Manger Square, where another mass took place. The streets were decorated with colorful ribbons and sacred images of Jesus and Virgin Mary.

During the parade the priest held the Holy Eucharist and the gathered Christians chanted religious psalms and threw flower petals. After the mass on the Manger Square, the procession continued along Star Street within Bethlehem's Old City, believed to be the way Mary and Joseph came to the Nativity Grotto, where Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.


Corpus Christi in Bethlehem Travelujah
Photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah

For tourists, the opportunity to experience these festive gatherings, is a perfect way to share in the culture of the Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land.


Corpus Christi in Bethlehem Travelujah

Photo courtesy Beata Andonia for Travelujah

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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.


August 29, 2012August 29, 2012  1 comments  Religious ceremonies


On the 26th of August 2012 the Sisters of Carmel in Bethlehem celebrated their 29th anniversary of the beatification of their founder St. Mary of Jesus Crucified. She was beatificated  in 1983 by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

For that annual occasion, many Christians from Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land gathered in the beautiful chapel and gardens of the monastery. The feast began with a solemn mass and special prayers to the St. Mary and was followed by a sweet treat prepared by the sisters.


Carmel Monastery in Bethlehem Travelujah(Solemn Celebration)


History of the Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem


The Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem was founded by Mariam Baouardy - Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. On 20th of August 1875, ten sisters under her leadership left their mother monastery in Pau, France to start the Carmel in Bethlehem, the town where Jesus Christ was born.


Who was Sister Mariam?


Mariam Baouardy was born in 1846 to a poor Melkite family in Ibilin, a village beween Haifa and Nazareth in the Galilee of the Holy Land. Mariam’s parents suffered before her birth - they had twelve children who were stillborns. The mother prayed to God for a child and in exchange Mariam’s mother promised to dedicate her next child to God.


Unfortunately, Mariam’s parents died quite young, so her uncle took her with his family to Cairo in Egypt. There he wanted her to be engaged to a much older man, however, Mariam refused.


After that, her uncle treated her badly and made her one of his servants. The other workers wished to dissuade her from her Christian faith, but she was strong. One night, one of the servants beat her almost to death. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Mariam, healing her wounds and miraculously bringing her back to life.


Relicts of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified Travelujah (Relicts of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified)

From that point, Mariam decided to devote herself to God and went to a Carmelite convent in Pau, France and took the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. It is said that she had supernatural powers: she could predict the future;  levitate during prayers; and she received Jesus’ stigmata. Sister Mary was very active and she founded three different Carmelite monasteries: one in India and two in the Holy Land – one each in Nazareth and Bethlehem.


Initially the ten sisters lived in a temporary house close to the Basilica of the Nativity. Sister Mary, guided by God, chose to locate the future Carmel on a hill facing the hill of the Nativity.


Entrance to Monastery’s Chapel Travelujah(Entrance to Monastery’s Chapel)

Although the building was still under construction, the inauguration of the convent took place in November 1876. Mariam died on 26th of August 1878, before the building was completed.


According to her wish, she was buried on the grounds of Bethlehem’s convent. Her relics are housed in the monastery’s chapel.


Present Life in the Convent


Nowadays, the Carmel community in Bethlehem has approximately 15 sisters from both local and international backgrounds, but they communicate with each other in French. The sisters live a lifestyle focused on prayer and fellowship and most of the sisters remain in the monastery each day.


The sisters operate a pilgrim house for those travelers seeking a quiet and spiritual place in Bethlehem.


If you go:


The Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem is located at 119 Jamal Abdel Nasser St. All guests are welcomed to the convent, however, the sisters are not always available as they have designated hours for prayers.


Please call before visiting: +972 (02) 2742486 or contact online: carmelbet@palnet.com

To learn more about the Carmelite convents in the Holy Land visit their website: www.carmelholyland.org


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

December 10, 2012December 10, 2012  0 comments  Religious ceremonies

Is there any better place in the world to visit during Christmas, than in the town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was actually born?


 "And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David." (Luke 2:3-4)


Travelujah recommends that Christians to follow in the path of Joseph and to make a similar pilgrimage this year to Bethlehem, the town that many believe is the birthplace of Jesus. To ensure an exciting and festive Christmas season in Bethlehem, a number of religious and cultural celebrations have been planned for Christmas 2012.


