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Reduced tourism hasn’t slowed renovation of Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well in Bethlehem.

Although the pandemic has limited tourism, the Church of the Nativity is undergoing major renovations. Commissioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine at the request of his mother, Helena, the Church of the Nativity was built over the place where many believe Jesus was born.

“Whenever anybody comes from all over the world, they have to taste and to feel the place where actually Jesus was born here so as to give the people the peace and love,” said Father Issa Thaljieh, Greek Orthodox parish priest at the church. “ The church was originally built about 1,700 years ago. Since then, it’s been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times.”

The most recent renovation began in 2013 with the help of the Bethlehem Development Foundation. Its goal is to renew Bethlehem by providing a sustainable life for residents while making the city attractive for visitors. They started by upgrading Manger Square and then moving on to the Church of the Nativity.

Part of the need arises from the fact that after decades of Palestinian rule in the city, the Christian population has dropped to under 20 percent, from its previous 80 percent when Israel controlled the area and provided security.

The Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic churches share guardianship over the church. “Since a long time, we didn’t have any restorations, so, that’s the best thing that is doing now,” Thajieh said.

“They’re great, because the church needs to renovate it,” said the Very Reverend Father Asbed Balian, superior of the Armenian Apostolic Church at the Church of the Nativity. “And not only physically, the church building needs to be renovated. Also, we have to renovate ourselves. We have to be renewed spiritually and to be educated about the Lord’s commandments.

Thaljieh and Balian said that although two years of COVID keeping international visitors away has been rough, they have hope for the future.

“I pray that may God really removes all difficulties and the life will come back normally and regularly,” Balian said. “And also to restart a communion prayer together, praising the Lord and thanking him for all the gifts he has given us and sharing his gifts together.”

–Anita Widaman | Metro Voice