Pope Benedict XVI will visit the Holy Land this month and, on May 13, he will celebrate Holy Mass at Manger Square in Bethlehem and visit a number of local organizations. In honor of his visit, His Holiness will also be presented with a unique work of art, created by Issam’s J.B.Salsaa’ a Christian’s artisan from Bethlehem. The new masterwork is an olivewood carving depicting the Bethlehem of today. The work is nearly a meter square and is finished in great detail – from the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square to the fields where the shepherds tended their flocks. But its most striking feature is the inclusion of the Wall of Separation, which now divides the ancient city and shatters its unity, in all its ominous and overwhelming presence over the city.
These Christian artisans in the Holy Land, and especially Bethlehem, are known throughout the world for their beautiful artistic work with olive wood, silver and other materials. Many of their works depict events in the life of Jesus, from his nativity in Bethlehem itself to His ministry throughout the Holy Land. It is particularly poignant that the artistic works that have so beautifully portrayed the scene in Bethlehem and its beautiful symbols, from angels with a message of joy to the world to bright stars of hope, must now be accompanied by another symbol – the Wall – unfortunately a symbol and a reality of repression and despair. It is uncomfortable for any Christian to look at Bethlehem and feel the sense of sadness. But that is just what this work conveys to us: an unpleasant truth about the Bethlehem of 2009.
Christians in Bethlehem and the Holy Land have heard Pope Benedict’s message of hope, and they know that his visit will be one that will emphasize hope and reconciliation. It is their hope that this magnificent work of art will help all the peoples of the Holy Land to join with the Pope in praying for peace and reconciliation.