Enjoy strolling beautifully decorated streets of Bethlehem, where the Christmas ornaments and lights, put all around the town, create a special atmosphere of celebration and joy. When reaching the Manger Square, the first thing to notice will be this year’s Christmas tree - bigger and more splendid than ever.


Christmas in Bethlehem Travelujah


However, this amazing tree will be just a Christmas decoration underlining the importance of the place you would be in. Only few steps behind it is the entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity, the church built over the grotto where Jesus, Prince of Peace, was born.


“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11)


Christmas Events:


On the 15th of December, see the solemn Lightning of the Christmas Tree. Firstly, everybody is invited to join common prayer in the St. Catherine’s Church of the Nativity Church at 4:30 pm. Right after the mass, at 5:30 pm, Christmas concerts will begin to please our ears and the tree will be ceremonially lightened.


2nd Nativity Festival on the Manger Square will be a great musical entertainment starting every day from 16th till 23rd of December around  5 pm.


19th of December will mark the Day of St. Nicholas. Did you know that Santa Claus lived for four years in a cave in Beit Jala, a town next to Bethlehem, to exclude himself close to the place where the Christ was born? Church of St. Nicholas in Beit Jala will host a solemn mass at 7:30 am. Scouts parade will march the town around noon. Musical event featuring very talented local singers will start at 6 pm.


‘Taste the Nativity Land’ festival prepared by the John Paul II Foundation will be a great occasion to taste local products of Bethlehem like wine, olive oil and traditional bread. This all could be enjoyed from 20th till 22nd of December, in a beautiful Christmas setting and live carols performances. The first day, will as well feature a great children’s parade, which will start from the Manger Square at 1:30 pm and march through the streets of Bethlehem to reach the grounds of the JP II Foundation.


Beit Sahour, the town famous for the Shepherd’s Fields, has its own Christmas tree, which will be solemnly lighted on the 20th of December. At 5 pm, a beautiful “Procession for Peace” will walk from town’s center (souq es-shab) to reach the place of the three lightning in front of Beit Sahour’s municipality building. Musical concerts and fireworks are expected.


24th of December marks the Christmas Eve. On that day, scouts of Bethlehem are going to welcome the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal. The Patriarch is expected to arrive around 1 pm to the area of the Rachel’s Tomb and reach the Manger Square around 2:30 pm.


Christmas in Bethlehem Travelujah 


24th of December is as well the day of the Midnight Mass celebrated in the St. Catherine’s Church. The event requires previously obtained tickets. The door of the church will be open from 9 pm. Check more info: here.


For all those who would like to enjoy common caroling, a special event prepared by a group “Brass for Peace” will take place in the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem at 7:30 pm on the 24th of December.


Join the Shepherd’s Nights celebrations on the 25th of December in Beit Sahour. Candle procession at 4 pm, from the Orthodox Shepherd’s Fields to the center of Beit Sahour, will symbolize the way of the Shepherds lead by the star. Musical concerts will follow.


On the 29th of December at 6 pm enjoy “Bethlehem Christmas Festival” - 80 Voice Festival Choir concert in on the stage of Dar Annadwa, located next to the Christmas Lutheran Church.


Mark Your Calendar



  • 15/12 – Lightning of the Christmas Tree in Bethlehem

  • 16-23/12 – 2nd Nativity Festival
  • 19/12 – St. Nicholas Celebrations in Beit Jala
  • 20-22/12 – “Taste the Nativity Land” Festival in JP II Foundation
  • 20/12 – Lightning of the Christmas Tree in Beit Sahour
  • 24/12 – Welcoming of the Latin Patriarch on the Manger Square; Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in the St. Catherine Church; “Brass for Peace” in the Christmas Lutheran Church
  • 25/12 – Shepherd’s Nights in Beit Sahour
  • 29/12 - “Bethlehem Christmas Festival” 


Traveling to Bethlehem


You can easily reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem by taking bus #21 from the bus station next to the Damascus Gate of Old Jerusalem. The way will take around 30 minutes and will take you through Beit Jala to the area called Bab el-Zkak in Bethlehem. To reach the Manger Square from there, walk Pope Paul VI street for 15 minutes.


