The House of Bread has taken on new meaning for me tonight.
Today, we visited the sacred sites of Bethlehem that are made of stone. But tonight, we visited the living stones of this holy place. We gathered in the homes of Christians of Bethlehem and broke bread together.
Miracles happen in times like this. People are changed, forever. Friendships are formed, forever. I tell you, this Christmas, when I think of Bethlehem, I will be remembering tonight and the five people I met in a humble home in the city of Our Lord’s birthplace.
I will never again think of the holy sites here without thinking of the living, breathing fellow Christians who struggle to make ends meet because they live in a place where they make up two percent of the population. If I told you that their family was comprised of a lawyer, a head accountant, a cosmetologist a manicurist, and a childcare provider, you would think that they lived in a three-story mansion in a place like Frontenac, Missouri, and drove a BMW and Mercedes Benz.
But that is just not so. Here, a Catholic head accountant makes about nine thousand dollars. A Catholic lawyer makes somewhat more, but not a lot. And the Catholic women work hard and are paid far less than their spouses.
I write. It’s what I do. But how do I convey with words what took place tonight? Our pilgrimage is part of a program called Sharing the Bread. Those of us who go on a God-trekking pilgrimage expect to encounter Christ, but sometimes, He shows up in places we don’t expect. Tonight we enjoyed a meal called Mensaf. You can google the recipe and even find a version of it on the Epicurious website, but I guarantee that you will not be able to replicate this meal. Not the meal we had tonight, because we shared it in the home of Ebtisam and Samir Bannourah and their daughter Mary & their married daughter Sabreen and her husband Fadi Salman. And we laughed together and wiped away tears. We swapped stories.
And I left their home tonight thinking about how easy we have it as Catholics/Christians in the U.S.
Heck, I thought about how easy we have it. Period.
But these are the living stones of Bethlehem. They could leave. Thirty years ago, the Christian population here was ninety percent. Now, they make up just two percent of the population.
Why do they stay? Fadi says it is because this is the birthplace of their Lord Jesus. This is home. It is an inheritance on a spiritual level, and even if everything else is difficult, they will stay. They will stay, and we will have a Bethlehem to visit on pilgrimage because they are here to make sure that heritage is preserved.
They stay, for their children and their children’s children. They stay, for us.
Meet the living stones of Bethlehem. See the joy we had in “Sharing the Bread” with them. What Select International has done in creating this program in conjunction with Shibly Kando ( grandson of the man who discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls and brought them to the world), is amazing. Beautiful. Holy. Precisely what we should be about as Christians who are from the easiest place on the planet to be a Christian.
The House of Bread has taken on new meaning for me tonight. Thanks be to God.