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Hundreds of Children Arrive in Bethlehem as part of “Bethlehem Heart of ‎Christmas”‎

by Imemc

On Friday, December 16th, 350 children from around Palestine visited Bethlehem’s holy ‎sites to learn first-hand about Palestine’s living Christian heritage. The event was part of the ‎Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s 12th Annual “Journey to Bethlehem.” 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, ‎Birzei

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 Christians believe 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 ‎the children.‎

According to organizers, 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 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.‎

The Regional Director of Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Anthony Habash, said ‎the procession carried the message of peace and hope to the entire world, and delivers a ‎message that the children of Palestine, just like all other children, deserve to live in dignity, ‎justice and peace.‎

He added that the children in this procession, who came from different parts of the West ‎Bank, are Christians and Muslims, and delivered a message or brotherhood and peace, the ‎message of Christmas in the holy city of Bethlehem.‎

Habash expressed his hope that such activities will build help break in restrictions and ‎barriers imposed by the Israeli occupation army in Palestine.‎

For his part, Kayed Boulos, vice-president of Terra Sancta School in Jericho, said he came ‎to Bethlehem in a procession of peace, to introduce the children to the birthplace of Jesus ‎Christ in Bethlehem, and to introduce them to its historic and religious importance.‎

Samer Sharqawi, the head of Ta’ayush grassroots movement, said the visit and this activity ‎aims at introducing the children of Palestine to Bethlehem, and its significance.‎
Sharqawi added that Palestine is the land of coexistence and dialogue, and sets an historic ‎example of love and brotherhood, and that the children, who came from Tulkarem, Jenin, ‎Jericho, Nablus and Bethlehem, got this great opportunity to learn about Bethlehem, and to ‎learn about all holy sites in their homeland.‎

Sister Mariam Ba’abish of the Rosemary School said there are many children who do not ‎know the importance of all holy sites in Palestine, and that this activity was a great ‎opportunity for them to meet and learn.‎

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