On Saturday, December 5th, 2015, hundreds of children participated in the 11th Annual Journey to Bethlehem, organized as a part of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s (HCEF) “Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas” Program. Every year, the Journey brings children from across Palestine to visit the city of Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity. For many children, this marks their first visit to the city of Christ’s birth. With the escalating conflict, this year’s Journey served as a special beacon of hope, casting a joyful light on the city of Bethlehem through Christ’s most ardent and devoted followers, our children. It shows the world that Palestinians are a resilient people, choosing to honor and celebrate the birth of Christ rather than succumb to the hardships they face. They choose to experience joy and hope rather than fear and despair.
Hailing from dozens of schools and scout groups throughout the region, over 500 children gathered at Catholic Action Center for afternoon festivities that included a celebratory lunch, a Christmas play performed by a local theater group, face painting, and of course, a visit from Santa Claus! Festivities were kicked off by an opening ceremony at which Archbishop Atallah Hanna and HCEF Regional Director, Eng. Anthony Habash, personally welcomed children and distributed Christmas gifts. Eng. Habash said, “We at HCEF are committed to keeping this Christmas tradition alive. Children must be given an opportunity to express their joy and enjoy the good news! They deserve this as ancestors of the first followers of Christ, those who were privileged to witness His birth in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.”
Following afternoon activities, the children processed down Star Street through the Old City of Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity, recalling the journey that Mary and Joseph made over 2000 years ago. Local residents lined the route, greeting the children and cheering them on as they passed.
Unfortunately, due to the intensified Occupation, many of the schools and scout groups that typically participate in the Journey were unable to attend this year. Keeping their fellow classmates in mind, the children released red, green and black balloons into the sky at Manger Square, symbolizing the spread of peace, love and hope throughout Palestine and to the rest of the world. This powerful act, emanating from the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, highlighted that we are all connected, and that together, we must struggle for peace, reconciliation and unity.
After the festivities, the children visited the Church of the Nativity, enjoyed the life size Nativity scene in Manger Square and eagerly awaited the lighting of Bethlehem’s giant Christmas tree. Although it was a cold day in Bethlehem, the children’s celebration warmed the hearts of the entire community. During these difficult times, the event provided a welcome atmosphere of peace, joy and hope.
HCEF extends its gratitude to our Journey to Bethlehem partners: Bethlehem Youth Council, Catholic Relief Services, Inad Centre for Theatre and Arts and World Vision; and to our sponsors: Al-Jebrini Dairy & Food Industries Co, Bethlehem Area Scouts, BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies “Mormon University,” Crown Bakery, EKA Trading company, The Golden bakery, The National Beverage Company, National Insurance Company, and The Palestinian Bible Society.
Please tune into the next event in our “Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas” Program: the Simulcast Christmas Message of Peace, to be broadcast live between Washington, D.C. and Bethlehem on Saturday, December 12th at 10 AM EST and 5 PM Jerusalem time. The event will be broadcasted live on HCEF’s website: http://hcef.org/
For more information about HCEF, our programs and our upcoming events, please visit our website.