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September, 2018
Volume 44, Number 3
  
14 December 2018
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service




Angeline Fernando and Vangie Lapada, foreign workers from the Philippines, take a selfie wearing Santa hats at the Christmas market in the central bus station in Tel Aviv, Israel. The market offers an opportunity for foreigners to buy decorations for Christmas in the Jewish state.
(photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)


For foreign workers and other nonlocal Christians living in Israel, celebrating Christmas far from loved ones in a country where Christians are a minority can be a difficult time.

Used to a festive Christmas season back home in the Philippines, many of the Filipino caretakers who work with mainly Jewish families have learned to adjust their expectations.

“We are missing our families. We are used to seeing all the Christmas decorations everywhere,” said Vangie Lapada, 51, who has been working in Israel for five years. She is a caretaker in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, where there are few Christians.

But as Israel’s population has become more diverse to include foreign caretakers, migrant workers and asylum seekers -- many of whom are Christians living in cities where Jewish residents are the majority -- Jewish Israelis also have adjusted to a new reality. One of the changing points has also been the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union where the New Year celebration, Novy God, uses many of the usual Christmas symbols for the nonreligious holiday.

On a mid-December Sunday, Lapada used her day off to travel to Tel Aviv with a friend. On the fourth floor of the cavernous Tel Aviv central bus station, they visited the pop-up Christmas market with its twinkling Christmas lights and festive Santa Claus apparel. A large banner in the center of the station announced the location of the market.

The stalls were set up several years ago by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union wanting to openly celebrate the Novy God holiday. The market also has provided a place for Filipino foreign workers and others to enjoy some trappings of Christmas.

Novy God was the only nonpolitical holiday permitted by the communist regime in the former Soviet Union, which incorporated some customary Christmas symbols -- such as the tree -- into the celebration to placate people. The communist government also added parallel symbols from traditional folktales such as the Snow Maiden and Grandfather Winter. All religious celebrations were forbidden under the communist regime.

“This (market) makes me happy because it brings a bit of our tradition,” said Lapada as she and Angeline Fernando, 48, snapped selfies of themselves wearing Santa hats in front of a white plastic Christmas tree covered with decorations. English Christmas songs played from a stereo, adding to the atmosphere.

Lapada said that, in Israel, the main focus of their celebrations is the Filipino parishes in the larger cities and in the homes of friends who are not live-in caretakers, but she still misses the general atmosphere of Christmas in the Philippines.

“My employer is a religious Jew, so we don’t have a tree in the apartment. I come here to take pictures and feel the spirit of Christmas. These decorations are part of Christmas for us,” said Lapada.

Fernando, who works in Tel Aviv caring for a Jewish woman originally from France, said her employer enjoys the Christmas lights, and they combine Hanukkah and Christmas decorations in the apartment.

“Every day we have visitors, and they all say how beautiful the decorations are because of the colors. But I come here to see the trees, and I feel like I am in the Philippines,” Fernando said.

Because of its unique decorations made in Russia and other high-quality Christmas items, the market even sometimes attracts local Christians who live in areas where other Christmas decorations are sold.

“My mother wanted to buy the special glass decorations they have here instead of the plastic ornaments sold in Jerusalem,” said Rami, a Palestinian Christian from Jerusalem who declined to give his last name. His mother went from one stall to another, looking over delicate, hand-decorated ornaments nestled in boxes; larger ornaments made to look like snowflakes; and china Santa Claus/Grandfather Winter dolls.

Vasilisa Gorbichova, 9, who moved with her parents from Russia one-and-a-half years ago, helped her mother, Olga Alaeva, 35, decide which lights to buy. Alaeva is Christian and her husband is Jewish. For Vasilisa, the decorations were all about Novy God.

“I love the night of Novy God. I get presents from Grandfather Winter,” she said. “My favorite thing is to put up the decorations. My friends accept it, they know me and understand that I am Russian, and this is our tradition.”

