The pandemic has been hard on pilgrims, but it’s been even more devastating to pilgrimage sites and industries surrounding them. While we may not feel comfortable touring the world’s most holy sites yet, this Advent has brought a unique alternative to travel. This year, the Abraham Path Initiative is hosting a live virtual tour of Bethlehem that can be attended for free.
The Abraham Path Initiative (API) is a U.S.-based non-profit that promotes walking in Southwestern Asia as a tool for economic development, intercultural experiences, and fostering friendships across the challenging divides of our times. Prior to the pandemic, they had organized some 1,200 miles of walking trails in Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and the Sinai, which were walked by more than 80,000 people. Since the pandemic, however, API has changed gears to offer more virtual experiences than ever, with live online tours and interactive webinars.
On December 18, API will take attendees on a walking tour of Bethlehem. They promise a unique, interactive experience that will last about an hour and a half. According to API’s press release, the tour will be guided by two Palestinian Christians, one of whom, Hazem Bannoura, was born and raised in Bethlehem. API wrote of the event on their website:
Through narrow cobblestone streets, past landmarks, and on to Manger Square, we will explore the history, architecture, and stories of a place that many people have only read about. Usually, the city is crowded and jubilant this time of year. But due to the pandemic, we may be among its few international visitors.
Bannoura will take viewers on a walk from Star Street to Manger Square and then to the Church of the Nativity. Along with the various and ancient sights of Bethlehem, the tour will meet real people who live in the city. These will include both Christians and Muslims who celebrate the Christmas season together in peace.
As the event will be streamed live from the Holy Land, Hazem and camera operator Noor Hodaly will be able to interact with the audience and answer questions in real-time. The pair hinted that they may be joined by Orthodox priest, Fr. Issa Thaljieh, of the Church of the Nativity, who was present to answer questions at last year’s LiveOnLine tour.
Those who sign up to attend the walking tour of Bethlehem will also be entered into a raffle. One lucky winner will be treated to a gift basket from the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA), an online shop that helps sell products made locally by Bethlehem craftsmen. API asks that all attendees consider purchasing items from the BFTA in order to lend support to the skilled workers of Bethlehem who have lost the majority of their sales since the pandemic began.
The tour will begin at 3:30 PM, Israel Standard Time, which is 8:30 AM EST, on December 18. Interested parties can sign up for free on the API website, with an option to make a donation to the cause if the spirit moves them. Visit the Abraham Path Initiative today to sign up for this unique Advent tour of Jesus’ hometown.