BEIT JALA / BETHLEHEM – Since the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016, the city of Judea where the Savior was born is preparing to celebrate Christmas

On Sunday, November 27, Bishop Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem and Palestine, celebrated Mass in the local parish Church of the Annunciation in the town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. He took the opportunity to recall, in his homily, the four different times of the coming of Christ throughout history.

“The first time, he explained, is in the past with the birth of Christ, the fairest of the sons of men. The birth of the Messiah, awaited for centuries, welcomed by the tenderness of a mother.” And all of this was reinforced by the humility of the cave in which he was born. Another of these times takes place in the future when Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. The other two concern our present times; the first is sacramental, to sustain us on our journey towards the Kingdom of God: in a special way Christ makes himself present among us in the Eucharist. The second is the time when he is welcomed in the poor. “The poorest, those who are naked, hungry, thirsty… are the image of Christ.” Welcoming them, we welcome Christ who suffers. If we will do so, if we will “receive him sacramentally, then, eschatologically, he, in turn, will welcome us and judge us according to our acts of mercy”. Bishop Shomali again emphasized, “To pass this eschatological exam without difficulty, it is important that we are aware of the coming of Christ in our present times”.

After the the Mass, in the parish hall, a Christmas bazaar was held with items for sale, and numerous craft products prepared by local Christians: decorations of various kinds and gastronomic specialties, including the famous “ma’amul” cookies stuffed with dates, with walnuts or pistachios.

Even in Bethlehem, in Manger Square, in front of the Basilica, for three days there was a Christmas market with numerous stands representing different countries. Also, in this place, numerous local specialties were offered. On a stage, prepared for this purpose, many artists performed the classic Christmas carols.

Also in the same square, on Saturday, December 3, the Christmas tree will be lighted, after which the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a concert with the participation of the Palestinian singer Luna Amin.

The region of Bethlehem is hoping that this year the arrival of pilgrims will boost tourism, which has been in crisis for more than two years. The hotels at this time of year are usually filled to 80/90 percent occupancy but did not reach half that figure last year, according to the Palestinian Authority’s estimate. The losses are colossal in this city, surrounded by the separation wall. Bethlehem, where one in five workers is unemployed, lives mainly from tourism.

Vivien Laguette

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