A few hours after the expected news and Bethlehem is already celebrating the milestone attained ...
UNESCO has included the Basilica of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route on the list of World Heritage sites. This was decided by the World Heritage Committee meeting in St. Petersburg and it’s the first time a Palestinian site has been included among the sites protected by the cultural organization of the UN.
The Basilica, which is in need of restoration, is one of the destinations most visited by pilgrims in the Holy Land.
The candidature of this site has caused perplexity among those who administer the Basilica from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody of the Holy Land and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. They had expressed hopes that this important recognition referred primarily to the City of Bethlehem, rather than to the Basilica itself.
What was decided today in St. Petersburg is nevertheless "important news" according to the Custodian of the Holy Land.
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custodian of the Holy Land, said:
"It must be said that this nomination concerns the Old City of Bethlehem, and not just the Basilica, and this puts it in a different position to what was planned.
The President of the Palestinian Authority, President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), has clearly said, even in a formal letter to our Churches (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custody and the Armenians), that he guarantees the full autonomy of the Churches in the management of the holy sites. He also guarantees respect for the Status Quo and respect in the management of ordinary affairs. This assurance is very important".
As noted, the decision from St. Petersburg comes after a long and heated discussion that often encroached on the minefield of political and diplomatic conflict. 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 religious character.
Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Custodian of the Holy Land , added:
"Our hope in the Churches, and this has always been our position, 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. They must remain places of peace and serenity for all the pilgrims and should not become places of difficult coexistence. This is our hope for Bethlehem and for all the holy places".
This site is indeed, and always has been, a heritage for all humanity in the most profound and true meaning of that expression, even without additional definitions. This is because the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem is above all a sacred place – the place of Christ's birth and the beginning of a new historical era for all mankind. The entire Church in the Holy Land wants to preserve this spiritual and supranational role. It is a universal religious dimension that needs to be protected and respected.