Friday, December 23, 2011

This Christmas: Pray for Bethlehem

But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
least among the clans of Judah,
From you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel;
Whose origin is from of old,
from ancient times.

Every year as we near Christmas, I spend some time looking at Youtube videos about Bethlehem and its holy sites.  And every year, I feel sadness and helplessness when I read about the diminishing Christian population in this sacred town.  Phoebe Greenwood, a journalist with The Guardian newspaper out of Britain, has written an article about the situation. She quotes Father Ibrahim Shomali, pastor of Annunciation Church in Beit Jala (a hillside town adjacent to Bethlehem)

"If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed. He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission – or to have been tourists."

You can read the whole article here

This article suggests that the problem is caused by the Israelis.  I've read other articles that say the problem is caused by the Palestinian leaders. Others say radical Muslims.   I don't know; it is a very complicated situation where everyone feels that this relatively small piece of land should be theirs.

This year, for some reason, Isaiah 11:6-9 popped into my mind while reading the article:

6* Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.f
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
together their young shall lie down;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.g
8The baby shall play by the viper’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
9They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

And I pictured Edward Hick's painting Peaceable Kingdom: 

This year, when you are at Mass on Christmas Eve, will you join me in prayer, asking Our Lord to bring peace to the "little" town of Bethlehem?  

The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land sponsors a wide variety of projects and programs to help Christians living in Bethlehem.  Some of their projects include a Child Sponsorship Program, a job placement program, affordable housing options, a university scholarship program, a vocational school program and social service programs for the elderly living in the area.  You can find out more about the organization here. 

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