Million Feet and Voices in Bethlehem
January 18, 2019
The skies were almost cloudless blue and it was still cold and windy, even as the sunshine stood almost directly above us. Hands in our pockets, we walked through the Nativity square as my mind chewed on the amazing spirit-filled-tour of the Nativity Church we just had. As we walked, a little boy ran up to us and amidst the rowdy voices around the Nativity square, the Islamic call for prayers, he kept shouting out to us: “Buy! Buy! Is rosary. Is good. Buy! I give you good price. Three shekel. Tell your price. Is rosary.”
This was not strange to me. But for some strange reason, he caught my attention. He did not care whether we were tourists or pilgrims. He did not care whether we needed rosaries or not; all he cared about was that it is rosaries and we will like it – he was determined. I could quickly dismiss him as a little boy wanting to make a few shekels from rosary sales. But much more than that, his “determination” opened my heart’s eyes to the determination of the over million voices that have continued over centuries to give their all in walking these hallowed grounds, we just prayerfully walked through. St. Jerome spent 34 years, fully determined, translating the bible… millions of pilgrims, tourists and tourists-turned-pilgrims keep trudging through the heat and cold to this sacred place. They are all determined to connect in some way to the Mystery – Word Made Flesh – that the wisest of men could not unravel and we today cannot fully comprehend. In our limited understanding we remain determined, like the little boy, seeking and pilgriming to this holy ground.
And then it hit me! “What determination has brought my feet and voice to this land? Why am I here?” My mind raced through a thousand thoughts of wishes, encouragements, demand for prayers, words of support from friends, family, loved ones and my seminarian brothers back in Mundelein. Then in the quiet of a split second, I muttered underneath my breath: I have come determined to love you more and open to become an instrument of love. I was quiet for a blink-of-an-eye-moment when I was asked: “Should we eat here?” The question jolted me back to the rowdy reality of the Nativity square and turning around to get a rosary from the little boy, he was nowhere to be found. I had walked quite a distance away. Then I said in response to the brother’s question, “Sure, let’s eat here. There are other brothers there too.” So, we went in and joined the other brothers for a tasty kebab, humus and pita bread lunch. While we enjoyed our meal, I sat there most grateful for the privilege of being a determined pilgrim and that I am among the “million feet and voices” encountering the “soft tiny feet of baby Jesus and his initial cry” through the people, culture, history and spirit-filled presence of the site in Bethlehem.
Diocese of San Jose