Yulia, 28, a seller from Tel Aviv who moved to Israel from Russia three years ago, said the market runs a brisk business in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Novy God. Sellers have never experienced any negative response from Jewish Israelis walking by the market, she said.

“In Tel Aviv, there are a lot of people from different countries, so it is a very tolerant city,” she said. “This (market) is the best place to work on the holiday.”

Diana Giraldo, 28, a Colombian who moved to Israel this fall, was preparing for her first Christmas away from home.

“It is very hard and sad to celebrate Christmas without my family, so I am very happy to see this market, because I didn’t know where I was going to get my decorations from,” Giraldo said. She heard about the market through a Facebook page, she said.

“This is our tradition. This is what we are used to,” she said. “Now we can go home and put up our decorations.”



Tags: Israel Tel Aviv

14 December 2018
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis had lunch with poor people invited to the Vatican in November to mark World Day of the Poor. He's extended a similar invitation to the poor for a few days before Christmas.
(photo: Vatican Media)


Pope invites poor to Christmas lunch (Vatican News) n the spirit of Christmas, Pope Francis is inviting a group of poor people to a lunch offered by the athletes of Italy’s military finance police, said the Office of Papal Charities. On behalf of Pope Francis, the Office headed by the Pope’s official Almoner, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, has invited the poor people to the Christmas lunch on 18 December hosted by the Gruppo Sportivo Fiamme Gialle (Yellow Flames Sporting Group) at the sports centre of the Guardia di Finanza (Finance Police), at Castelporziano, close to the seaside…

Russian-Ukraine tensions reach Mount Athos (The Guardian) Although most of the monks on Athos are Greek, for many Russians, as well as Ukrainians and Belarusians, a pilgrimage to Mount Athos has become almost like an Orthodox version of the Islamic hajj, seen as a spiritual must for any true believer. [Patriarch] Kirill has banned Russians from taking holy communion in the churches of Athos, calling any priests who bless the ecumenical patriarch schismatics, leading to a dilemma for those Russians who want to visit...

In first, Indian official to take office amid Christian rituals (Times of India) Mizo National Front is set to take oath in a predominantly Christian ceremony on Saturday, making it a first for a government in Mizoram. Apart from readings of Biblical verses, religious hymns like Handel’s famed ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ will be sung to mark the occasion. “We are doing it for the first time,” Lalruatkima, a newly-elected MNF legislator, said on Thursday, adding, “Singing of gospel and reading of verses from the Bible will follow the national anthem…”

Hundreds of Christians in Egypt protest at police killing (Channel News Asia) Hundreds of Coptic Christians on Thursday attended the burial of a father and his son who were killed by a police officer in Egypt’s Minya province, amid cries for the state to provide more protection. The Copts, who make up around 10 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination. They have also frequently been attacked by Islamist militants who see them as infidels, prompting authorities to place armed guards outside churches and monasteries…

Ethiopia moving troops from Eritrean border (AP) Ethiopian military officials on Friday announced they are moving troops away from the border with Eritrea, months after the former rivals made a surprising peace…



Tags: India Pope Francis Ukraine Ethiopia Eritrea

13 December 2018
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




An Arab couple are married at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Montreal. Migrants and refugees often struggle to maintain their customs, their faith and their culture in a new land.
(photo: Cody Christopulos)


Last week, I looked at how we live in a world of migrants — and how CNEWA seeks to serve that world. But what happens to migrants after they settle in a new place? This is a question and challenge facing all of us.

We at CNEWA describe our mission as “accompanying the Eastern Churches.” Since our beginning over 90 years ago, CNEWA has accompanied the Eastern Churches through some of their most difficult times — through displacement, exile and outright genocide. More recently, since the turn of the millennium, Christians have been under incredible pressure in the Middle East; threats from ISIS, from civil war, from violence and terror of all kinds in the region have forced many to take flight.