Travelujah.com invites you to join one of the many Bethlehem day tours and visit the city on a group tour bus with a licensed tour guide. Several Bethlehem day tours are available including:


1.             Bethlehem-Jericho Day Tour - $125 per person from Jerusalem

2.             Bethlehem and Jerusalem One Day Tour-$99 per person from Jerusalem

3.             Bethlehem Christmas Eve 2012 Tour - $115 per person from Jerusalem


Christmas in Bethlehem Travelujah 


The full schedule of 2012-2013 Christmas-related services and mass times in Bethlehem is found below:

DECEMBER 15 – 23:
16.30 Novena of Christmas in St Catherine.

DECEMBER 24 (Monday):
13.00 at the Tomb of Rachel: His Beatitude, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal, is welcomed by, Latin Parish Priest of Bethlehem and representatives of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.
14.30 at the Manger Square: Solemn Entry of His Beatitude into the Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine Church followed by Pontifical Vespers.
16.00 at St. Catherine: Daily Procession to the Nativity Grotto.
21.00 at St. Catherine: The Church opens (Tickets required).
23.15 at St. Catherine: SOLEMN "OFFICE OF READINGS".

DECEMBER 25 (Tuesday):
00.00 at St. Catherine: PONTIFICAL EUCHARISTIC CONCELEBRATION (Tickets required).
00.00 at the Manger Grotto: Low Masses till 1.30 in Arabic (Tickets required);
1.30 at St. Catherine: Solemn traditional Procession to the Grotto until 2.30.
2.30 at the Manger Grotto: Low Masses till 5.15 (no tickets required), Interruption from 5.30 to 7.00 approximately.
7.30 at St. Catherine: PARISH MASS IN ARABIC.
14.00: Pilgrimage to the Greek and then to the Latin Shepherd’s Field.

DECEMBER 26 (Wednesday) – Feast of St. Stephen:
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian), 7.00 (Arabic).
12.00: Daily procession to the Grotto of the Nativity.

DECEMBER 27 (Thursday) – Feast of St. John Evangelist:
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian) and 7.00 (Arabic).
12.00: Daily Procession to the Grotto.
16.45: Veneration of the Rock of Manger Grotto

DECEMBER 28 (Friday) – Feast of the Holy Innocents:
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian), 7.00 (Arabic).
10.00: Sung Mass (Latin) in the Grotto of the Holy Innocents.
12.00: Daily Procession to the Grotto.
14.00: Vespers in the Grotto of the Holy Innocents.

DECEMBER 29 (Saturday):
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian), 7.00 (Arabic).
12.00: Daily Procession to the Grotto.
Shepherd’s Field, Solemn Mass at in commemoration of the Shepherds.

DECEMBER 30 (Sunday):
In the
Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and at 8.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian), 7.30; 9.00; 11.00; 16.30 (Arabic).

DECEMBER 31 (Monday) – New Year’s Eve:
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 (Italian), 7.00 (Arabic).
14.00 Solemn Vespers with Procession to the Grotto

16.30 Holy Mass of Thanksgiving (Arabic) with TE DEUM.


JANUARY 1 (Tuesday):
In the
Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 am and 7.30.
At St. Catherine: Holy Masses at 6.30 am (Italian), 7.30 am (Arabic).
Solemn Mass at 10.30 (Arabic) followed by Procession to the Milk Grotto with the Icon of Virgin Mary.

JANUARY 5 (Saturday) – Eve of
In the Manger Grotto: Holy Masses at 5.00 and 7.30.
11.00 at the
Tomb of Rachel: His Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land is welcomed by Latin Parish Priest and other representatives of Bethlehem.
11.30 at the Manger Square: Solemn Entry of his Paternity the Custos of the Holy Land into the
Basilica of the Nativity and St. Catherine Church.
13.45 at St. Catherine: Pontifical Vespers and Procession to the Grotto

15.30 at St. Catherine: Office of Readings and Procession to the Grotto
JANUARY 6 (Sunday) –
Midnight at the Grotto: Holy Masses till 9.00 with an interruption from 1.00 to 2.30 approximately.
7.30 at St. Catherine: Holy Mass.
10.00 at St. Catherine: PONTIFICAL MASS (Latin and Arabic).
15.30 at St. Catherine:  Solemn Vespers and Solemn Traditional procession to the Grotto: Veneration of the Infant Jesus with the gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.


