Christian pilgrims pray inside the Grotto of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity. Pilgrims travelling the ancient route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (the likely path taken by Mary and Joseph) now hit a dead end: a concrete wall and metal gate under the lock and key of the Israeli army.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has urged all Christians to try to visit Bethlehem as a place of pilgrimage and to remember the “struggling” town in their prayers.
In a letter last month to Victor Batarseh, the mayor of Bethlehem, Archbishop Williams expressed his concern for the fate of the area.
“I am aware of the severe hardship which many are suffering; the decline of tourism, the difficulties of access and movement and the struggle to sustain the economic and social life of the city,” wrote Archbishop Williams. “I am distressed to hear that the current situation has prompted so many families, especially Christians, to leave the city and seek security and stability elsewhere. I have raised these concerns directly with the Israeli authorities.”
Archbishop Williams said that Christians throughout the world could play their part: “I urge Christians worldwide to support your community, to visit you whenever possible and to pray for the people of Bethlehem that they may not be forgotten. We pray for the day when a just and lasting peace will be established in the region which will bring freedom, dignity and security to all the people of Bethlehem.”
The letter was presented by an Anglican delegation from the United Kingdom led by the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle.