Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bethlehem: Peace Came Upon a Midnight Square

A 20 foot high concrete wall keeps Bethlehem isolated as the full scope of Jesus's homeless beginnings in a manger and his death on a cross on the hill a few kilometers away, play out still in modern times with no end in sight. Glimpses of what could be present themselves rarely in the Middle East, but today, Bethlehem hosted thousands of pilgrims in the Spirit of Peace. Palestinians saw the poor, the prominent, the devout, the tourist, the Christian and the Muslim gather together to celebrate and honor the birth of Christ in Manger Square. The Israeli occupation has taken Bethlehem off of the list as a top tourism spot, but the city and its impoverished inhabitants soldier on, bleakly hoping and paying for economic salvation too in their own land.

Sansour also believes that visitors and pilgrims who do come show support but at the same time many are also in Bethlehem as part of "the fairy-tale story of Christmas".

Father Garret Edmonds, a Franciscan monk from California who works with pilgrim groups in Palestine and is spending his fifth Christmas in Bethlehem, said: "There are moments of hope but then everything returns to the status quo. It goes on and off like this all the time."

Father Edmonds also highlighted the increasing erosion of the Church and the increasing number of Christians choosing to emigrate from in Palestine.

"It's important to have a viable, living Church, but if things continue the way they are in 25 years there might not be a living church. Bethlehem could become one giant museum," he said.

The Grotto at the Church of the Nativity had long lines to pay homage to what is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. In the recent past, security concerns from the 2000 Palestinian uprising dampened enthusiasm for pilgrimages into Bethlehem devastating the local economy with rising unemployment and no other means of income. This year was a different scene with kids in bright red Santa hats under Palestinian led tight security and the usual Bethlehem nativity scene in Nazareth. The Catholic leader called for peace in the Middle East while the Pontiff made Christmas greetings in 60 languages. (AP Photo Kevin Frayer)

And a little child shall lead them... makes for the children's book, from Michal Hudak An Uproar in Bethlehem told from a Christian perspective of the night Jesus was born and the three Magi.

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