Once more it’s Christmas time in Bethlehem, the whole city lights up for a party and it’s general cleaning. What once was a small town on the back of a hill looking towards the desert of Judah today is a large city that in its overall area welcomes, in the daily bustle, almost 200,000 inhabitants. In the heart of the historic center in front of the Basilica of Nativity, among the old houses climbing the bell towers of the various Christian oriental communities light up for a party reflecting the lights on Star Street, the ancient star road that for hundreds of years has been the beating heart of the Christian community of Bethlehem and who brought pilgrims from Jerusalem to the Manger Square, in front of the Holy Grotto. The ancient courtyards and the sumptuous white stone houses, however, are now abandoned, steady in time. The elderly, among the few remaining tell a story full of memories, parties, large families that today have emigrated due to the long and exasperating conflict. The beautiful communicating terraces overlooking the desert or the holy city of Jerusalem have been occupied by dozens of water tanks to respond to the water emergency and at first sight attract the attention of travelers and pilgrims who today visit Bethlehem. But the Christian families from Bethlehem today need to look for them elsewhere, from Chile to the United States, from Europe to Australia: the conflict has divided the families that have found refuge over the years in other countries with little hope of returning home. Among the alleys, in the houses, in the squares, between cups of coffee or the steaming Christians and Muslims have always lived relationships of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. Today they seem to be worried (and perhaps even a little at risk) for everything that happens externally, and especially in neighboring Arab countries. A concrete testimony of this respect and coexistence is still the schools of the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land that offer an educational proposal appreciated by the majority of Muslim students and their families.
We too of Association pro Terra Sancta in our daily commitment we try to tell this beauty sometimes lost, but above all we want to be close to those who remain to guard these places. To those who today, among a thousand difficulties, welcome the pilgrims and make them feel at home, keeping alive the Eucharist and the light of Hope in this tormented land. The small Christian minority is a heroic presence in the current complex Middle Eastern context. A proximity made above all of relationship and true friendship, which makes us feel less alone, less minority, when we see the streets full of Christian pilgrims.
Our charity mission, in this way, tries to become an instrument to serve those who need it most, but above all to seek a friendship, a relationship with someone who has the need and desire to be with you. And the response to an emergency like the water becomes an opportunity to go and find someone, support him in a concrete need like access to clean drinking water, but above all create a relationship that keeps you company.
But Bethlehem is also for everyone the place of Hope, the place where we are all born, a favorite place to which we are all linked and to which we all belong. Bethlehem is our home. Not a distant place, in a Middle East difficult to reach and with problems of conflict even more difficult to understand, but an intimate place that belongs to us and a physical place to which we belong. Like the neighboring shepherds or the Three Wise Men coming from far away, we set off in the dark of winter, fascinated by a light or a story that takes us into a cave to be close to a family and a child who warm our hearts. And so today our presence in Bethlehem wants to be a gesture of closeness to the other and to the people who through the charity we meet happy and eager to relive the warmth of that meeting in the same place where it really happened. Bethlehem still tells us about the beauty and simplicity of an event that changed humanity. A story that belongs to us and that we are called today to preserve.