How Christmas is celbrated in Bethlehem?
Dec. 23, 2000
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“Peace will be the fruit of Justice and my people will dwell in the beauty of Peace”

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Dear Friends, Brothers and Sisters,

I am happy to send you my last newsletter before Christmas with the last updates about what will happen exactly in Bethlehem during the next two days. You will find a very interesting details taken from the taken from the “Status Quo”.
 

In the first time in may life I see the street of Bethlehem empty not only of tourists and pilgrims since more than three months, but also from it’s own citizens… Somebody wrote that it became a “Ghost town”.. This is not quiet totally right but almost right, because it used to be a very alive City, especially during the first nine months of the Jubilee year, when pilgrims had to wait in a very long queue in order to have their turns to reach and visit the Grotto of the Nativity, but know not only the Nativity Church is empty but also the streets of Bethlehem are empty, the Hotels are empty, the souvenir shops are empty, the restaurant are empty, and the pocket of our people are empty of money.. and I am afraid that their hearts are empty of joy, peace and love… It is really a very dangerous economical, social, psychological situation… Therefore, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem thought that it is time to write an appeal to all the pilgrims to come back as a sign of solidarity with our people spiritually and economically, there presence will encourage us and tell us that we are not alone.. So please, everybody, all over the world, hear the cry of our people and come back, don’t be afraid, the worst which could happen it that you will see us dying or maybe one or three among you will die and become martyrs… this is not that dangerous.. don’t be afraid.

My Dear friend Dr. Harry Hagopian wrote us about Christmas also, but this time about The Stillness of Christmas in the Holy Land, a very strange title in the time of unstillness in which we are living. I don’t know about which kind of stillness he is speaking? Maybe the inner and spiritual one, because the political one seems to be very far away, even if we still hope that it will come back one day, soon or later, but better soon than later.. because we are in an urgent need of such stillness.
 

At the end you will find how is Christmas is Celebrated in Beit Jala, that very well known town which suffered a lot in the last three months.. I will let Dr. Maria Khoury tell you through a collection of our student’s thoughts how they see and live Christmas in these critical days.. My problem with these texts is that it is very sad and I believe that it expresses the mood and spirit of our people…

Finally, I cannot but wish all of you a very holy Christmas and blessed New Year… I end with a very complicated quotation from our friend Harry to greet all of you: “And finally, in the spirit of a season where the three faith communities of the Holy Land celebrate Christmas, Eid and Hannukah, let me simply hazard one foolhardy wish!  May Hope embrace a land that evinces scant hope, and may Peace visit a land that refuses to welcome peace”

But I am sure 100% that it will come.. Say YES with me Please, pray for that!
 
 

                                                                        Prayerfully yours    Fr. Raed Abusahlia

What will happen tomorrow in Bethlehem?
(Details about Christmas ceremonies taken from the “Status Quo”)

 Sunday, 24th December 2000

12.00 p.m.

The Parish priest of Jerusalem accompanied by more than fifty major personalities come to the Latin Patriarchate to meet the Patriarch, and after a short speech from the Mukhtar of Jerusalem, and another from the Patriarch, they all take their cars and join the procession to Bethlehem. The meaning of this is that the people of Jerusalem, Christians and Moslems, accompany the Patriarch in go with him to Bethlehem. Actually they go by cars but traditionally by horses.

12.30 p.m.

His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch, accompanied by clergy, leaves the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the square opposite the Citadel in Jaffa Gate where they collect their cars for the procession to Bethlehem. The procession proceeds from the Citadel via Jaffa Gate. Ophthalmic Hospital, Upper Bala’a, Bethlehem Road, and then to Tomb of Rachel. Two police cares (one in front of the procession and the other behind it) will escort the procession from the Citadel to Mar Elias.

