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Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity

Posted By: OrthoMan

Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 12:24 PM

2002.05.25 Scripps Howard News Service:

URL: http://www.naplesnews.com/02/05/neapolitan/d780258a.htm
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Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity

Saturday, May 25, 2002

By TERRY MATTINGLY, Scripps Howard News Service


The Gate of Humility into the Church of the Nativity is just over four feet
high and was added in 1272 A.D. to help repel raiders.

Visitors must stoop or bow in submission. Once inside, most tourists -
about 1.25 million a year, in peaceful times - quickly queue on the right
side of the fifth-century Orthodox basilica and wait to enter the Grotto of
the Nativity beneath the high altar.

I passed through the gate two years ago and headed for the altar icons. A
priest appeared.

"You are American? You are Orthodox?" he asked, before assisting me. "We
have so few people who come here to pray."

Frankly, I was glad to have a guide in the maze. The main lesson I learned
was that the Church of the Nativity is not one building.

Nevertheless, most news about the recent Bethlehem siege described it as
one church served by 30 or more priests, monks and nuns. Sadly, the reality
is more splintered than that and recent events may have deepened the cracks.

Journalists said Palestinians in "the monastery" exchanged fire with
Israeli troops. Which monastery? There are separate Roman Catholic and
Greek monasteries and an Armenian Orthodox convent as well. "The priests"
said they were not held hostage. Which priests? Gunmen, some said, raided
food supplies and trashed monastic cells. In which cloister? It is not even
clear how the Palestinians entered "the church."

Time magazine reported that they used the Gate of Humility.

Yet it's hard to imagine several dozen al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leaders,
Tanzim militia, Hamas fighters and Palestinian Authority police being
allowed through the Gate of Humility with 90 weapons, including assault
rifles and enough explosives for a reported 40 booby-traps.

Newsweek and numerous other publications say they shot their way through
the main doors of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine, a
19th-century sanctuary adjoining the Orthodox basilica. But other reports
said the Franciscan priests opened these doors.

Either way, how did gunmen get from the Franciscan passageways into the
ancient basilica? Why did Palestinians, as some photos claim to show - end
up sleeping on its cold stone floor, rather than in the Catholic
sanctuary's pews? Orthodox churches do not have pews.

The Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem believes these are not trivial
questions. His words could not have been more blunt, as reporters surveyed
the Greek monastery after the siege.

"All the media concentrated on the Franciscan quarter, where little damage
was done," said Patriarch Irineos I, according to a Washington Times
report. "Why? The Franciscans actually let the gunmen in then guided the
gunmen to our rooms. ... The Franciscans then blocked their own rooms'
doors with iron bars."

The New York Times and other publications reported that the most militant
Palestinians appear to have lived, fought and died in the quarters of the
Orthodox monks. Greek clerics feared Muslims would even attempt to claim
these bloody sites as shrines. At one point, gunmen tried to bury one of
their dead in the Greek monastery's garden.

Franciscan priests did report that gunmen tore up Bibles for toilet paper.
The organ in their church was damaged, as was a mosaic. Meanwhile,
Palestinian and Israeli leaders traded accusations about who caused fires
in the monasteries. The militants stole candelabra, icons and other golden
objects, but left them behind with their weapons. Everyone leaving the
basilica passed through a metal detector.

A Vatican envoy quickly ruled that St. Catherine's had not been defiled.
The first Mass after the siege was celebratory, complete with the sound of
a tambourine. Reporters noted that this church's main gate had been
repaired, since it appeared that gunmen shot off the lock.

Next door, Patriarch Irineos led solemn reconsecration rites, before the
first Divine Liturgy in his violated sanctuary. One altar had been used a
common table, the baptismal font as a washtub and parts of the nave as
latrines. The Grotto of the Nativity was used as a morgue.

And Eastern Orthodox believers were unable to celebrate Holy Week and their
Easter on May 5.

Was this another tragic first in the history of one of Christendom's oldest
churches? The siege raised agonizing questions inside the Church of the
Nativity, as well as outside of its ancient walls.
The New York Times and other publications reported that the most militant Palestinians appear to have lived, fought and died in the quarters of the Orthodox monks.The Franciscans actually let the gunmen in then guided the gunmen to our rooms...The Franciscians then blocked their own rooms' doors with iron bars.
Posted By: Orthodox Catholic

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 01:56 PM

Dear Orthoman,

Agonizing indeed . . .

