Patricia EB Kosmalski, Madison, Wisconsin
When I was young I remember hearing songs about a far away land called Bethlehem, but I did not believe it was a place that really existed. Like the North Pole, Bethlehem was an imaginary place we only heard about at Christmas time where no one actually lived. However, my childhood beliefs were proven wrong last week when I arrived in Bethlehem and found myself living down the road from the site where Christ was born.
My name is Patricia and I am a university student from Madison, WI and I will be spending the next two months in the Holy Land. During my visit which was proposed to me last April by the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, I will be volunteering for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation to help build solidarity with local Palestinian Christians.
This is me visiting the Shepherd’s Fields in Beit Sahour just outside of Bethlehem.
After a long, two-day flight to Israel, I was nervous not knowing what to expect or how I would be accepted in this land. Since arriving, I have found some of the warmest hospitality I’ve ever experienced in my life. Though the situation the Palestinian Christians are facing is very sad and oppressive, they do not let that affect the complete care and generosity they show their guests. Living at the guesthouse above the HCEF main office in Bethlehem, I’ve found the staff here to be friendly and always ready to help me with anything I need to know about Bethlehem and Palestine. The guesthouse itself is very comfortable, nestled on a hill where on one side I can see the Church of the Nativity and the other the fields where the angels appeared to the shepherds announcing Christ’s birth. On clear days, I can see the Dead Sea and Jordan in the distance. At the office, home to many programs to help Palestinian Christians, the staff work diligently in a light and open atmosphere collaborating to make a sound outreach to the community. In addition, I have already enjoyed visiting with some local families in the area when they invited me for a familiar meal and shared their experiences and the situations they face.
In addition to volunteering at the foundation, my time here will be spent making pilgrimages and visits to other Palestinian and Israeli cities to see the holy sites and meet the local Palestinian Christians of the area. I think the present situation for the Christians living here really started to hit home when some of the native people helping me plan my trips expressed the great opportunity I have. I will be able to see places of their homeland that although not far away, they have never been allowed to visit because they were born Palestinian. I realized that these holy places where Christ walked this earth that are a part of our heritage are in a sense even further away for these Christians than they were for me as a child.
On the other hand, I see that there is a more important matter at hand in the daily lives of Christians than a mere question of travel. Every Christian person has the right to live in peace with the ability to provide for their spiritual and physical needs with dignity, which presently is not easily accomplished in this place. I look forward to learning more about the current situation of my fellow Christians and helping them live with that dignity while I stay in their homeland during the next two months.