‘Journey to Bethlehem’
Since 2003, annually, 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 overall goal of this event is to create strong bonds of friendship between Christian children of the Holy Land; to provide Palestinian Christian children with a day of fun and joy as they celebrate the Christmas story; and to 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.
Bethlehem -Washington Joint Simulcast Christmas Message of Peace
Bethlehem- 5:00 pm – Washington, DC -10:00 am
Saturday, December 8, 2012
This special event consists of a simulcast video conference between the Bethlehem and Washington. People in each of the three regions will gather along with important religious and political figures to partake in a joint, televised, message of faith, peace, and solidarity. Choirs will gather at each location, and Christmas carols will be sung in both English and Arabic. HE Barry C. Knestout, Auxiliary Bishop in Washington and HE Bishop William Shomali Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem will each deliver a message of Christmas and a message of greeting to the people of Washington and Bethlehem. There will be scripture readings in the three cities, followed by prayers by each religious leader. This program endeavors to build solidarity between American and Palestinian Christians, and will build a bridge between the two communities. The event will signify the strength and passion of the Christian Community and its message of peace and hope. Additionally, it will showcase to the Christians of the Holy Land, the commitment of American Christians to their Palestinian brothers and sisters of faith. Another important outcome of this event will be the chance for Americans and Palestinians to connect in a unique way with their homeland and its people.
The ‘Most Beautiful Christmas Tree in Palestine’ Contest
This event consists of a large-scale Christmas tree contest amongst the various parishes and churches throughout the Holy Land. Parishes will compete amongst each other to complete the best Christmas tree, three of whom will receive prizes for their efforts. The tree decorating will be completed by the children of the parishes, in an effort to encourage them to participate more in parish activities. The trees will be judged by a small, special committee. This competition will provide a fun and exciting means of cooperation and communication between the various parishes of the Holy Land, but most importantly it will encourage a much needed atmosphere of connectedness between them.