Bethlehem ‘Milk Grotto’ article touches readers

Local resident Hilda Berkley prays near a painting of Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus at the Milk Grotto chapel in Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 5. (CNS/Debbie Hill)Writing about Bethlehem’s Milk Grotto, where Mary is said to have nursed Jesus as they fled to Egypt, sounded like a nice Christmas feature story.

The grounds had been renovated, the grotto was small and intimate and there were signs of centuries of faithful devotion by women unable to have children scratching away at the cave walls to take home some of the miraculous “milk powder.” They, like many women today, believed this powder combined with faithful prayer would bless them with a baby.

I like writing these types of feel-good stories, since often the news coming out of this region is mainly of bloodshed and an increasing struggle.

What I had not been prepared for was how this article would personally touch so many Catholic News Service readers. My editors in Washington received a slew of inquiries about how to obtain the milk powder, asking why no contact details had been posted.

The answer is simple: The milk powder can be obtained only in person. Franciscan Brother Lawrence, who oversees the shrine for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, realized early on that if the milk powder were to be available through mail order or via the Internet, he would be inundated with requests impossible to fill.

I knew that for most of the women who contacted CNS, coming to Bethlehem was out of the question. But many women with strong faith believed in the power of the milk powder combined with the intercession of Mary.

Brother Lawrence was not surprised to see me again about a month ago when I came to buy packets of the powder for the women.

Just this morning one of the women e-mailed me to let me know she had received the packet I sent her. All of the women’s gratitude upon receiving the powder was quite overwhelming for me. I had never imagined the impact the article would have, or the role I could play in boosting these women’s hopes.

PHOTO: Local resident Hilda Berkley prays near a painting of Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus at the Milk Grotto chapel in Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 5. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

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