Skip to comments.Christians to have free access to Bethlehem during Christmas
Posted on 12/18/2009 10:23:59 AM PST by NYer
Christian leaders representing a wide spectrum of sects were assured Monday morning by the commander of the IDF's Civil Administration Bethlehem Coordination and Liaison Office that Christian pilgrims would have free access to the birthplace of Jesus during the Christmas holiday.
Priests, archbishops and friars representing Latin Catholic, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, Lutheran, Anglican, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian and Armenian Christian sects met with Lt.-Col. Eyad Sirhan, the Druse commander responsible for orchestrating pilgrimages by a diverse collection of Christian faithful.
Some wore the black and white collar of the priest, others wore robes and traditional hats. Conversation was conducted in Arabic, since all of leaders serve indigenous congregations, some of which date back to the Byzantine era, located in Jordan, Gaza, Judea and Samaria and even Syria, as well as Israel.
The various sects celebrate Christmas on different dates, complicating the arrangements in and out of Bethlehem. While Western Christians celebrate the birth of their savior on December 25, the orthodox sects celebrate on January 7 in accordance with the Julian calendar.
But Sirhan said that the IDF would do everything in its power to make sure that there is freedom of movement for over 65,000 Christians expected to visit on Christmas Eve.
"The IDF is responsible for security for the processions from Jerusalem until they reach Bethlehem, which is located in Area A. From that point on the Palestinian Authority will be responsible for security. We are not coordinating with Hamas," Sirhan said.
Sirhan said he had briefed his soldiers to impress upon them the importance of treating Christian leaders and laypeople with respect at the border crossings and checkpoint.
And he assured religious leaders that entry permits valid for one month would be provided to anyone who requested one, as long as they had no record of security infractions and possessed a biometric ID card.
In response to reporters' questions, Sirhan said that there were no security warnings that Jewish settlers might attempt to attack Christians during the Christmas season.
"We are expecting more visitors this year than last thanks to the improved security situation," he said.
Rev. Dr. Munir Kakish, chairman of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, said that he was concerned that Christians living in Gaza would be unable to get out or to receive visitors.
"I would like to call to help Christians in Gaza to see their relatives," he said.
Kakish, who said that there were about 200 Evangelical Christians living in Gaza, related experiences in which he was unable to enter the Gaza Strip to visit.
"Every time I visit Gaza I must apply for a brand new permit. There is no such thing as a multi-visit entry permit. I have to wait three to four weeks. And last month I was denied entry," he said.
Kakish rejected claims that the Christian communities of Gaza were being persecuted under Hamas rule.
"There is security in Gaza and there is order. Hamas is getting along well with the Christians. I recently was allowed to give a sermon in Gaza City."
Dr. Bishop Naim Khoury of the Holy Land Baptist Mission Middle East said that if enough permits were given to pilgrims it would help stabilize the situation.
"If people are given more freedom to move around, not just during Christmas but also during the entire year, that would be a step in the right direction," he said. "When families living in Israel are able to visit relatives in the West Bank it is very encouraging."
Secretary of Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Church Patriarchate Aristarchus said that his church was expecting thousands of pilgrims.
"There is a special joy this time of year. Tourism helps the business and it lowers the tension. We pray to God to give peace to the Israeli society. We hope there will not be problems. The peace will bring to the Jewish people better living conditions."
Aristarchus rejected claims that the situation of Christians in Bethlehem was difficult. "We live in peace in Bethlehem," he said.
I didn’t realize the Franciscans had formed their own Church, lol.
After that the throat cutting resumes on Dec 26th.
Ugh. Why can’t Israel just annex Bethlehem and all of the other holy sites and kick out the riff raff?
I didn’t realize that “Franciscan” was a different sect from “Latin Catholic.” Learn something new every day.
Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, uses the phrase "autonomous ritual Churches" to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective. Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 21 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church's unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 22 Churches, yet one Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:
"From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them... Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity" (CCC no. 814).
Although there are 22 Churches, there are only eight "Rites" that are used among them. A Rite is a "liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony," (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). "Rite" best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.
To learn more about the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church, visit this link:
The Vatican II Council declared that "all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition" (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15).
A Roman rite Catholic may attend any Eastern Catholic Liturgy and fulfill his or her obligations at any Eastern Catholic Parish. A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole. I am a Roman Catholic practicing my faith at a Maronite Catholic Church. Like the Chaldeans, the Maronites retain Aramaic for the Consecration. It is as close as one comes to being at the Last Supper.
Please freepmail me if you would like more information on the Eastern Catholic Churches.