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By Beata Andonia  and Elisa Moed for Travelujah. Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.




March 19, 2013March 19, 2013  0 comments  Religious ceremonies


“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 1:18)


The news about Mary’s pregnancy made Joseph very upset. However, as a man of honor and faithful to the law, he decided to divorce her quietly to avoid a scandal. Then suddenly, during his sleep, angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and encouraged him to take Mary as his wife. The child she was bearing was conceived through the Holy Spirit.


Since that day, Joseph always accompanied Mary as a husband and after Jesus’ birth he became his guardian and terrestrial father. Joseph spent a lot of time with the young Jesus and taught him the profession of handicraft and carpentry. The boy probably followed Joseph to many places of his work.


Joseph was from Bethlehem and he belonged to the house of David. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife”. (Matt. 1:20) Since Joseph, was not the genetic father of Jesus, we can come to the thought that Mary was from the Davidic origin as well. We can spot that when reading angel’s message which he revealed on the Day of Annunciation: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32) Thus we can deduct that Mary and Joseph’s families might have been related to each other.


Statue of Virgin Mary Nazareth Travelujah


The gospels indicate that after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the Holy Family spent some months in the town before escaping from King Herod’s soldiers to Egypt. “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” (Matt. 2:13) The Chapel of St. Joseph, located inside of the Nativity Church, commemorates the place where the angel appeared to Joseph and commanded him to flee to Egypt. According to another local tradition, the family stayed in the place currently called Milk Grotto, which might have been on the land that belonged to Joseph’s ancestors from Bethlehem.


After the death of Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from Jerusalem, the angel again appeared to Joseph and let him know that the time of their return has come. Joseph, however, after hearing that Herod Archelaus took over the rule in Judea, decided to take his family to Nazareth in the Galilee.


At the time of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the gospels do not mention Joseph anymore. This leads us to the assumption that Christ’s earthy guardian probably already passed away by that time.


Feasts of St. Joseph


In the tradition of the Catholic Church, the 19th of March is the day dedicated to St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast has been observed since the 10th century, however Pope St. Pius V established the holiday as a church custom in 1479. The holiday honors Joseph as the man who was privileged to become the spouse of the Mother of God and the foster-father of Jesus Christ. Additionally, Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church.


Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth


According to tradition, the Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth is located over Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The monastery stands next to the famous Church of the Annunciation and is often included within a pilgrim’s itinerary.


St. Joseph Church Nazareth Travelujah


The Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth was built in 1914 on the ruins of the Crusader church and over multiple caves. Three paintings on the monastery’s apse depict the Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary. Joseph is believed to die in Nazareth.


In the crypt under the church is a pit, which is believed to be a baptistery dating to the 1st century A.D.


If you go: The church of St. Joseph in Nazareth is open daily from 7 am till 6 pm. From Monday till Saturday there is a mass at 7:15 am in Arabic and on every Wednesday at 6:30 am in Italian. The Sunday mass (in Arabic) is celebrated in the Church of St. Joseph at 8:30 am. When this article was written, the monastery was under renovation. Please check Catholic Parish of Nazareth’s website for updates: www.basilicanazareth.org. In its proximity is the Basilica of the Annunciation open from 8 am till 6 pm and the Archaeological Museum open from 8 am – 12 am and 2 pm – 6 pm (5 pm winter).


Church of St. Joseph in Bethlehem


St. Joseph Church Bethlehem Travelujah


The small Syriac Catholic Church of St. Joseph is located on Manger Street in Bethlehem. Its construction began in 1925 and the building was consecrated in 1930. The church serves the local Syriac Catholic community of Bethlehem. They are the descendants of the ethnic group of Assyrians that came from the Syrian desert in the 14th century B.C.