Normally the parish priest of Beit Jala accompanied by the mayor and many personalities of the city come to Mar Elias to welcome the Patriarch and join the procession from Mar Elias Convent to the Manger Square, His Beatitude is escorted now by four mounted constables and one police sergeant. The meaning of this is that the Patriarch take a short time of rest at the  borders of Beit Jala used to reach Mar Elias Convent, and the people of Beit Jala come to welcome the Patriarch to their City, but this year, they will not be able to come because they were forbidden by Israeli authority and cannot pass through the Tantour Checkpoint.
 

1.00  p.m.

This year the Israeli policemen will leave us at the Tantour Checkpoint, and we will continue alone after the Tomb of Rachel, where His Beatitude is welcomed by representatives of the Municipalities and parishes of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, who then join the procession to Bethlehem.  This year, when we reach Paradise Hotel, the Palestinian Authority Policemen will welcome us and escort the Patriarch with four mounted constables until the manger Square.

The procession then continues along the old Jerusalem- Bethlehem Road, to the junction of this road with that of Ras Ifteis Road, then along the Ras Ifteis Road and EnNijmeh Street to the Manger Square. This year, it was decided to walk the last 500 meters from the Catholic action Club in a procession in which we will only pray and sing some Christmas songs.

1.30 p.m

A Latin Vested procession comes out of the Basilica of the Nativity from its main iron door to the Manger Square where it takes position.

2,00 p.m

His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch arrives at the Manger Square, where he is received by the Governor of Bethlehem and the Police Commandant, the Mayor and the Municipal Councilors and notables of Bethlehem, and the Latin Clergy in ecclesiastical vestments. His Beatitude then joins the procession, which then proceeds to the Church of St. Catherine via the main iron door of the Basilica of the Nativity, the Narthex, the northern side of the Basilica between the first and second columns and through the door leading from the Basilica to St Jerome’s Cloister, then along this to the main western door of St. Catherine Church. When the procession arrives at the Church of St. Catherine, vespers are chanted, after which His Beatitude retires into the Latin Convent.

4.00  p.m.

Procession, headed by His Beatitude the Patriarch or his representatives, starts from the Church of St. Catherine and proceeds via its southern door, the northern transept of the Basilica of the Nativity and northern staircase to the Grotto of the Nativity, where a short service is held. At the end of this service the procession proceeds back via the rear door to the Grotto, the shrines leading from the Grotto to St. Catherine’s Church, where the service ends at 5.15 p.m.

10.25 p.m

His Beatitude the Patriarch proceeds from the Latin Convent to attend Matins at the Church of St Catherine.
 

10.00 p.m

Latin Matins in the Church of St Catherine begin
 

12.00 p.m.

The Latin Pontifical High Mass in the Church of St. Catherine starts.
 

N.B.

1)      Members of the Consular Corps arrive to Bethlehem to attend the midnight mass in the Church of St. Catherine. Especially the General Consuls of the four Catholic countries: France, Italy, Spain and Belgium.

2)      Shortly before midnight President Arafat accompanied by the Mayor of Bethlehem and other civil authorities arrive to attend the Pontifical Mass of the Patriarch.

3)      At the same time, the Latin Masses in front of the Manger in the Grotto of the Nativity. These masses end at about 1.30 p.m. on the following day.

2.00 a.m.

The Pontifical Mass ends and begins the procession with the figure of the Infant Jesus to the Grotto. When the procession arrives to the Grotto, the figure of the Infant Jesus is first placed by His Beatitude on the Star of the Nativity, and after the Gospel of the Nativity is sung and prayers are said, it is laid by the deacon nearby manger and remains there until the Latin Epiphany… at the end everybody sing together the song of the angels “Gloria in Excellsis Deo”. Afterwards, the Patriarch return to St. Catherine Church to exchange the greetings with the civil authorities present before leaving the Church.

Monday 25th of December at 9.00 a.m

Latin Pontifical Mass in the Church of St Catherine starts and ends at 10.30.

2.00 p.m

His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch leaves Bethlehem from the main iron door of the Basilica where he is met by two Police cars which will escort him to Jerusalem, one car in front of the procession and the other behind it.
 

