Our team traveled to Bethlehem on Sunday night, about a 2 hour journey by public transit. We went to show solidarity with the Palestinian Christian church by attending a concert at the Church of St Catherine.
The famous Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. It is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus. Adjoining the Church of the Nativity is the Church of St Catherine, a gothic style Roman Catholic Church that served as the location of Sunday night’s concert.
We arrived in Bethlehem around 5pm, in time to get an iced coffee at “Stars and Bucks” – a local coffee shop that achieves full marks for clever marketing. We walked up to Manger Square, the area outside the two churches, and went into the Church of the Nativity. The line to get down to the grotto, the area reputed to be the “exact” birth place of Jesus, was long with an abundance of tour groups. We decided not to wait and left the church to meander around the neighbouring streets in search of a quick bite of supper before the 6pm concert.
The concert “Exultate Deo” was performed by a German choir, the “Trierer Konzert Chor”, with assistance from the local “Olive Branches Bethlehem” choir. The program consisted of several numbers sang in either Latin or German that took us through the various stages of the life of the Messiah – from the annunciation, through the birth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The sound of the music as it resonated through this historical church was beyond description. To hear the story of Jesus, the Christ, sung with such clarity and beauty in Bethlehem, the place of His birth, was a deeply spiritual experience.
The closing number, accompanied by the magnificent pipe organ, was “Da Pacem, Domine”, a prayer for peace. Never have I felt the poignancy of a prayer for peace more so than I did that night. Amidst the occupation of this “Holy Land”, amidst the pain of suffering caused by violence, fear, distrust, self righteousness and absolute hatred, rang out a prayer for peace. I thought of the people of the South Hebron Hills, the people we meet on a daily basis whose lives are so detrimentally affected by this occupation. I thought of the those who perpetrate violence against them and of the effect this must have on their souls. I realized there were tears running down my face, and with the choir my heart joined in the prayer, translated into English as “Lord grant us peace, we pray to thee. May wars and conflict cease, Lord. Show us thy love, grant us thy peace. Lord, guide your people, guide us. We cry out for peace, O Lord. Inspire peace makers, they shall see God, O Lord.” In the name of Jesus, the one whose life we celebrated this evening, the one who stood so clearly for justice, for peace and for nonviolence, we pray. Amen
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,