Annually, since 2003, during the Christmas season, HCEF has invited approximately one thousand children from thirty-five towns and cities throughout Palestine and the Galilee in Israel to partake in a ‘Journey to Bethlehem’.
For many of these children, this trip is the first opportunity they are given to visit and worship at the birth place of Jesus, despite the fact that they may live only a few hours away. This trip is coordinated with fifty two parishes from all over the Holy Land, and includes the children of these parishes aged nine to ten years.
The goals of this event are to:
- Create strong bonds of friendship between Christian children of the Holy Land,
- Provide Palestinian Christian children with a day of fun and joy as they celebrate the Christmas story, and
- Grant children the opportunity to visit an important site in their homeland, to which they may not have many other opportunities to visit.
During this day, the group of children (approximately 1000 children) visit various parishes in and around Bethlehem. They also participate in a large procession beginning at the Catholic Action Society, and ending at the Church of the Nativity. The procession is joined by members of civil society, representatives of various parishes and churches, as well as government officials. The aim of this children’s procession is to give opportunity for them to convey an ecumenical message of hope and peace in their own way. The procession ends at the Nativity Church, outside of which the children release hundreds of helium balloons. This final symbolic act grants the children a sense of unity and collective accomplishment, as well as draws the attention of the broader local and international communities to this declaration of peace made by the children.
‘Journey to Bethlehem’
- Strengthen the relationships between the different schools, communities and schools in the Holy Land.
- Increase association with their homeland for the participating children.
- Create an atmosphere of cooperation and participation within the local society to promote peaceful coexistence, and thereby security for all
- Develop community knowledge about Palestinian heritage through visits to cities and holy-sites.
- Preservation of the Palestinian and Arab Christian culture as a fundamental part of the Palestinian identity in the Holy Land.
- Overcome the numerous obstacles faced by the local community to access holy-sites with dignity and ease.
- Create sustainable relationships amongst Christian youth to increase their sense of belonging to the Holy Land.