2.00 p.m.

Pilgrimage from the Church of St. Catherine to the Grotto of the Shepherds at Beit Sahour starts. Service at the Grotto will be held for about 15 to 20 minutes, at the end of which the procession starts back to St Catherine’s Church.
 

A COMMON MESSAGE TO PILGRIMS

"Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."  1 P 2:4-5

 Dear Pilgrims:
 

Despite the difficult and unsettling times we all are experiencing in the Holy Land, we are nonetheless preparing ourselves to welcome in Bethlehem the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We come to you today to invite you to come back. Your brothers and sisters in faith, as well as all the inhabitants of this land, welcome you. Your presence in our midst, your prayers with us, will altogether shed a new light on the conflict between the two parties.

Returning here as pilgrims in these distressing times might well be difficult for you. But in so doing, you will be sharing with us our own difficulties as much as sharing our efforts toward justice and peace.  We invite you to visit us as pilgrims.  Renew your faith in those sites sanctified by our divine Savior. Add to your program an encounter with some of our communities. Visit our parishes for a communal prayer or an exchange with your brothers and sisters in the faith here.
 

Descendants of the first Christians, continuing to bear testimony to an uninterrupted Christian presence in this place of Jesus' birth, ministry, passion, death and Resurrection, it is our pleasure to share with you our common heritage in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 

We believe it is important for you to come to the Holy Land at this crucial moment in our history in order to stand together both with the Christian communities here as much as with the Mystery of God in this land. This is a source of great encouragement to us all. We remain as ever committed to continue our witness of Jesus in this land side by side with all its inhabitants. With you, we will become more faithful, and together we will help bring at long last God’s peace, with His justice, for all.
 

We are sad to inform you that our brother in Christ, HB Patriarch Diodoros I of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, could not lend his signature to this letter due to his death yesterday. We urge you to pray with us for the repose of his soul.

We wish you all a Holy Christmas and a Blessed New Year
                                   + Michel Sabbah                                   + Torkom II

                                     Latin Patriarch                      Armenian Orthodox Patriarch
 

 Jerusalem, 20 December 2000
 


The Stillness of Christmas in the Holy Land
by Harry Hagopian, LL.D
Doctor in Public International Law (UK)

The Holy Land is in mourning! With all the tensions, confrontations, injuries and deaths of the past three months, there is a discernible sense of gloom in the air. Most of the Christmas ‘celebrations’ in Bethlehem as much as elsewhere in Palestine have been cancelled for this year. What was meant to be a veritable pageantry of different shows that would have concluded the Jubilee year has now become muted and noiseless. Most people are too sad, pre-occupied, jobless or bereft of hope, to indulge in the merriment that had become a seasonal trade mark of this land - just like any other land elsewhere in the world.

However, in the midst of all this overwhelming uncertainty, it is important for people to recall that Christmas is not a pagan celebration that manifests itself only with all manner of loud things such as geese, shepherds, drums, camels, crackers, the colours red and gold, angels, choirs, kings and pillar boxes. It is true that the consumerist mind associates Christmas with bells pealing, children shouting, the turkey sizzling, corks popping from bottles of wine, dogs barking, wassailers singing, and somewhere above in the empyrean the angelic zithers and trumpets going full tilt!  But is that truly how we should understand Christmas? Can the spiritual and religious significance of this day be swapped for short-term commercial satisfaction?  And besides, what does Christmas say about Peace?  And more to the point, what does it say about Stillness?

Let me share with you all a thirteenth-century carol that has been one of my all-time favorites:
He came all so still
There his mother was
As dew in April
That falleth on the grass
He came all so still
There his mother lay
As dew in April
That falleth on the spray.
 

