printer friendly versionPrint
UNESCO Considers Bethlehem

image
A Palestinian carries balloons, the color of the Palestinian national flag, in front of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in this 18 Sept. file photo. Palestinians are hopeful that UNESCO will recognize the city as the first Palestinian World Heritage Site, but Franciscans in charge of Bethlehem’s holy places say they do not want them included in the classification. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)  

21 Nov 2011 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Palestinians are hopeful that UNESCO will recognize the city of Bethlehem as the first Palestinian World Heritage Site, but Franciscans in charge of the city’s holy places say they do not want them included in the classification.

“We don’t want the (UNESCO) recognition for the holy places,” said a Franciscan source who asked not to be named. “We fear it could lead to nationalization of the shrines. The shrines are not tourist places, but are places of prayer and worship.”

The custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told the Italian bishops’ news agency, SIR, that the Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchates had joined him in asking the Palestinian Authority to exclude the Church of the Nativity in the application for the UNESCO World Heritage Site classification.

He said the church could be included later “when the situation, including the political situation, will be quieter.”

“We don’t have any problem with proclaiming the city of Bethlehem as a UNESCO heritage site. We are not too enthusiastic about the Nativity. It is an initiative that makes it harder for us to run (the church), because, under UNESCO rules, the board in charge of running a place for the U.N. agency is the government, not the owner of a site,” Father Pizzaballa was quoted as saying. He added that he feared “the holy places might be used for political reasons.”

“Right now, we do not want to become, on one hand, the keepers of places run by governments and, on the other hand, to be exploited for issues in which the holy places must not be involved,” he said.

The Franciscans are the Catholic partner in maintaining the Status Quo, a 19th-century agreement that regulates jurisdiction of and access to key Christian sites in the Holy Land for Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian communities.

The Franciscan source said adding UNESCO to an already complex situation would only make it more complicated.

If the World Heritage Site status is accepted, “you have to run it by their (UNESCO’s) rules,” something the Franciscan Custody — and probably other churches — would object to, said the source.

However, Palestinian Minister of Tourism Khouloud Daibes Abu Dayyeh said the nomination file asking for recognition of the city of Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site was signed and submitted to UNESCO last year, and it included the Church of the Nativity.

“We will be working in coordination with the churches when it comes to the technical details of the implication of Bethlehem being included as a World Heritage Site,” said Daibes Abu Dayyeh, who is Christian.

She said now that the Palestinians have membership in UNESCO, their application can be considered at the June UNESCO meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. She said she is confident that the city will become the first Palestinian site to be recognized as a World Heritage site.





1 | 2 |


Tags: Holy Land Bethlehem UNESCO