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Monday, October 24, 2016
Bethlehem: more than 800 Christian children welcome world church leaders
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¬†The Archbishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev Patrick Kelly, together with world church leaders and heads of the Christian churches of Jerusalem, were greeted by more than 800 Christian children from thirty parishes across Palestine in Bethlehem on Friday. The lively procession of children came from Bethlehem and its sister cities of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Jerusalem, Abboud, Nablus, Ramallah and elsewhere. It also included Christian children from the Israeli city of Nazareth. For many youngsters, this was their first trip to Bethlehem ≠ although all the towns are very close to each other, travel within the area is very restricted by security measures around Bethlehem and the wall which surrounds it. After parading through the streets of Bethlehem, the children attended an ecumenical service at the Church of the Nativity where they heard sermons by local and visiting Christian leaders under the theme of Christ's words: "Allow the children and do not forbid them to come unto me; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to ones like these" {Matt 19. 12-15]. Speeches by the church leaders spoke about the joy of life, reflected by the children, but also their longing for the time when the wall that separates Bethlehem from the neighbouring cities has gone. Archbishop Kelly, heading a delegation from the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, said his visit was part of an ongoing programme to support Christians in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, reminding the congregation that: "The first Christmas began here in extraordinary political circumstances under Roman occupation, yet the light shone through. As Pope Paul VI said: 'If you want peace, work for Justice'. This is why we are here today." The Archbishop said his visit represented the third stage over the past month, in the commitment by the Catholic community in England and Wales to the Church in the Holy Land. "The first stage was the ecumenical pilgrimage just before Christmas in which Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor took part," he said, adding that A the Christmas Eve Mass dedicated to Bethlehem at Liverpool Cathedral and filmed by the BBC, had been the second stage. Archbishop Kelly was accompanied by the recently-appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, William Kenney. Bishop Kenney said: "Peace begins with children. They are the future. Today Bethlehem feels exactly as it was 2000 years ago. The city was under occupation and Christ was born here because of the occupation. This is a very important occasion because it reminds us that children are the same everywhere and they should be allowed to be the same." The pilgrimage was organized by The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), a nonprofit organization based in the Holy Land and the US that aims at bridging the gap between Christian communities in the world and Arab-Christians of the Holy Land. In his address, George Ghattas from the HCEF said "the children represent the future of the Christian community and the life of the living stones of the Holy Land". The term 'Living Stones' refers to the communities from which Christ drew his disciples, and who remain a living community in the Holy Land. The 'Living Stones' are also described as a 'Fifth Gospel' who keep alive the language, customs, culture and a continuing tradition from Christ's time. Archbishop Kelly said: "I think that the living stones here are important. I think that we all believe the church will be much poorer if, for instance, we have no people who spoke Aramaic, the language of Christ. They bring it all to life." The children represented the variety of denominations of the Holy Land: Latin Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Syriacs (whose liturgy is in Aramiac), Lutheran, Presbyterians and Greek Catholic or 'Malakites', the indigenous church of Palestine and a Uniate church in full communion with Rome. The day ended at the Peace Centre on Manger Square were all church leaders joined the Peace Centre staff to distribute Christmas presents to the children.
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