I believe that the mystery of Christmas has been elegantly captured in this carol. It is one of stillness! Yet, a paradoxical stillness, a stillness that confounds us and sneaks up on us, even when we think we have never made so much noise.  Every year, when everything is more or less done, that stillness will descend on us. We may easily imagine that something else has caused it. Perhaps the snow is muffling all sound.  Perhaps our own bone-tiredness, or even the absence of our neighbors, is creating the stillness.  But it is not imagination that makes the silence of Christmas night and Christmas morning so peculiarly pregnant and deep.  This stillness is a signal not of absence, but rather one of presence.  Mind you, such stillness may not last long. After all, it is not peace!  It is the silent announcement of a miracle about to happen, with our hearts being prepared for it.  Emmanuel, God with us.  Just like the dew falling in fact.  Or, as people used to say when a sudden stillness fell in the middle of a conversation, like an angel passing, with his trumpet mute.
 

But the stillness of that special moment at Christmas invariably points the way to the Mystery of the Incarnation.  And devoid of all trappings, it is the Incarnation that alone uplifts that stillness into a miracle.
 

Let me share with you one illustration!  In his Confessions, St Augustine explains why only the Incarnation gives satisfaction. During his spiritual journey, he writes, he was greatly attracted by the philosophy of the Platonists.  Studying their books, he found there much that was close in substance to the Christian Gospel.  They seemed to know, without saying it as such, that ‘in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. They understood that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’.  They believed in the immaterial soul.  But that God, the Word, ‘was made flesh and dwelt among us’ - that he did not find in their books.

Again, St Augustine wrote, the Platonists accepted that the Word ‘was born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God’.  But they did not say that ‘he came unto his own, and his own received him not’.  Nor that ‘to all who received him, who believed in his name, to them he gave power to become children of God’.  That would have been too earthly for these philosophical idealists.  They were, St Augustine wrote, like people who ‘from some wooded mountain-top see the land of peace, without being able to find the way there’.

Indeed, we need the revelation to find the way.  We cannot do it by ourselves.  We can reach only the point where we ‘see the land of peace, without being able to find a way there’.  Especially in a post-modernist age, Enlightenment values will not take us.  Nothing but the Incarnation, as St Augustine discovered, will do.
 

Folk religion or New Age philosophy will not take us there either. At the end of the path, the revelation when it comes is incredible yet utterly familiar.  We can point to a baby lying in a manger and say, “That is God.  That is what God is like.”  God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.  This is the end of all our longing, the fulfillment of our dreams. This is an answer to our dearest wish. Hope is possible. And yes, love is possible too.

As we all draw inexorably nearer to the miracle of the Nativity, it might do us well to pause for a few minutes and to listen to that stillness made manifest in the Mystery of the Incarnation.  A miracle is taking place, and we are part of that miracle! As such, we can perhaps deprive ourselves for one moment of all the worldly signs of rejoicing - tinsels, crackers and all - and seek instead an inner wholeness that meets its ultimate truth in the stillness of that one memorable night in Bethlehem.

I wish you all a Holy Christmas: May its Incarnational Stillness Inspire Your Lives
 
 

©  harry-bvh @ 23 December 2000

Christmas in Beit Jala
By Dr. Maria C. Khoury

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel which means ‘God with us.’  (Matthew 1:23)  And it is this faith and hope that our Lord and Savior abides with us unceasingly allowing us to face this fear that has been brought into our daily lives by the injustices we encounter from Israeli soldiers and military attacks that maintains our lives during these difficult times. The strong belief that God is with us empowers our students not just in Beit Jala but in all of our schools to go to school each day and learn.  Education is especially critical during this uprising. The teachers in Beit Jala report that the students are depressed and they are not happy at all during this Holy Season.  They wish to celebrate but no one is in the mood to rejoice. They just can’t celebrate with people being killed every day.

One of the 8th grade students told his English teacher that he will put up his Christmas tree this year but the decorations will not be anything that anyone in the world has ever seen on a Christmas tree before. He has collected all the bullets and the missile fragments from the shelling and rocket-fire in his neighborhood and will adorn the tree with them. Indeed, a
different childhood experience and sad. Since most of this military paraphernalia is engraved with “made in the USA” some of us cannot help but interpret this disaster in the Holy Land as the American government’s gift to us. At any rate, during this Christmas Season, the Holy Land remains in mourning. The suffering continues day after day until this brutal Israeli
occupation ends once and for all.

