What You Don’t Know About Bethlehem

I bet you’re unaware that the “little town of Bethlehem” we sing cute carols about is today surrounded by a large, concrete barrier wall secured by armed Israeli guards. You’re also probably unaware that this wall has been funded by U.S. tax dollars. The wall keeps the Palestinian Christians and Muslims living inside Bethlehem from the Israelis living outside the wall. These are just facts.

As a pilgrim in the Holy Land, I had the chance to easily pass through the separation wall. However, the citizens of Bethlehem – and other Palestinian territories surrounded by the wall – are kept from seeing their families and friends on the other side. Everywhere we walked in Bethlehem, men and boys would peddle handcrafted goods to us foreigners, because they cannot leave their own city to sell their goods. Many of my fellow pilgrims and I bought things that we didn’t necessarily need (handbags, shawls, etc.) because we knew that the food and well-being of these peddlers’ families came from our patronage.

If you are a Catholic, then I hope you know that many of our fathers in faith, the bishops, gathered with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in October to discuss the Middle East. Afterwards, they released a message to the people of the world.

You are obligated, as a member of the Body of Christ, to be in solidarity with your fellow members. This is one of the greatest lessons that I learned on pilgrimage. St. Paul reminds us: “But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (1 Cor. 12:24-27)

This Advent and Christmas season, I challenge you to take a few minutes of your day to learn about the Christians living in Palestine. They are descendants of the first followers of Jesus, many of them more Catholic than I could ever hope to be. I have prayed in their churches and eaten food prepared by their hands. They are beautiful, warm, friendly, peace-loving people. Take some time to balance your perspective with articles like, “Witnessing the Strangulation of Bethlehem.”

These are the stories that are not told in the evening news.

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