In both Orthodox and Catholic Syriac churches, the liturgy is in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Aramaic is the spoken language only, the written form is called Syriac.


Feast of the St. Joseph: The community celebrates the feast of their church’s patron St. Joseph on Sunday the 17th of March at 4 pm.


If you go: The Sunday mass is celebrated in the Church of St. Joseph at 8:30 am. Since some period of time, the chapel is rarely open on the week days. If lucky, the person who keeps the keys would be around and when asked he would open it for the visitors. It is better to arrange a visit by contacting Fr. Frais at yacoob1991@hotmail.com or calling at 00972 (0) 50 295 94 18. To learn more about the Syriac Catholic Church in the Holy Land visit their website: www.syriaccatholic.org


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



February 14, 2011February 14, 2011  1 comments  Tourism

Tourism is up in the Holy Land, big time. During 2010, an estimated two million people visited Bethlehem, a record year for the biblical destination. But, like Mary and Joseph so many centuries ago, most of the pilgrims could find no room at the inn.  

Because of the severe lack of hotel rooms - Bethlehem, for instance, has just under 2,000 hotel rooms - very few Christian pilgrims spend the night in Palestinian towns that host some of the Bible's most important landmarks. So, while tourism numbers are up, the Palestinians aren't seeing much increased revenue as most visitors move on to locations in Israel before they have a chance to spend any money.


Jacir Palace Intercontinental Bethlehem
Jacir Palace Intercontinental Hotel Bethlehem, courtesy Travelujah

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities is looking to remedy the problem, and provide greater convenience for visitors who may want to spend a bit more time in the town of Jesus' birth, or explore the fascinating biblical town of Jericho, which just celebrated its 10,000th anniversary as an inhabited city.

Figures released by the ministry suggested visitors, especially Eastern Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims, would like to spend more time in these locations, but are simply unable to find adequate accommodations. Overnight stays in Bethlehem and Jericho increased by 51 percent in 2010.  "This growth and raise in visitors demand is being met with a constant increase and upgrade of the tourism infrastructure," reported the Ministry of Tourism. "New hotels, restaurants, and cultural centers, museums and resorts are opening up across the West Bank and East Jerusalem." 

Ancient Jericho

Tel El Sultan, also known as Ancient Jericho, photo courtesy Travelujah

The Palestinians are looking to nearly double the number of hotel rooms in both Bethlehem and Jericho over the next year. The region currently has 5,200 hotel rooms and another 1,500 are in various phases of construction. Recently three new hotels opened including a Movenpick and a  Days Inn in Ramallah - both oriented towards the growing commercial market as well as a Days Inn in Bethlehem, geared toward the tourism sector.  "The overall goal of the industry is to increase the number of rooms to around 10,000 in the next 7-10 years," according to the ministry report.  And the effort is not just about adding hotel rooms.  "Both the public and private sector are investing millions in developing, restoring and upgrading the industry," wrote Dr. Khouloud Daibes, Palestinian Minister of Tourism. "Recreational parks, resorts, restaurants, cultural centres, and new transportation fleets were all among the key investments over the past five years."

Palestinian Tourism Minister Dr. Khouloud Daibes and Travelujah CEO, Elisa Moed

Palestinian Minister of Tourism Dr. Khouloud Daibes and Travelujah CEO, Elisa Moed, at the Palestinian Investment Conference in Bethlehem

Daibes also stressed that while Christian pilgrimage will remain the focus of the Palestinian tourism campaign, "we are also developing alternative tourism through creating experiential programs and non-traditional itineraries. ...Biking, hiking, and bird watching activities are only a few of the initiatives underway."  

The improved tourism climate, both for the Palestinian and Israeli tourism industry, has prompted Israel and the Palestinian Authority  to create additional cooperative measures with regard to the tourism sector. And the payoff has been big. In 2010, both destinations enjoyed record tourism growth, and in January 2011, the strong growth continued with tourism up 17% over January 2010 levels. Many of the roadblocks within the Palestinian territories have been removed, Israeli tour guides and bus drivers are being allowed to work inside the Palestinian territories and the heavily used Rachel's Crossing border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem was opened continuously over a one month holiday period this year greatly facilitating visitor access.


