Anglican, Catholic, Free Church and Orthodox leaders in England are asking parish churches and local congregations throughout the country to pray for ‚Äòthe little town of Bethlehem‚Äô as they approach the final week of Advent ‚Äì the Church‚Äôs season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The request comes in the context of an ecumenical pilgrimage to the place of Jesus‚Äô birth being made just before Christmas by the four representative leaders of English churches: the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams; Free Churches Moderator the Rev David Coffey (a Baptist), and the Primate of the Armenian Church of Great Britain Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian.
The leaders hope that one of the effects of their coming together to make this pilgrimage will be to convey to the Christian communities of the Holy Land the solidarity of Christians in this land. Those communities need to know that they are not forgotten and that their witness over two millennia, often in demanding circumstances, is acknowledged and appreciated.
The pilgrimage is intended to offer hope and encouragement to these beleaguered communities and has been welcomed by both Christian and Muslim civic leaders in Bethlehem, which is facing economic and social isolation as a result of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.
Dr Williams said: ‚ÄúIt is for local congregations to determine how best to respond to this appeal for prayer. On the final two Sundays of Advent many will be using scripture readings mentioning Bethlehem and carols such as ‚ÄòO little town of Bethlehem‚Äô ‚Äì perhaps that would be the moment to pause and remember the people of Bethlehem and all those from around the world who will be making a pilgrimage there at Christmas time.‚Äù
Cardinal Murphy O‚ÄôConnor added: ‚ÄúWe are keen that local Christian communities pray with us as we prepare, in this Advent season, to make this pilgrimage and indeed when we are on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. The children of Bethlehem and their future are particularly in our hearts at this time. Your prayers and support, for us and the people of Bethlehem, are a means of expressing our unity in Christ."