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Christmas in the Holy Land

2009-12-22

He’s the person in charge of caring for the places where Jesus lived. He has custody over the Holy Sepulcher, the Calvary and of course the grotto in Bethlehem.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Custodian of Holy Land

“The Lord is the custodian, I am only an instrument in His hands. An instruments that wants to keep the memories and the living testimony. To be a custodian means being a testimony in that place that has a significant meaning for the world.”

This church is built over the grotto in Bethlehem. It’s where St. Joseph and Mary took refuge and where Jesus was born. A star marks the spot where the Virgin Mary placed the child. This Christmas pilgrims will line up for miles to visit.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Custodian of Holy Land

“Christmas in the Holy Land is a very big experience, for everyone. It’s always something new.”

It’s been two thousand years since St. Joseph and the Virgin had to escape their homeland because Herod was persecuting them. Today many Christians feel obligated to leave too. Christians who live in the Holy Land don’t see a bright future in store for them or their families.

If Christians continue to flee at this rate, some estimate in a matter of years, there won’t be any Christians living here.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Custodian of Holy Land

“Each time there are less Christians, especially in Bethlehem. In 1967, in Bethlehem 70% of the population was Christian. Now, it’s only 10%. That’s a very small portion. It’s important to help them as much as possible, with prayers, pilgrimages, because it creates jobs, and with any other types of  initiatives.”

Christians in the Holy Land are pleading for help. The majority of them rely on tourism to survive. Israel and Palestine assure the Holy Places are safe for tourists. That’s why Catholics urge other Christians to visit to get a first hand look at the living conditions in the Holy Land.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Custodian of Holy Land

“Every pilgrimage, that comes here for Christmas is absolutely safe, peaceful. There are no dangers. Pilgrims have always been respected. The pilgrimage areas has been always safe.”

The situation of the Catholic Church in Israel is also a delicate one because the Church lives in constant juridical uncertainty. Negotiations between Israel and the Vatican on how to ensure ownership of the holy places have been ongoing for the past 13 years.  Negotiations also include a tax system that recognizes the rights the Church had at the time of the creation of Israel.

Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Custodian of Holy Land

“The negotiation between Israel and the Vatican began 13 years ago. There has been progress, but there is still  lot of work to do. But it’s  time to finish, to give the Church a juridical clarification. We can’t delay signing an agreement, we need a stable relationship.”

While obstacles are a part of the day to day life in the Holy land, so are cheerful moments. That’s why, this year like every year, Christians in the Holy Land and pilgrims from all over the world celebrate the most significant day of the year in the place where Jesus was born.

JMB/MC
DC