Without question, additional cooperative measures are necessary and the region faces many hurdles before tourism can reach its full potential. But what is equally certain is that the Holy Land is a pilgrimage experience unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is encouraging to see local officials as well as the local private sector  taking that seriously and preparing the ground for even more people to come and encounter the Bible.


By Ryan Jones and Elisa Moed  for http://www.travelujah.com, the leading Christian social network focused on Holy land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

December 27, 2012December 27, 2012  0 comments  Holy Sites

One of the most Ancient Surviving Churches in the World

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both discuss the birth of Jesus and each infer that Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem. Matthew infers that Mary and Joseph only later moved to Nazareth because of Herod’s decree, while Luke indicates that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth but only traveled to Bethlehem because of a special census. In both stories, however, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, possibly according to the Gospel of Luke, in a manger because there was no room at the inn.

Christianity was declared as a lawful religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine in 313 AD. After Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the Emperor and his mother Queen Helena ordered construction of three churches honouring great events of Christ’s life. The Nativity Church in Bethlehem was one them, beside the churches which mark the sites of Resurrection in Jerusalem and Ascension on the Mount of Olives.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Temple of Adonis

The cave, where Jesus is believed to be born, was a sacred place for early Christians. In 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian converted the grotto into a worship place for Adonis - Greek pagan god of beauty and desire. It was likely done to make people forget about Christ. In 327, the pagan temple was destroyed and construction of the monumental Christian basilica began. The church consisted of three main parts: the octagonal sanctuary, built over the Nativity Grotto, a long atrium and forecourt.

Samaritan Revolt of 529 AD

Construction of the Basilica was finished after 333 AD, which means that the Queen Helena had never seen it in a completed form since she died in Rome in 330 AD. In 529 AD, the church was burnt during the Samaritan revolt against the Byzantine Empire.

Miracle of 614 AD

The basilica laid in ruins for more than thirty years. The existing church was built by the Emperor Justinian in 565 AD. But this time, the basilica was constructed on a plan of a cross with three apses, replacing the octagonal structure over the grotto. The altar was repositioned in a new eastern apse, following the belier that Christ will come from that direction on the Judgment Day.

Afew years later, in 614 AD, Sassanian army from Persia invaded the Holy Land and decided to destroy all the churches. The Nativity Church, miraculously survived intact. The legend says that Persians recognized images of their ancestors in one of the mosaics or paintings above the entrance to the basilica and that these images represented the Magi, who came from the East to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Crusader’s Kingdom

From 1099 AD and forward, during the Crusader period, the Nativity Church underwent multiple additions and repairs. The church also hosted the coronation ceremony of the first Latin King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, who took his title on the 25th of December 1100 AD. His successor, Baldwin II, followed did the same when he took the throne in 1122.

Disputes over the Church 

In 1347 the Franciscans were given authority over the Basilica. But during the 16th century bthe period of conflict between the Franciscans and the Greeks for the position of the sanctuary began. Consequently the church passed alternatively from one to the another according to the will of  the Ottoman government. In 1690 the Franciscans retook the possession of the Grotto, and in 1717 they replaced its silver star with a new one that is inscribed in Latin with “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” meaning “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”.

In 1757, the Greeks took the possession over the Basilica once again. Between 1810 and 1829 the Armenians succeeded in establishing themselves in the church, getting the left arm of the transept.

In 1847, the silver star was gone. Its disappearance is cited by many to be possibly the direct cause for the French involvement in the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) against Russia. Later, the Franciscans designed another star to place it in the grotto but a replique of the previous star was put there by the Greeks in 1853.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Status Quo

The Holy Land came under the Ottoman rule in 1517 AD. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches were still in continual struggle over a number of sanctuaries in the Holy Land including the Basilica of the. Other shrines in dispute at the time include the well in the Holy Sepulcher, the Tomb of the Virgin, Chapel of the Ascension and Deir al Sultan.

In 1852, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Mejid issued the "status quo" - an important document, which discusses the relations between the Christian communities of the Holy Land and describes their ownership and rights within the previously mentioned sanctuaries. It also decides on the times and durations of services, movements and their routes, and the method of implementation, whether by singing or by reading.

