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Off to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity and the attached St. Catherine’s Church. There was a humble grandeur in every area—from grotto to dome. You couldn’t help feel the reverence built into every crevice of the churches. But there were some uncomfortable moments at the church and on the way back home.
While I was sitting on a chair, waiting for my wife to finish her tour of the Bethlehem Church of the Nativity, a security guard suddenly came up to me. He frowned, gesturing for me to uncross my legs. I was unaware that I had breached decorum, but I wasn’t going to ask for an explanation or, God forbid, debate the situation with him: he had a quite visibly holstered gun not far from his right hand.
Walking to the bus stop from the Church of the Nativity was uneventful until we came to a crossroad that was the unholy mother of all intersections. Heaps of taxi cabs, cars, and people coming from all directions were trying to squeeze into a narrow passageway. My wife and I almost got stuck between four vehicles jockeying for position. Life isn’t easy for a pedestrian even if there is less congestion: earlier, a car backed up toward me so fast that I had to slam my hand on its trunk to avoid getting hit. Later on, that same car almost smacked into my wife as we joined motorists in the uphill climb to Manger Square. So being trapped in every-which-way-but-loose traffic was really unnerving. Eventually, however, we found an opening, rushed through it, and managed to land on a sliver of empty sidewalk. After that, we safely continued to the bus stop.
I have two suggestions for the Bethlehem tourism bureau. The town needs to construct a pedestrian bridge from the bus stop to the churches so that tourists aren’t trampled or run over on their sojourn. And the visitors’ center should have brochures itemizing inappropriate behavior in churches, including taboos in language, dress, and posture. Just getting to Manger Square can be an ordeal. Once inside the churches, a visitor shouldn’t have to fear that he or she is inadvertently violating a taboo.
Bethlehem should make sure that there will always be manageable room for tourists on their journey to and within some of the most revered sanctuaries in Christendom.