As a result, the Christian population in the Middle East has plummeted. Christians of the Middle East form a considerable part of the movement of peoples we wrote about last week. Tens of thousands of Christians are refugees or displaced persons, forced to emigrate from their homes.

We are—or we like to think we are—familiar with the problems these people face. They are fleeing for their lives; their cities, homes, business, schools and very lives have been destroyed. They are struggling to survive. But even after their survival has been assured, even after they have arrived in countries where they are safe, refugees face new and daunting problems.

To begin with, there are problems of how they can practice their faith. Christians refugees from the Middle East often belong to one of the Eastern Churches—the so-called sui juris churches, which are fully Catholic and in communion with Latin Rite Catholics. Like their Orthodox counterparts, these Eastern Catholics are often quite different from their fellow Catholics of the Latin Rite. They have traditions which go back to the time of the Apostles. Their liturgical and sacramental practices are often the things which make these churches most visibly different from Latin Rite Catholics. They traditionally use ancient languages such as Syriac and Coptic. They very often have married clergy, which is now permitted outside their historical territories. Many of these churches have a Patriarch or Major Archbishop. They have a unique spirituality and theology which has sustained them for 2,000 years. But suddenly they find themselves in Germany, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and to a lesser extent in the United States. Sometimes they are even surrounded by fellow Christians who view their Eastern form of Christianity with confusion and even suspicion.

How do these Christians maintain their traditions, rooted in the culture, theology and languages of the Middle East, in the West of the 21st century?

To me there seems to be two extremes which must be avoided.

The first extreme to avoid is complete assimilation to the new culture. The traditions, foreign as they are to the new cultures, may seem to become quaint and eccentric and ultimately become irrelevant. Often lacking infrastructures for their own churches in a new homeland, these Christians become absorbed into the majority Latin Rite or Protestant churches and, after a few generations, disappear. An important part of their history, thus, is lost.

The second extreme to avoid is the formation of ghettos. ”Little Assyrias,” “Little Chaldaeas,” etc. can spring up where these Christians separate themselves from the surrounding culture and live as if they were still in the Middle East, still speaking their ancient languages and maintaining their customs. While this may work for a while, the younger generations will ultimately resist speaking the language of the immigrant community, separate themselves by adapting to the dominant culture and leave behind shrinking populations of people who are ultimately alienated from their homelands and not integrated into their new country.

We need to remember that despite appearances, Christianity is not exclusively a western European phenomenon. The categories of the Greek and Roman world have played a huge part in the development of Western Christianity. But the operative word here is part. Christianity is far broader, richer and more diverse than Western Christianity alone. A thriving Eastern Christianity is important for the health of all Christians.

As more Eastern Christians settle in the West, and as the horror stories from the Middle East recede into memory, it is easy to forget these people. They are in new countries. They are out of danger; they have new homes, new lives. They are OK—or so it might seem. But we shouldn’t overlook them.

If their physical existence seems secure, in fact, these Christians are facing new challenges that threaten their spiritual existence.

How can they live their faith, so deeply rooted in the East, in a new world? How can they be part of and contribute to their new home countries and at the same time be faithful and authentic to their ancient heritage?

These are questions without easy answers — and merit our time, our study and our prayers.



Tags: Refugees Migrants Eastern Catholics

13 December 2018
Catholic News Service




Austrian Scout Niklas Lehner poses with a Greek Orthodox priest in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, where Christ was born. Niklas had just kindled the flame that would be known as the Peace Light from Bethlehem and would be spread around the world.
(photo: CNS/courtesy ORF)


Brian Duane’s maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette on 4 December.

It was Duane’s 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill.

This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern.

This fire had originally been kindled at Christ’s birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this “Peace Light from Bethlehem” across the nation.

“It is symbolic of Christ’s love for us and of the Prince of Peace,” Duane told Catholic News Service. “It serves as a reminder to us.”

For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route.

The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.

