Christians to visit suffering church in Bethlehem for Christmas
Christians working for peace and nonviolent solutions to conflict are to express solidarity to Christians in Bethlehem by visiting them this Christmas.
Members of Pax Christi, a Catholic organisation, will also meet with members of the Muslim and Jewish communities who are working for peace and human rights in the region.
In recent years, Bethlehem has been under curfew at Christmas and the Church of the Nativity was involved in a siege in Bethlehem in 2002.
At Easter Christians in the West Bank were prevented by Israel's security measures from visiting the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion to celebrate Easter.
Reports suggest that thousands of Christians are also now leaving the town of Christ's birth and going abroad.
Bethlehem continues to be the Palestinian city with the largest Christian population. The Christians and Muslims there have, for the most part, lived peacefully side by side.
As the Intifada has continued however, unemployment has soared to 60 or even 70%.
In 2004 Pax Christi launched its "People of the Holy Land need Bridges not Walls " campaign to raise awareness of the impact of the separation wall, called by some the "Apartheid Wall", on the Palestinian community.
Pax Christi has a history of supporting peacemaking initiatives in the region. Hosts of the pilgrimage are the Arab Educational Institute, a Bethlehem based group working to bring together Christian and Muslims to explore their common heritage of peacemaking and develop practical actions for peace. The group will be staying with families connected with the AEI during their time in Bethlehem.
A number of internal pilgrimages have been organised for the visit. The group will take part in nonviolent peace pilgrimages to places of division and violence such as military checkpoints and the separation fence/wall in and around Bethlehem.
They will also take part in interfaith gatherings for prayer and discussion in Hebron.
Pat Gaffney, General Secretary said: "We hope that our presence will be a small sign of hope and encouragement to the people we meet. In recent years, so many parts of the West Bank have been closed to tourists, pilgrims and visitors the people can feel forgotten by the outside world. Our visit is one of solidarity with the Christians and Muslim communities at this time of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of the one who came to bring peace to the world."
Pax Christi is an international Catholic movement for peace, founded in 1945, with sections in five continents. It has a vision of the world where people can live in peace and without fear of violence, in all its forms. Pax Christi works to ensure that the message of peace is heard by the Church, by decision makers and those working in our communities.
The group travelling to Bethlehem will be made up of Pax Christi members from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK and will meet with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, who is also the International President of Pax Christi.