Christians in US, Occupied Palestine, Hold Joint Worship Service
[ Ed. note – It’s always nice to see Christians in America reaching out to their Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine. That’s what took place today as the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem held a live-stream simulcast. The “Bethlehem Prayer Service,” as it was called, began at 5 p.m. Bethlehem time and at 10 a.m. Washington time.
Meanwhile, as you’ll see from the article below, hundreds of children, both Christians and Muslims, have been bussed into Bethlehem from all over Palestine to visit the city’s renowned holy sites. Their activities have included visits to Manger Square as well as the Church of the Nativity. ]
Hundreds of Children Arrive in Bethlehem for ‘Bethlehem Heart of Christmas
On Friday, December 16th, 350 children from around Palestine visited Bethlehem’s holy sites to learn first-hand about Palestine’s living Christian heritage. The event was part of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s 12th Annual “Journey to Bethlehem.” For the majority of these children, this represents the first time they have ever set foot in these holy places. Children came from schools and orphanages around Zababdeh, Jenin, Tulkarem, Jericho, and Birzeit.
During their journey, the children received educational tours of Shepherds Field, the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and Bethlehem Museum, where they learned about the role that everyday Palestinians have played in preserving Christianity in the Holy Land. After visiting the sites, the children reflected on their favorite things:
“We loved visiting the Church of the Nativity! We saw the priests give mass for the first time ever. It was really cool!” – Alisa, 8 years, Jericho
“We enjoyed the museum, especially seeing the solidarity cross because the word ‘peace’ was written on it. We hope that there will be peace for us soon.” – Dala, 8 years, Jericho
“I loved the Christmas tree because its was so beautiful! I loved seeing Bethlehem!” – Hala, 12 years, Jenin
“Today I learned a lot, that we should love each other and pray for others.” – Zaed, 9 years, Birzeit
After their tour, the children joined in with local families to participate in a Christmas celebration at Catholic Action Community Center, where they enjoyed face painting, games, and treats followed by an interactive Christmas play. After receiving a gift from Santa, the group of 400 strong processed down Star Street to Manger Square—down the very path that Christians believe the Holy Family took over 2000 years ago! The procession was met with fanfare, as community members lined the streets, enjoying the singing and laughter of the children.
According to organizers, the procession commemorates Jesus’ call to “follow the children, ” and serves as an important reminder to the community that our children are our future, and that it is our responsibility to educate them about their history, heritage and identity.
The event was sponsored by World Vision International, Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Caritas Jerusalem, and by individuals from around the world who donated through HCEF’s 2016 Giving Tuesday campaign.
The Regional Director of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Anthony Habash, said the procession carried the message of peace and hope to the entire world, and delivers a message that the children of Palestine, just like all other children, deserve to live in dignity, justice and peace.
He added that the children in this procession, who came from different parts of the West Bank, are Christians and Muslims, and delivered a message or brotherhood and peace, the message of Christmas in the holy city of Bethlehem.
Habash expressed his hope that such activities will build help break in restrictions and barriers imposed by the Israeli occupation army in Palestine.
For his part, Kayed Boulos, vice-president of Terra Sancta School in Jericho, said he came to Bethlehem in a procession of peace, to introduce the children to the birthplace of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, and to introduce them to its historic and religious importance.
Samer Sharqawi, the head of Ta’ayush grassroots movement, said the visit and this activity aims at introducing the children of Palestine to Bethlehem, and its significance.
Sharqawi added that Palestine is the land of coexistence and dialogue, and sets an historic example of love and brotherhood, and that the children, who came from Tulkarem, Jenin, Jericho, Nablus and Bethlehem, got this great opportunity to learn about Bethlehem, and to learn about all holy sites in their homeland.
Sister Mariam Ba’abish of the Rosemary School said there are many children who do not know the importance of all holy sites in Palestine, and that this activity was a great opportunity for them to meet and learn.
[ Ed. note – Below is a video of the joint worship service live-streamed earlier today. You can click here for a program guide in PDF format. The service includes music as well as prayers, readings, and scriptural lessons in both English and Arabic. I strongly urge you to access the program guide as it provides English translations to the Arabic portions of the service. All in all a very wonderful and uplifting service.
Another thing worth mentioning is that this is a service that has been held on an annual basis for several years now:
In 2006, a group gathered in concern for the deteriorating situation in Palestine and Israel. It was a few months before Christmas, and thoughts turned to Bethlehem and the present-day wall around the city. What if the Christmas events took place today? Would Mary and Joseph be able to cross into Bethlehem on their journey from Nazareth? The 30-foot wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem would block the way. Perhaps Mary would give birth while waiting to cross through a checkpoint, as happens for some Palestinian women today on their way to the hospital. Recognizing that most Americans do not know about the realities of Palestinian life, the Ad Hoc Committee for Bethlehem was formed to raise awareness.
This committee then sponsored events to lift up the need for justice and peace in Bethlehem and throughout the land, and to remind the faithful of the calling to be peacemakers. This service is an outcome of their work.
Today, a concrete wall not only separates the West Bank from Israel: it cuts through Palestinian land, separating farmers from fields and effectively annexing their land. Israeli roads and settlements in the region further segment Palestinian communities. Many Palestinians who have the means have left the Holy Land in search of a better life elsewhere. The Christian population of Bethlehem has declined from a majority several decades ago to about fifteen percent today. The presence of Christians throughout the Holy Land has dwindled to less than two percent.
The current situation in Bethlehem is of concern to Christians around the world who seek to follow the Prince of Peace in building bridges that connect rather than walls that divide. Today we turn our hearts to the one God who loves all equally, and pray that a new day will dawn for us, for Palestinians, and for Israelis.
It’s kind of surprising to see a statement like the above coming from a cathedral in the heart of Washington, but indeed such is the case. The Washington National Cathedral, formally known as The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, is an Episcopal cathedral. Let’s wish them well in their continued solidarity with the Christians of Palestine. ]