The goal is to kindle peace in all hearts by remembering Christ’s mission began in Bethlehem.

“It’s symbolic, but it’s the effort, the coming together, the dedication to peace and heading home and spreading the message, even at the family level,” said Bob McLear, who lives west of Chicago.

McLear planned to take the light from Lafayette back to his parish in Batavia, Illinois, and pass it off to another volunteer headed to Madison, Wisconsin.

The Peace Light’s journey can be traced back to a tradition in Austria. For the past 32 years, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF has sent a child to Bethlehem to kindle a flame from the oil lamps hanging above Christ’s birthplace.

The fire, stored in two explosion-proof miner’s lanterns, is then flown with a safety adviser back to Europe, where it is spread to more than 30 countries.

“The reaction of the people touched my heart,” said Wolfgang Kerndler, a security expert for Austrian Airlines, who has escorted the flame for about two decades.

“Even the crew is proud to be part of the operation,” Kerndler told CNS in an email. “It’s an honor.”

The Peace Light first arrived in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Austrian government and national Scouting association sent the flame with a VIP delegation to comfort the grieving nation.

“New York City really was devastated,” said Paul Stanton, the international representative for New York City with the Boy Scouts of America.

“It was a great sign of kindness from the people of the world,” he told CNS in a phone interview from New York City.

The light has been flown by Austrian Airlines to New York every year since. Stanton helps to organize the official reception at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

This year, about 150 adults and children gathered at the airport’s Our Lady of the Skies Chapel to welcome the light of peace and kindle their own flames.

“The youth are needing to know that there is hope, but they also need to know if there is going to be a better world, it will start with them,” Stanton said.

Duane was at the chapel to light his lanterns and begin his journey.

From New York, he drove as far west as Denver, before heading back to Massachusetts, logging more than 5,400 miles.

Along the way, Duane stopped at 26 locations to meet volunteers, participate in ceremonies and pass on the flame.

“I’ve walked into so many different places, a very liberal congregation, a very conservative congregation,” he said, “and yet we all agree on the need for peace and civility.”

Duane arrived in Indianapolis on 4 December, where more than 60 people, mostly children, gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to welcome him and spread the flame from Bethlehem. Lanterns and candles lined the altar.

“I think that it’s really beautiful and I’m really happy that we came,” said Eliza Frank, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

“We hear about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but we never actually see anything from there or go there, so I thought that was really cool,” Frank said.

When Duane arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette later that evening, nearly 100 Scouts and parents were present to spread the light. Even the youngest were challenged to share the flame with at least three other people in their local community, spreading hope and peace in the process.

“To the people out there that don’t have a chance to get the peace light,” said John Niemann, an Eagle Scout and student at Purdue University, “you can still hold Christ’s peace in your heart throughout this Christmas season and really strive to have that, even though you can’t physically have the flame with you.”

The Peace Light was set to reach California by 13 December and is reported to burn in more than 30 states.

A Facebook page set up by volunteers mapped out the spread of the Peace Light and continues to field requests from individuals wishing to take the flame to their own communities.

In most cases, the lanterns lit by the Peace Light will illuminate congregations and homes through the Christmas season. Duane hopes that those lights serve as a constant reminder that small actions, like small lanterns, have the power to light a darkened world.

“We sometimes feel overwhelmed when there’s major conflicts going on in the Middle East or wherever it happens to be,” Duane said.

“Like, what can I do? Well, I can be kind and gentle to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the store, everybody else. Be a vehicle of peace, be a vessel of peace,” he said.