These days, the church is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian authorities, however you will also see there a local presence taking care of the order. 

Unfortunately, nowadays, the church is in need of redevelopment and repair. In 2012, the church became the first site located in the area under the Palestinian Authority inscribed on the World Heritage List UNESCO. And hopefully, its presence on the list will encourage and speed up funding for its preservation. However, the common administration of the three denominations makes it harder to decide anything regarding the renovations as any redevelopment requires their common agreement.

The Door to the Basilica

The Orthodox Convent keeps the key of the main entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity. However, the door opees and closes ever day immediately after the Latin bells ring. The time varies according to the season of the year.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

The Katholikon

Katholikon is the main church of the complex, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox. This means that a Catholic or Armenian monk should not enter this part of the church while wearing a sacerdotal dress at any time. However, there are assigned spaces and times when it is possible. For example, there is a daily (except Sundays) Franciscan procession to the Nativity Grotto. The monks can walk only along a narrow passage connecting the St. Catherine Church and the grotto.

The Nativity Grotto

The Grotto of the Nativity is accessed from the Katholikon by two stairways, one from the north (left) and one from the south (right).

The southern door is used exclusively by the Orthodox and no other clergy can enter the grotto from this side while wearing a sacerdotal dress. Privately, however, any person can use the staircase at any time. The curtains along the steps belong to the Orthodox as well and there are two lamps that are suspended above these - the one nearer to the door is Latin and the other Orthodox. There are also two ikons on the east wall - one Orthodox and the other Armenian.

The hanging canvas around the main walls are under the Latin property. There are also paintings hanging on the canvas- six Orthodox (on wood) and six Armenian (on canvas). Grotto’s floor is cleaned every Thursday after closing the church, once by the Orthodox and once by the Latins.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

The northern entrance is used principally by the Latins and Armenians, so the steps leading down to the entrance are cleaned alternately by the Latins and the Armenians. The hangings along this staircase are Latin and the Latins clean this set of steps daily. Above this door are two ikons and two lamps, belonging one each to the Orthodox and Armenians.

Down in the Grotto, the actual shrine consists of two parts, the Altar of the Nativity with the previously mentioned silver star, belonging to the Orthodox and the Armenians, and at which the Copts and Syriac also officiate, and the Altar of the Manger which is exclusively in Latin use. In front of the Manger are three candlesticks belong one to each rite.

If you plan to visit the Church of the Nativity:

Holy Masses in the Nativity Grotto

The timing of the ceremonies in the Nativity Grotto follows the solar schedule. It is very useful to know the timing of the religious ceremonies held in and around the grotto before arranging a visit.


  • 3 am – Catholic prayer and cleaning
  • 4 am – Greek Orthodox Ceremonial incense
  • 4:30 am – Armenian prayer
  • 4:55 am – Catholic mass
5:30 am – Greek mass (opening of the small door)
  • 7:30 am – Catholic mass
  • 8:10 am – Armenian mass
  • 9 am   – cleaning of the grotto (only Catholics and Orthodox are allowed to clean the exact grotto, Armenians however take part of their property like paintings or icons)
  • 9:15 am – From that hour the grotto is available for the pilgrim groups
  • 9:15 – 11:30 am – There is a possibility of 2 Catholic masses for the visiting pilgrims, the grotto has to be previously reserved.
  • 12:00 pm – Catholic procession from the St. Catherine Church to the Nativity Grotto; Ceremonial incense of the grottos of the Nativity and of St. Heronimus. The Franciscan have the keys to the door in the passage connecting the two grottos.
  • 1:30 – Armenian Mass Next to the altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary (in the northern apse)
  • 2:30 – 3:30 –  Greek Orthodox Vespers

Sunday Masses:

On Sundays, the Catholic mass in the grotto takes place at 9:30 am and the Armenian one at 11:30 am, because of the main Greek Orthodox mass, up on the altar of the Nativity Church from 7:30 till 9:30 am, the grotto is available for the pilgrim groups only after 11:30 am.

There are also three Catholic masses in Arabic in the St. Catherine's Church at 7:30 am, 9 am and 11 am. 

