Bethlehem, Palestine – Bethlehem’s Christmas season was made just a little bit brighter this year as HCEF hosted its 12th Annual “Journey to Bethlehem.” On Friday, December 16th, 350 children from around Palestine visited Bethlehem’s holy sites to learn first-hand about Palestine’s living Christian heritage. For the majority of these children, this represents the first time they have ever set foot in these holy places. Children came from schools and orphanages around Zababdeh, Jenin, Tulkarem, Jericho, and Birzeit.
During their journey, the children received educational tours of Shepherds Field, the Church of the Nativity, the Milk Grotto, and Bethlehem Museum, where they learned about the role that everyday Palestinians have played in preserving Christianity in the Holy Land. After visiting the sites, the children reflected on their favorite things:
“We loved visiting the Church of the Nativity! We saw the priests give mass for the first time ever. It was really cool!” – Alisa, 8 years, Jericho
“We enjoyed the museum, especially seeing the solidarity cross because the word ‘peace’ was written on it. We hope that there will be peace for us soon.” – Dala, 8 years, Jericho
“I loved the Christmas tree because its was so beautiful! I loved seeing Bethlehem!” – Hala, 12 years, Jenin
“Today I learned a lot, that we should love each other and pray for others.” – Zaed, 9 years, Birzeit
After their tour, the children joined in with local families to participate in a Christmas celebration at Catholic Action Community Center, where they enjoyed face painting, games, and treats followed by an interactive Christmas play. After receiving a gift from Santa, the group of 400 strong processed down Star Street to Manger Square—down the very path that the Holy Family took over 2000 years ago! The procession was met with fanfare, as community members lined the streets, enjoying the singing and laughter of Palestine’s children. The procession commemorates Jesus’ call to “follow the children, ” and serves as an important reminder to the community that our children are our future, and that it is our responsibility to educate them about their history, heritage and identity.
The event was generously sponsored by World Vision International, Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, Caritas Jerusalem, and by individuals from around the world who donated through HCEF’s 2016 Giving Tuesday campaign.