Check out the video about the Peace Light below, produced by Katie Rutter for CNS:



Tags: Bethlehem

13 December 2018
Greg Kandra




The video above shows the trailer for the acclaimed documentary "Mother Fortress," which illustrates the courage of religious working in Syria. (video: YouTube)

Documentary reveals courage of religious in Syria (Vatican News) The Vatican Film Library presents a documentary, directed by Maria Luisa Forenza and entitled “Mother Fortress”, at the Tertio Millennio Film Fest taking place in Rome. ”It’s not a film about Syria’s war but about the human condition in times of war.” That’s how Director Maria Luisa Forenza presents her latest documentary “Mother Fortress.” The Vatican Film Library — in conjunction with the Dicastery for Communication (Vatican News’ parent organization), the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Office for Social Communications of the Italian Bishops’ Conference — showcased the documentary at the 22nd edition of the Tertio Millennio Film Fest held in Rome…

UAE Christians ‘enthusiastic’ about pope visit (Vatican News) Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, said in an interview with Vatican News that Christians in the UAE have “greeted the decision” of the Pope’s visit “with enthusiasm.” It is a “great joy” for him too, although it will also be a “logistical challenge…”

Police officers in Jerusalem stabbed in suspected terrorist attack (Haaretz) Two Israeli police officers are wounded after a Palestinian approached and stabbed them in a suspected terror attack in the Old City of Jerusalem early Thursday morning...

Syrian refugees face life-changing choice (The Daily Star) As the bus pulled out of a Beirut car park heading for Damascus, Ahmed Sheikh waved from the window, excited, he said, to be returning home to Syria after years as a refugee in Lebanon. Sheikh and his two sons are part of a steady trickle of refugees going back as the Syrian government tightens its grip on areas it controls and the prospect of new fighting recedes. But not everyone wants to go home just yet. While Beirut says 90,000 Syrians have returned this year, more than a million remain in Lebanon, including many who fear reprisals or army conscription, or whose homes were destroyed in the war…

India’s pro-Hindu party fails in polls (UCANews.com) India’s pro Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which currently rules nationally, suffered a massive defeat when it failed to secure power in any of the five states where election results were declared on 11 December. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP was unseated in the three major states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. It also failed to make gains in northeastern Mizoram and southern Telangana states where two regional parties prevailed…



Tags: Syria India Lebanon Arabian Peninsula

12 December 2018
CNEWA Staff




The CNEWA Canada staff receives a generous donation from Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa. (photo: CNEWA Canada)

We received some happy news this week from our office in Canada:

CNEWA Canada is honored to have been chosen as one of the beneficiaries of the “Archbishop’s Charity Dinner” in Ottawa that took place back in October. The theme of the dinner was “Healing, Near and Far.”

We recently received a generous donation of $40,000 to CNEWA from the proceeds of the dinner. Thank you Archdiocese of Ottawa!

We are so grateful for the generosity and support shown by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and all those who attended the fundraising dinner.

Happy news, indeed! We remain so grateful to all our donors whose generosity has made a difference in the lives of so many. Thank you!



Tags: CNEWA Canada

12 December 2018
Greg Kandra




Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (l) is assisted by CNEWA's regional director for Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun (r), in dedicating a new section of the Christ the King Bookstore devoted to sacred vessels and vestments.
(photo: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)


Tuesday, CNEWA’s regional director in Jerusalem, Joseph Hazboun, took part in the festivities to dedicate a new section of a major bookstore in Jerusalem.

Details, from Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem website:

On 11 December 2018, and under the patronage of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Christ the King Bookstore inaugurated a new section of “Sacrum Palestine”, for Liturgical Vestments and Vessels.

Invited by the Rev. Bashar Fawadleh, Director of Youth of Jesus’ Homeland, Palestine (YJHP) and responsible for the bookstore, the ceremony was attended by a number of Franciscan and Latin Patriarchate priests, the Rosary Sisters, the Verbo Incarnato Sisters, the youth groups, and the parishioners. Representatives of [CNEWA's operating agency in the Middle East] the Pontifical Mission were also there: Mr. Joseph Hazboun, its Regional Director and Mr. Rodolf Sa’adeh, the project manager, who contributed to this project that they believe it will serve the church of the Holy Land and enrich its heritage.