Opening Hours:

Basilica of the Nativity: Summer (April – September) 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Winter (October – March) 5:30 a.m. –5:00p.m. Note: Grotto is closed on Sunday morning.

St. Catherine Church: Summer (April – September) 6:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Winter (October – March) 5:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Notes: Sunday morning, open for Holy Masses (7:30 am, 9 am, 11 am). Grotto opens in the afternoon.

Book a Mass:

To reserve a catholic mass in the Grotto of the Nativity or the St. Catherine Church for Catholic priests Pilgrims’ Certificates and Catholic groups, contact the Franciscan Pilgrim Office: Tel. +970-2-6272697 Fax: +970-2-6286417 E-mail: fpo@cicts.org . Office hours: Monday - Friday 8.30 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. / Saturday 8.30 a.m.- 12.30 p.m. / Sunday closed.

Travelujah Tips: - Travelujah-organized private group tours accompanied by a parish priest  have private mass arrangements made at venues around the Holy Land, including the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, depending on the group itinerary.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

November 20, 2013November 20, 2013  0 comments  Holy Sites


Who was St. Catherine of Alexandria?


One belief states that St. Catherine was born in the 4th century to a noble family in Alexandria, Egypt. She became Christian as a teenager and was martyred by a pagan emperor Maxentius. At first, he ordered her to be tortured on a wheel, however the wheel immediately broke when she touched it. She was beheaded instead.


According to another belief, St. Catherine’s body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai, and a church and monastery were constructed in her memory in the 6th century.

The Church dedicated to St. Catherine in Bethlehem


A church dedicated to St. Catherine was also built in Bethlehem. It is a Catholic church and Franciscan monastery located in the complex of the Nativity Church, over the area of the grotto where Jesus Christ was born.


According to local tradition, the church stands on the spot of Christ’s appearance to St. Catherine of Alexandria around 310 AD.


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


Crusaders also built a cloister and a monastery which they gave to the Canons of St. Augustine and which in 1347 became a Franciscan convent.


The present building consists of a nave and two aisles. It incorporates remains of the 5th-century sanctuary related to the St. Jerome and the parts of 12th-century Crusader church, which are clearly visible particularly in the courtyard.


In 1882, the monastery was rebuilt with financial help of the Emperor of Austria. In 1948, the Church of St. Catherine was restored again by the famous architect Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed many other churches of the Holy Land including the Church of the visitation in Ein Karem. His magnificent reconstructive work can be mainly seen in the 12th-century Cloister of St. Jerome surrounding the entrance to the Latin church. Its design is in keeping with the original medieval architecture.


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


A beautiful stained glass window featuring a Nativity scene was installed above the main altar in 2000. And just recently, in the summer of 2013, the main altar of the church was shifted backward to create more space for believers. This change gives a chance for more pilgrims to be present on the Christmas Eve Mass on the night of 24th of December, which is broadcasted annually around the world.


What’s under the church?


There are stairs on the right side of the main nave that lead down to the grotto which is divided on a number of chapels. Those include the Chapel of St. Jerome, who devoted his life to translating the Bible into Latin language – Vulgate; Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the children killed by Herod the Great and the Chapel of St. Joseph that reminds us of his dream in which an angel warned him to escape to Egypt. 


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


There is also a passage leading to the Nativity Grotto, tho it is usually closed. But the grotto can be viewed by a keyhole in the door.


Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandra in Bethlehem


Every year around 25th of November there are planned special liturgical events for the Feast of the St. Catherine which will take place in Bethlehem, in the church dedicated to her:


Saturday, 23rd November 2013, Eve of the feast:



  • 11.30 am - Entry of the Custos
  • 01.45 pm - Vespers and procession
  • 03.30 pm - Office and procession



Sunday, 24th November 2013, Feast day:



  • 10.00 am - Solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land


When to visit?


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


Summer (April – September): 6:30 am – 7:30 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed

Winter (October – March): 5 am – 5 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed


The Sunday masses at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am in the St. Catherine Church are usually held in Arabic.


The Latin Parish in Bethlehem can be contacted by calling on (02) 274 24 40 or writing on pscbet@palnet.com or pastorvioice@hotmail.com


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

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