One of the teaching methods introduced last year in the Latin Patriarchate Schools is journal writing in the classroom, thus we have taken excerpts from our students’ writing about “Christmas,” because we feel they reflect the hope and desire most of us have for peace in this region. This student writing expresses that faith in God continues to keep these children
optimistic. During these Holy days, not only do we pray for peace and happiness for our children but for all mankind. Students from the Beit Jala Latin Patriarchate School say the following about Christmas this year:

Christmas, the season of love and miracles, the impossible happens during this time of the year.  So, I wish that a miracle will happen and the dream of Palestinians will come true so they could celebrate Christmas time and the children will smile again, with joy in their hearts and the Christmas tree will be decorated again.
Irena Samaan, 10th grade

Christmas is my favorite feast because all the family meets together in one place, around the Christmas tree, singing, laughing, talking, and we go to church at midnight to share in the celebration and then we come home without any fear.  But, how can we do these things, while the bombing is over our heads? I think this year no one will dare to go out of his house after 5pm. We need to pray to God to have peace.
Jania Qabar, 11th grade

Every year at Christmas we prepare ourselves for it and when it come you will see the smiling faces of our children, they are waiting patiently for it and say Oh! It’s Christmas, and they become the happiest on earth. The scouts march with their drums and many musical instruments. It was the happiest day in the year but now we are not going to celebrate since the martyrs are dying to free Palestine.  How can we celebrate with blood covering our happiness. They defended Palestine with their bodies and we celebrate?  Definitely, it wont happen, maybe we will say “Merry Christmas” to others but not celebrating. There will not be any happiness and the martyrs, one by one are falling down.
Nicola Qabar, 10th grade

Maybe there won’t be a celebration like every year, but in my heart, Jesus will be born again and I will go to church to pray to God to have peace because Christmas is special.  We can not forget it, we must try to open a new page to be happy.
Hany Abu Saad, 9th grade

What could we say when we go across Bethlehem streets and do not see lights on trees or even beautiful decorations. Instead, we see martyrs pictures. At this time of the year, many children all over the world are celebrating this special birthday, Jesus’ birthday. All parts of the world are happy for Jesus coming, we too, are happy for His coming but how could we
celebrate while we are in war, how could we while Israeli missiles are killing our people.
Rana Kuncar, 9th grade

Can we celebrate Christmas?  Can we feel there is celebration?  In this year, our Christmas is in real war that can’t give me that peace and security that I must feel.  Being in this situation can’t give me the chance to buy Christmas clothes and even decorate the tree.  My family can not celebrate, but we must build on hope and peace to start the New Year with
new thoughts and wishes.
Wurud Abu Rumman, 10th grade

Christmas is a very beautiful day but this year we will not celebrate as all the years because of the situation but I want to decorate the Christmas tree because it’s the symbol of Christmas. I’m not very happy but I hope peace will happen and be happy.
Hiba Abed Rabbo, 6th grade

Santa will bring presents but we are sad because of the Intifada. We want peace and we hope peace will happen.  We will not forget the people who died and got injured.
Amanda Mukerker, 5th grade

We will go to the Church and Santa will bring presents. I feel happy that Christmas will come and we want peace to be happy. We don’t want Intifada. We will not forget the people who died and got injured. I hope next year will be better than this year.
Mariam Abu Amsha, 5th grade

At Christmas we make a tree and above the tree there is a bright star, and I want to celebrate and to share with people this happiness that is Jesus. I want to go to the Nativity Church. I think that Christmas in this year is sad because the people are sad. The tree means to me Jesus will come. I want to be happy this year.
Reema Konkor, 7th grade

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Fr. Raed Awad Abusahlia

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