The Apostolic Administrator commended the services carried out by the bookstore in answering the needs of the Living Stones. He also emphasized its rich Arabic books and resources for Theology and Catechism and the pivotal role that the bookstore plays in making these books available, in spite of the difficulty it endures in importing them, especially from Lebanon.

Visit the LPJ website for more photos and information.



Tags: Jerusalem

12 December 2018
Greg Kandra




In this image from January, Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, at the cathedral in Lima, Peru. Cardinal Parolin this week said the Global Compact on human rights affirms that migration should never be an act of desperation.
(photo: CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)


Cardinal highlights migration as he marks human rights declaration (Vatican News) Marking 70 years of this human rights document, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, gave an address with the issue of migration at its core saying, “the Global Compact affirms that migration should never be an act of desperation. In many countries of origin, however, individuals feel forced to flee whether due to conflict, violence, environmental degradation, human rights violations, or the inability to secure a dignified life for one’s family…”

New law provides relief for victims of genocide in Iraq, Syria (CNS) President Donald Trump has signed into law the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, which will provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold accountable Islamic State perpetrators of genocide. ”The legislation signed today again reminds us of America’s earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide — Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of Shoah,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement…

UN says 250,000 refugees could return to Syria in 2019 (Al Jazeera) As many as 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to their homeland in 2019 despite massive hurdles facing them, the United Nations refugee agency said. Some 5.6 million Syrian refugees remain in neighbouring countries, namely Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, Amin Awad, UNHCR director for the Middle East and North Africa, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday…

Jerusalem planning committee refuses to discuss permit for mixed-gender prayer site (Haaretz) Jerusalem’s local planning and building committee refused to discuss a building permit for expanding the mixed-gender prayer area in the Western Wall, saying it is “a highly sensitive site.” The mixed prayer area is meant to resolve a dispute with Jewish diaspora and non-Orthodox Jews to allow men and women to pray together and not under ultra-Orthodox rules at Judaism’s second holiest site…

Is the church getting lost in India’s ‘smart cities’? (UCANews.com) If economic relationships in the past were marked by the exploitation of the poor, today a vast number of people find themselves largely irrelevant in the grander scheme of things. The cathedral or basilica was once considered the chief meeting place for the urban Catholic elite. Well-heeled non-Christians benefited from the services the church offered in terms of education and healthcare. But these services are becoming more and more irrelevant to the aspirational urban elite…



Tags: Syria India Jerusalem Migrants

11 December 2018
Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service




Palestinians and foreign tourists take part in the Santa Run outside the Cremisan Monastery on 7 December in Beit Jala, West Bank. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals.

Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors.

With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit.

Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour — one of Bethlehem’s sister towns in the Bethlehem “triangle” — to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing.

“For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting,” she told Catholic News Service. “People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here.”

“This experience is really crucial to me … especially at Christmas,” Stegeman added. “It has to do with real people. I want to understand what is happening here, to talk to the people who are living here. To see how people keep their hope and perseverance in a context of a difficult reality.”

Just having a cup of coffee at a place like Singer Cafe affords a glimpse into the life of young Palestinians who opt to stay in their city and invigorate their town rather than emigrate, she said, sipping her coffee as she spoke.

“It is important for me that people understand that Palestinians deserve as much time as Israel. There is nothing to be afraid of if they come here. Come, see the Nativity Church, but then come meet the local Palestinians, have a chat with them. People come to see the Biblical stones and then forget to see the living stones,” she said.

Dutch expat Kristel Elayyan, 40, who runs the Singer Cafe with her husband, Tariq, started the Art Walk, so people get to know local artisans.

