His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III spoke at the 12 September opening of the “Bethlehem Reborn – Palestine – The Wonders of the Nativity” exhibition on the renovation and restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
“Pilgrims of all faiths and none come here every day, drawn, as the Magi of old were drawn, by a star of hope in their hearts. A star of hope for a better world. A star of hope for that peace ‘which passes understanding’ (Phil. 4:7),” the patriarch told Palestinian officials and around 50 diplomats and other guests.
“As we struggle to preserve a vital and vibrant Christian presence in the Holy Land in the face of a resurgence of radicalism and hatred in the society, and as our world is plunged deeper and deeper into confusion and despair, the universal spiritual vocation of Bethlehem and the Basilica has never been more urgent.”
Patriarch Theophilos said the church is not a mere archaeological site or museum: “It is a living witness to hope and to light and to life.”
The exhibition, marking the first renovation of the Church of the Nativity in hundreds of years, has toured different world cities, including Paris, Rome, and other parts of Italy. After four weeks in Geneva, it will move to Washington, DC, in November.
World Council of Churches general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, said the exhibition celebrates the results of a fruitful collaboration with partners in Palestine.
“We are also here to celebrate the continuous presence and witness of our churches in the Holy Land. Moreover, we are here to celebrate Bethlehem, the city of peace,” said Pillay at the gathering.
“Bethlehem calls us to justice while its people suffer division and disparities. The streets that witnessed the footsteps of prophets and kings now echo the cries for justice and self-determination. The walls of the city and the church of the Nativity tell tales of resistance, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to a just cause.”
Pillay said Bethlehem calls the world to hope despite the checkpoints, barriers, and ongoing conflicts.
“Let us draw inspiration from this sacred place to work tirelessly for a world where these ideals become a reality for everyone,” said the WCC general secretary.
Dr Ramzi Khoury, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and chairman of the High Presidential Committee for Church Affairs, spoke of what his people want:
“Our demand is for our people to live a dignified life free from occupation, like any other nation in the world, to build a prosperous future and preserve, with your assistance, the remaining Palestinian Christian presence in the Holy Land,” said Khoury.
“Our people, despite all obstacles mentioned and more, are a resilient people who safeguard their heritage and sanctities.”
He noted that the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest churches in the world, dating back to 313 AD. In 2013, it underwent renovation to restore it to its former state.
Birth of Jesus
“It witnessed the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and carried a message of justice, peace, and love to the world. Sadly, today, it is surrounded by the Apartheid wall, which separates it from its twin, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the occupied city of Jerusalem,” said Khoury.
Dr Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said, “We are gathering at the World Council of Churches, a symbol of Christian unity, to celebrate our accomplishments and reaffirm our commitment to protect the Christian presence at its birthplace in Palestine.
“This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to connect not just with the historic buildings but also with the people, reminding us that occupied Jerusalem requires our support during these challenging times when freedom is denied.”
Bethlehem is on a mountainous plateau less than 10 kilometres (six miles) south of the Old City of Jerusalem, along the main road between Jerusalem and Hebron. During its 1,700-year history, the town has survived invasions, regime changes, fires, and earthquakes.
The exhibition is promoted by the State of Palestine; Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine; Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity; and the Embassy of the State of Palestine to the Holy See in cooperation with Bethlehem Development Foundation; Piacenti S.p.a and with the participation of University of Pavia.