With the participation of more than 1000 children from various Palestinian cities and villages, The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) launched its annual “Journey to Bethlehem for Peace” a program of the HCEF Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas” Program.
The Journey to Bethlehem for Peace began Thursday, December 6, 2012. Immediately upon arrival at the Catholic Action Club, the busloads of excited children were taken into the building to begin the festivities where recreational events, entertainment, arts and cultural activities went on until the early afternoon hours.
Procession of Children through the Old Town of Bethlehem (left) HE Minister Abdul Hamayel, Governor of Bethlehem, Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO, HB Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem waiting to greet the busloads of children.(right)
The ‘procession’ of children and participating religious and civic leaders through the Old Town of Bethlehem began at Catholic Action Club and ended at Manger Square, where the children raised their banners of slogans proclaiming unity, peace, hope and freedom! Performers, artists and other exciting events were lined up to provide more entertainment.
Along with HCEF President/CEO, Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, the children were welcomed at Manger Square by HB Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Minister Abdul Fattah Hamayel, Governor of Bethlehem, Dr. Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr. Nael Salman, Mayor of Beit Jala, Mr. Moussa Abu Hadid Mayor of Ramallah; H.E. Former Minister Hind Khoury; Mr. Nadim Barakat, Mayor of Tayebeh, Mr. Joseph Habib, Head of Aboud Village Council, Mr. Khalil Shaheen, Head of Ain Arik VillageCouncil, Mr. Anthony Habash, HCEF Regional Director, Coordinators of the Bethlehem Union Lane, Ms. Virginie Kanawati and members of Arab Women’s Union in Bethlehem, Father Mario Hadchiti, Jericho Parish Priest and Director of Tarasenta School in Jericho and a large number of other esteemed guests and individuals who especially came to support and participate in this traditional, festive event.
A visit to the Nativity Church and a reception at the Bethlehem Peace Center Restaurant marked the ending of the Journey to Bethlehem for Peace at Christmas. During the reception, 10 participants received prizes for winning the annual Christmas artist contest, which was also organized by HCEF.
Eng. Anthony Habash began the reception by sharing the mission and purpose of the “Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas” Program and its importance in focusing on raising children to love their homeland and to develop a commitment to giving back to Palestine and building for its future.
The reception Ceremony was attended by more than ten mayors from the Palestinian Cities and villages. The newly elected Mayor of Bethlehem Dr. Vera Baboun, the first female Mayor in history to hold this position, welcomed the attendees and said, “The title of the program, “Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas” is significant as it reflects the message for these children to experience and know the meaning of the city of Bethlehem, and to witness the message of love, justice, freedom and dignity. Mayor Baboun also connected the birth of Jesus with the new ‘birth’ Palestine received in its international recognition as an observer state.
Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, HCEF President/CEO commended His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal for his continued commitment to share the suffering of Palestine, its people and its holy sites with the world. He pledged to carry with him the letter of the Palestinian children from the Bethlehem, Heart of Christmas to the world. Patriarch Twal will travel to the Gaza Strip to celebrate Christmas and will share with them a congratulatory message from the people in Bethlehem and West Bank cities, stressing that the nation is one nation and Palestine is one, and his hopes to rejoice in Palestine’s independence on his next return to Gaza.
Sir Rabie shared the vision of HCEF in reshaping the global outlook of Palestine through children who represent the voice of the people and the state, and the land of Palestine, which suffer due to the occupation. Sir Rabie talked about the importance of meeting of the mayors elected in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Beit Jala and Ain Arik, Aboud and Taybeh, and shared his hope that they will continue to work effectively and closely with HCEF and its events.
Eng. Habash thanked all partner institutions, media, schools and departments that worked and contributed to the success of this Journey to Bethlehem for Peace, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; Parish of St. Catherine of Bethlehem; Catholic Relief Foundation; OneVoice Palestine; World Vision Foundation; and Caritas Jerusalem.