Social media is also taking a role in advertising the events and stirring up interest for both local and international visitors. The Bethlehem Christmas tree was lit to the delight of a crowd of thousands in Nativity Square, with live music and fireworks following. Similar tree-lightings took place a few days later in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

The Latin Patriarchate tweeted about the tree-lighting event in Bethlehem, and the municipal Facebook pages advertise in English the various events taking place in the area during the season: the Art Walk, Christmas markets featuring locally produced crafts and food, an Afro-Dabkeh dance workshop, a pre-Christmas gala dinner, a pub dance party and a Christmas “Santa Run” in Beit Jala, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint.

As rain drizzled, participants in the Santa Run gathered in the parking lot of the Beit Jala Latin seminary on 7 December, stretching their muscles, buying their red Santa shirts and taking selfies as they waited for the shuttle to take them to the Cremisan Monastery, where the run began.

“Five years ago, you could maybe go to a coffee place to smoke a water pipe and play some cards. Now there are bars for youth and places to meet up. There are a lot of places where you can spend your time here now,” said Musa Khatib, 26, a pharmacist from the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa. “Because of social media you can follow the events, schedule your week. The spirit here is nice, the vibe is very positive, and you can see happy people.”

A representative from the Beit Jala municipality who declined to give his name told CNS: “Our vision is of strengthening the cultural side of Beit Jala. We want to note the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It is about promoting tourism, and bringing it up to the international level is our dream,” he said as upbeat Christmas carols blared in English from a car with oversized loudspeakers.

In the end, some 80 locals and a few internationals took part in the run — some came just for the fun while others came intent on winning. The Santa Run Facebook page was updated continuously throughout the event.

“This is great,” said Elizabeth Purcell, 35, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, whose husband works for the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. She was there with her three sons and two young friends visiting from the U.S. “If you just go to the church, you are not seeing what is really here. You don’t get to meet the people if you don’t go to something like this race or to a craft fair. You can see the energy here. It is energizing to see foreigners coming here. It is great for the Palestinian economy.”



Tags: Holy Land Pilgrimage/pilgrims Holy Land Christians West Bank

11 December 2018
J.D. Conor Mauro




A Nativity scene made of sand decorates St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Bethlehem church renovation hopes to bolster local Christian community (Christian Science Monitor) A historic renovation of the Church of the Nativity is lifting spirits in the biblical town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas, offering visitors a look at ancient mosaics and columns that have been restored to their original glory for the first time in 600 years…

For Christmas, no exit permits for Christians in Gaza (Fides) This year Christians in Gaza will not have permission from the Israeli authorities to cross the border at Erez in order to visit relations and friends in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other towns in the Holy Land to celebrate Christmas together. According to the Middle East Concern organization, this year most of the travel permits requested have been refused…

No haven from hardship: Why some Syrians return from Europe (Christian Science Monitor) Since 2016, thousands of disappointed Syrian refugees have left Europe. No one has counted their exact numbers, but many of them are thought to have joined the 310,000 others who have returned home from Turkey and Lebanon this year to both government- and opposition-controlled areas…

Bid to raise $5.5 billion for millions of Syrians and their host communities (U.N. News) Since conflict erupted in Syria in 2011, host communities in neighboring countries have supported those who have fled, despite the significant impact on their own development, The UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) Amin Awad, Regional Refugee Coordinator for Syria and Iraq, told journalists in Geneva…

Church offering job opportunities to youths in Ethiopia to prevent migration (Newsbook) The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is working on addressing the issue of migration by creating job opportunities for the youth so that they remain in the country and are not forced to leave to find a better future…

Catholics celebrate resignation of tainted Indian bishop (UCANews) Catholics in a southern Indian diocese let off firecrackers and exchanged sweets to express their joy over Pope Francis accepting the resignation of a bishop who has been facing allegations of stealing funds to maintain his “secret family”…

Bekaa river turns black, prompting action from politicians (Daily Star Lebanon) Both the Environment and Justice ministries have taken action to hold accountable those responsible for the waters of Zahleh’s Berdawni River turning black, statements from the ministries reported Tuesday…



Tags: Syria India Lebanon Ethiopia Gaza Strip/West Bank





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