If this is all true, this doesn't reflect well on the sons of St Francis there.

Another instance where the Orthodox get the short end of the stick - and the world could care less.

Alex
Posted By: Lemko Rusyn

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 04:10 PM

Quote
Originally posted by Orthodox Catholic:
Another instance where the Orthodox get the short end of the stick - and the world could care less.


Dear Alex,
I think actually the world couldn't care less, but maybe you live in a different world than I do. smile

[ 05-29-2002: Message edited by: Lemko Rusyn ]
Posted By: Moose

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 04:51 PM

As I watched the news during the siege the video clips always seemed to show Franciscans. I had wondered if the Orthodox monastics were somehow being held hostage or were otherwise restricted in their freedom to move about. This report suggests that the Franciscans sacrificed the territory and persons of their brother Orthodox monastics to save themselves. Not the best witness of Christian love!
Posted By: Orthodox Catholic

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 04:53 PM

Dear Lemko,

In response to both your points I would have to say, "More than likely" smile .

Alex
Posted By: Sharon Mech

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 05:21 PM

Until more information is available, I think we are speculating without adequate data.

In the Middle Ages, at least SOME Franciscans were held in high regard by SOME Muslims. I could Hope Very Hard that perhaps some of that was in play during this tragic situation.......


Sharon


Sharon Mech, SFO
Cantor & sinner
sharon@cmhc.com
Posted By: Kelly

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 05:27 PM

This article was very sad to read... whatever the truth may be, Lord, have mercy!!
Posted By: no one

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 05:39 PM

I have to agree with Sharon about this, lets not judge the friars without hearing both sides of the story. About 22 years ago I was a candidate with the Franciscans for the Custody of the Holy Land. I probably know some of the friars assigned to Bethlehem. I cannot see them doing the things they are accused of doing, unless they had no other choice in the matter. We have to remember that the relations between the Latins and Orthodox are not good, never have been and probably never will be...and both sides are to blame over the centuries. If these allegations are true, there may be circumstances we are not away of or it could even be that the Orthodox monks are placing blame on those perfidious Latins for something they may have done theirselves. But until the time that ALL facts are known, lets avoid ascribing blame for something we don't know anything about. Don
Posted By: Our Lady's slave

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 06:17 PM

Don
Amen to your post - we were not there , we are only aware of what has been reported - and dreadful it is too.

Let us wait and see if we ever hear the full and accurate story. Till then we should pray for all who were involved - they will never forget it

Angela
Posted By: Amadeus

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/29/02 06:26 PM

Dear Orthoman:

Agreeing with Sharon and Don on withholding judgment before we are apprised of all the surrounding facts, my memory is, however, refreshed by these events culminating in the lifting of the siege at the Church of Nativity:

1. During the initial stages of the siege, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem tried in vain to intercede on behalf of the Christians caught in the conflict. However, he was not heeded by the Israeli authorities and he was stopped short of entering the compound when he led an inter-denominational march.

2. All the while, the Vatican conducted a flurry of diplomatic moves by directing the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and the Apostolic Legate to the PLO to intervene in the conflict and to hold diplomatic talks with the Israeli government. Coetaneous with these diplomatic moves was the Vatican's public declaration that the compound, i.e., including the Church of the Nativity (which is traditionally owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem but shared with the Armenian Orthodox) are under the "Custos", or the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, thus coming under the direct protection of the Vatican. This Vatican "sleight of hand" somehow stopped the Israelis from reducing the compound into rubbles and allowed the treatment of the sick and wounded and the evacuation of the dead. Some food was also allowed to be delivered to the besieged.

3. Then His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, send his personal emissary, Cardinal Etchegaray, a respected diplomat, to Israel to cement the deals previously made by the Apostolic Nuncio and the other diplomatic representatives from Israel, the PLO, the U.S. and other interested countries.

4. Afterwards, we see Franciscan friars escorting Palestinians out of the compound.

AmdG
Posted By: Diak

Re: Agonizing questions inside the Church of the Nativity - 05/30/02 01:18 AM

I'm with Don and Sharon - the good friars certainly are due the benefit of the doubt. It's not like mainstream media is necessarily known for its technical details nor depth of research before blurting something out.
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