Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

Who was the first Christian group in the church after the Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem?

I saw a special on PBS Frontline the other day on the Siege of Bethlehem and it ended with these lines:

"NARRATOR: But this is the Holy Land. The conflict isn't over yet. Lior's last task is to mediate between three Christian orders, all of whom want to be the first to enter the Church of the Nativity.

Lt. Col. LIOR: [to monks] This is a happy day. It's a happy day. I want everybody to go behind the- [crosstalk]"

Does anyone know which order was the first to enter? The last?

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    The clean-up crew:

    "The smell of Pine-Sol and incense wafted through the Church of the Nativity yesterday as clerics and residents scrubbed the ancient stones of the basilica, reclaiming one of the holiest sites in Christianity.

    The sanctity of the compound had been violated, clerics and residents said, by the Palestinian gunmen who forced their way into the church April 2 and the Israeli forces who ringed it with snipers, killing seven gunmen and wounding 22 people inside, including an Armenian monk.

    The day after the siege ended, Christian residents arrived early in the morning - along with some Muslim neighbors - to clean up grimy mattresses, blankets, trash, cigarette butts, and cooking utensils left behind by the roughly 200 people who lived inside the church during the ordeal.

    By yesterday afternoon, the church was spotless once again.

    The physical damage to the compound was disheartening, but not irreparable. The Franciscan Parish Center was gutted by a fire that both sides blamed the other for starting. But the icons, crosses, and frescoes inside the church were not harmed.

    A marble statue of the Virgin Mary in an exterior courtyard was nicked by Israeli sniper fire. The lemon trees in the courtyard were picked clean by the people inside, who at certain points during the siege were drained by hunger when Israelis blocked food from entering the compound.

    Windows all around the perimeter of the church were shot out by the Israeli snipers, and yesterday Armenian monks and local residents worked together measuring the windows for new panes.

    The cleanup was interdenominational, those involved said.

    "We all helped. And there were Muslims who came in and offered to lend a hand," said Khulud Bahnan, 27, a Roman Catholic Palestinian.

    Some Palestinian residents of Bethlehem - about 15 percent of whom are Christian and the rest Muslim - have expressed concern that the siege, which was begun when a group of Muslim militants retreated into the church during a gun battle with Israelis, had frayed relations between the two faiths.

    "I don't like that the fighters brought guns in the church. I don't like that the Israelis killed people inside our church. But we Christians and Muslims have lived together for centuries. Working together reminded us that we are one people. We cannot let the Israelis divide us," Bahnan added.

    The 39-day siege ended after 13 militants were deported to Cyprus and 26 others were sent to the Gaza Strip.

    Israel then withdrew its troops from Bethlehem, where residents had been confined to their homes under round-the-clock curfews.

    Nadia Hazboun, 30, a teacher at St. Jospeh's Roman Catholic School, had spent the morning scrubbing the cobblestones of a courtyard, which the Palestinians and Western peace activists holed up in the sixth century building had used as a public urinal.

    By late afternoon she was well-dressed and ready for a poignant Mass at 5 p.m. Church bells rang for the start of the service as she explained the relief she felt at the end of Israeli occupation and curfew.

    "This is my first day outside the house in 39 days. The people inside the church were not the only ones who were under siege. We have all suffered from the Israeli occupation," she said.

    The cleanup was kept in line with a stringent 19th century Ottoman decree outlining the precise areas and processional rites for each denomination. That meant that the Greek Orthodox cleaned the basilica, the Franciscan Order scrubbed its St. Catherine's Parish Church and residence, and the Armenian Orthodox cleaned their chapel and compound.

    Under the traditional decree, the right to clean an area is seen as the right to possession of the guarded and coveted sacred space.

    The Rev. Athanasius Macora, a straight-talking Texan assigned by the Franciscan Order to uphold the decree at Christian shrines in the Holy Land, was at the church when the denominations reclaimed it.

    He said that the violation by both sides of the conflict was a "serious matter," which the Greek Orthodox, the Franciscans, and the Armenians would be studying together and assessing.

    Israel has expressed pride in a half-century history of protecting sacred sites of all three faiths in the Holy Land. But Franciscan, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox officials said they felt that reputation may be tarnished by the siege. The Palestinian Authority, which observers say has a shorter and less respected history of protecting holy sites, will also be examined, Macora added.

    Israeli Major Shmuel Hamburger has been involved in Israel's efforts to uphold the sanctity of holy sites in the West Bank since 1975 and helped to implement the agreement that ended the siege.

    "If we would have disregarded the sanctity of the place we could have finished this story very easily," he said. "You don't have to be a strategist to know this."

    The Vatican has long pushed for "international guarantees" as a buffer of protection around the holy sites in areas under both Israeli and Palestinian Authority control.

    Macora said that the Holy See would use the aftermath of the siege to push once again for the guarantees, which would form an international body to oversee the Christian shrines.

    "We never want to see the birthplace of Jesus become a battlefield again," Macora said. "Both sides need to accept their responsibilities in this matter."

  • 1 decade ago

    I have a friend who is a Franciscan and he was trapped in there during the siege. It's hard to say any of the Christian groups, whether Catholic or Orthodox, was "first in after the siege because they were in there the whole time and worked hard to negotiate a peaceful solution.

    The Church of the Nativity is in the joint control of the Roman Catholic Church and the Sister Churches of Orthodoxy. There were priests and monks from many of the Orthodox sects, as well several Catholic monks, priests and nuns who were in the church the entire time. They were also there to clean up afterwards. The problems were compounded by the fact that the Israelis cut water and power to the church during the siege to make it more unpleasant, so they were cooking on little fires and had no toilet facilities the whole time.

    In the end, the compromise was just to let all three orders in simultaneously and get the mess cleaned up.

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