´Exclude politics from Nativity Church management´ (JERUSALEM POST) By JEREMY SHARON 07/03/12)
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Following UNESCO decision, church leaders express hope that
traditional guardians of Bethlehem site will preserve their
jurisdiction of it.
Church leaders in Israel are opposed to any politicization of the
Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and other places of worship, and
expressed hope that the traditional guardians of the site would
preserve their jurisdiction of it.
Following a UNESCO decision last week to list the basilica as a World
Heritage Site under “Palestine,” Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the
appointed custodian of the Holy Land – responsible for oversight and
upkeep of Christian holy sites in the Middle East – said that the
Church of the Nativity must remain first and foremost a place of
“The custodian of the Holy Land reiterates the position of the
churches: This holy place cannot, and should not, be instrumentalized
for any use that is alien to its character,” Pizzaballa said in a
statement to the press.
“Our hope in the churches...is that the holy sites will be considered
first and foremost as holy places of worship, and that cultural and
political issues, whether local or international, are excluded from
their management, daily life and dynamics,” Pizzaballa added, saying
that the must remain “places of peace and serenity for all the
pilgrims and should not become places of difficult coexistence.”
At the end of April, Pizzaballa, along with the Greek Orthodox
Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus III, and Patriarch of the Armenian
Church Archbishop Torkom Manoogian sent a letter to Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressing their opposition to the
Church of the Nativity’s candidacy for World Heritage status.
“In our opinion, we do not think it opportune to deal with this
request that the basilica and its entire complex be included in the
list of World Heritage sites,” the three clerics wrote, “due to
different considerations, the minor of which his that the operating
conditions required by the statues of UNESCO, necessary to include
it, do not exist.”
The Franciscan order of the Catholic church which Pizzaballa heads,
along with the Armenian and Greek Orthodox Patriarchates of
Jerusalem, jointly administer the site.
In his comments on UNESCO’s decision, Pizzaballa said that he was
under the impression, before the decision was announced, that the
vote taken in St. Petersburg on Friday pertained only to the Old City
of Bethlehem and not to the basilica itself.
In their April letter, the church leaders noted that they did not
oppose the listing of the Old City of Bethlehem as a UNESCO site.
Archbishop Aris Shirvanian of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem
told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the unanimous position of the
three churches is that they must keep their jurisdiction of the
basilica intact, and that neither UNESCO nor other organizations or
churches should be given any administrative rights.
He would not comment on concerns about the politicization of the
site, but did say that “since the church is in Bethlehem there are no
objections to it being listed in Palestine.”
However, Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of
Jerusalem said that the work done by the Palestinian Authority to
have the Church of the Nativity listed as a UNESCO World Heritage
site was a significant achievement, and added that the PA has
provided written guarantees that it will not intervene in the
internal affairs of the site, in particular the “status quo”
agreement which defines the relations amongst the various
denominations administering the Church.
In Pizzaballa’s comments, he also noted that Abbas had guaranteed the
full autonomy of the three churches in the management of the sites.
(© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 07/03/12)
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