Friday, December 30, 2011

"Peace on Earth?" Not at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:10-14

As reported by Mark Weiss of the London Daily Telegraph on December 28, 2011:

The annual Christmas cleanup at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity turned into a mass brawl on Wednesday as rival clergy from the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations attacked each other with broom sticks.

Club- wielding Palestinian police stormed into the church, the traditional birthplace of Christ, to break up the fist fight which involved about 100 priests and monks.

The 6th Century holy site is jointly administered by the Latin, Orthodox and Armenian churches, with each fiercely guarding their turf against possible encroachment from the rival sects.

Bethlehem police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi said order was quickly restored and such scuffles between the rival clergy occur every year. "No one was arrested because all those involved were men of God," he explained.

Every year the different denominations co-operate in the annual Christmas cleaning operation which occurs between the Latin Christmas and early January, when the Orthodox sects celebrate Christmas.

Tension and scuffles between rival clergy are also common at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is also jointly administered by the Latin, Orthodox and Armenian churches.

The Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem, and Israel, which controls Jerusalem's Old City, adopted the delicate status quo in operation since the British mandate, under which no changes, however minor, can be made without the approval of all three denominations.

The result has been that the Church of the Nativity has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair.

Last month, after years of arguments, the sects finally reached agreement to replace the church's leaking roof. The renovations, planned for next year, will mark the first major repairs in 150 years.

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