For those of you who have been following the "Saga of the Advent Bazaar" in Bethlehem (that had to be cancelled last Sunday), I am delighted to report that it became a reality today, 8 December, one of Mary's feasts. Bazaar booths from many European countries and from Africa lined Bethlehem Square on three sides, leaving the eastern side open facing the basilica, as people gathered awaiting the Internationals who would be coming to staff the booths. But the Internationals were stuck in the long line at the Israeli roadblock/checkpoint into Bethlehem for almost an hour and a half as the Israeli Occupation Force made it difficult to enter the West Bank. Finally several Internationals left their vehicles and stood watching what the soldiers were doing (or not doing) and even taking pictures of how they were treating people at the checkpoint. One British woman reported that it was worse than anything she experienced in Eastern Europe years ago. The presence of the Internationals watching them did not please the soldiers/border police, so they begin to let the cars pass into Bethlehem at a faster pace. As one Palestinian approached the checkpoint and was allowed to enter his hometown without a tortuous wait, he turned to the Internationals and said, "God bless you". The reaction of the Internationals was to admit that it would make a great deal of difference to have Internationals as observers at the roadblock checkpoints on a regular basis. In the meantime families from Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala milled around in Nativity Square greeting one another and visiting; children were excited and an atmosphere of expectation was tangible. Finally when the Internationals arrived and displayed the work and food from their countries, the array was marvellous. Colourful bead work from Africa drew not just teenage attention, but adults as well. Famous German stolen and British rum and brandy cakes sold quickly, as well as Cadbury Advent calendars of chocolates -- all for very low prices, since there are so few wage earners now that travel agents, hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants have been closed for over a year and so many business establishments were destroyed by the recent Israeli invasion. Other European booths were also doing brisk business, but they were so crowded that I could not get close enough to see what they were selling or giving away. There were clowns. give-away balloons in animal shapes and books for the children. The Palestinian women had a booth and were selling their exquisite embroidery work at very modest prices. Then the choirs began to sing and the music had a marvellous effect on all of us. I do believe that the Advent bazaar lifted the spirits of the residents of this besieged town and helped them realize that the international community had not forgotten them. It seemed odd that the United States did not have a booth. I wondered if the bazaar was too religious or too political or too what? But I did see Americans there; they helped staff the booths of other countries and spent their dollars in Bethlehem. They certainly were not afraid to enter into the Advent spirit nor to join the Christian community in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. God bless those who came to work, but especially Isabel de la Cruz from the Bethlehem Peace Centre, who refused to let Advent and the Christmas season in Bethlehem pass uncelebrated. She is the driving force for the whole calendar of events leading up to Christmas. These people deserve the thanks of the world-wide Christian community, as they made this event a success. The proceeds of the bazaar will be used to provide the children of Bethlehem with winter coats. And God bless the traumatized children of Bethlehem; may their town have the "stillness" that soon the world will be singing about in the Christmas carols. May the people of Bethlehem be spared another invasion by the Israeli Occupation Force. Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Jerusalem
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