Holy Land Pilgrimage

Universal Food

January 25, 2019

No matter what culture you are from, food gathers people together. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, the Super Bowl provide some American examples of gatherings where food is essential. This same principle is true when traveling. One of the joys of gathering around food while traveling is by trying and experiencing the differences in food and cooking styles.

We have already experienced plenty of differences in the food on pilgrimage: from the day 100 hot-dogs were served for breakfast to the best olive oil I have ever had; from hummus and pita bread to a truck full of fresh meat being delivered to the market wrapped in bed sheets; from lamb and chicken to the lemon and olive trees. The food is fresh, the vegetables are endless, and the pastries are out of this world.

In Bethlehem, food means much more than meets the eye. The ancient houses of this region had two levels. The top level, where the family members would sleep, is referred to as the “inn.” The bottom level is where the family would have kept their food, animals, and other “valuables.” These things were kept on the first level so that if the house was robbed, the robbers would only acquire these “valuables,” while leaving the family, the true valuable, on the second level unharmed. Thus, when Mary and Joseph traveled back to Bethlehem to register for the census, there was no room for them in the inn because the entire family was there. So, they stayed in the lower level, in a cave, where Jesus was born. Bethlehem, in Arabic, literally means “house of bread.” As Pope Benedict XVI points out in his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Jesus, the Bread of Life, is born in a manger, the object that holds the food for the animals. Jesus, who feeds us with His Body and Blood, is the true food for us to taste. As Catholics, it is this Bread of Life which gathers us Sunday after Sunday, day after day. It is this Bread of Life that is food on the journey. On our pilgrimage, we have experienced the food of Bethlehem – both the food of the streets and the Bread of Life.


Michael Groth

Diocese of Joliet

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