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Christmas Peace and Justice Wishes and Prayers for Bethlehem 2003
Pax Christi International

December 2003   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Lk2 :6-7).

The Bethlehem of My Childhood

I remember so clearly those young and early teen days when my mum and dad would take me by car from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Day so that we could visit the Basilica of the Nativity. We used to enter the church through the small wooden door, and then go gingerly down the narrow steps that led to the manger where Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Saviour, was born some two thousand years ago.

Having said a prayer or two, and having witnessed the round-the-clock holy masses that took place in different languages in that narrow candle-lit space, we headed for the old town of Bethlehem where we had a falafel sandwich before returning to Jerusalem.

Bethlehem was so peaceful and welcoming then, and the Christmas season was a real occasion (perhaps even a family ritual) for us. It brought Christmas home to me, and reminded me of my roots as an Armenian Christian from Jerusalem.

The Bethlehem of My Adulthood

For the past few years, though, this little town of Bethlehem that witnessed the birth of the Prince of Peace (Is9 :6) has become a solitary prison of trepidation, despair and uncertainty. The magic of this town, as it affirmed the Mystery of the Incarnation, has been ruined by an unjust political reality that has been debilitating at best and decimating at worst.

Alas, Bethlehem is now fearful and unwelcoming, and Christmas is no longer about the joy of the Nativity as much as it is about negotiating Israeli checkpoints in order to enter Manger Square and revere the Son of God in his lowly birthplace.

My Prayer for Bethlehem

I have one fierce prayer for Christmas 2003. I pray and hope that this little town - let alone the Holy Land as a whole - would re-discover peace, justice, non-violence and harmony. I pray and hope that the joyful news witnessed by the three magi (Mt2 :11) and which King Herod could not destroy (Mt 2:16), would re-visit this town and this land.

After all, Christmas is not solely about family reunions! Nor is it about meals, drinks and gifts alone! As the popular carol Little Town of Bethlehem sings, it is also about the birth of a little baby born of Mary ‘where meek souls will receive him still.’

Dr Harry Hagopian, LL.D, KOG-KSL - Ecumenical, Policy & Legal Consultant, Armenian Apostolic Church, London Outreach Coordinator, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, UK

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   December 2003


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