Thursday, December 27, 2012


by Sr. Donatella Lessio
Sister Donatella Lessio, from Bethlehem's Caritas Baby Hospital, talks to AsiaNews about Christmas in the town of Bethlehem. For the nun, lights decorating homes and religious buildings are far different from those of consumerism. They are a small sign of the immense light of God Almighty who gave us his son.

Bethlehem (AsiaNews) - As a Catholic I am not that happy that the festive spirit is stronger on Fridays than on Sundays, but that is normal in a predominantly Muslim country. However, when Christmas comes along, things are different. A unique atmosphere comes alive at the start of Advent. As days follow each other, expectations intensify, for in Bethlehem, the city and Christmas are one and the same.
In no other country is the symbiosis so strong. After all, the Prince of Peace, whose birth Catholics celebrate on 25 December, was born right here. Here Christmas also comes in three versions. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates it on 25 December; the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates it on January 6 and the Armenian Catholic Church on 18 January, three days to remember the day that changed the fate of humanity.
Some people complain about the three days as if they were different children to celebrate, a token of divisions among Churches. That's one way of looking at it but I prefer to think that our God deserves three celebrations. He did an extraordinary thing sending us his son in flesh and blood to tell us that he loves us. When extraordinary and important events occur do we not celebrate them more than one day? Does our God not have a right to the three feast days?
Despite a somewhat turbulent political situation, the atmosphere here in Bethlehem is festive. Various Christmas concerts have been performed one after the other. Orchestras and choirs have performed carols that warmed the hearts of listeners. Prayers have been held by parishes and various groups to meditate on the Word that became flesh. Patriarchs and the Custodian (of the Holy Land) have come to Bethlehem, as eastern kings did, to pay homage to the Child Jesus whose light has illuminated the way against darkness since time immemorial.
The patriarch of the Church of Jerusalem came to the Caritas Baby Hospital on 17 December for a moment of intense prayer and brotherhood with the facility's medical, nursing and support staff. For the latter, it was an intense moment, one of communion, with the bishop of Jerusalem.
Everyone got ready for the great celebration of Christmas Night. There was a lot of excitement in the air. During Midnight Mass, local and foreign choirs sang in the square, filling the air with their voices, imitating and perhaps trying to outdo the choir of angels whose melodious voice resounded more than 2,000 years as it sang 'Gloria in excelsis Deo'.
Every street was illuminated. Lights fit in here; they do not smack of consumerism as they do elsewhere in the world. They are a small sign of the immense Light that Almighty God gave us with the birth of his Son. As Saint John said in his prologue, "The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world." There is no darkness in Bethlehem's main streets, lights show the way to those who follow in them, a "theological light" I would say.
At Caritas Baby Hospital, we prepared for Christmas. Decorations in the hospital announced the approaching festivity. Crèches were set up in each ward. In the grotto, only the child was missing. In the past, a Muslim child or a Muslim mother would place him at midnight on 24 December, since for Muslims, Jesus is a prophet.
In the afternoon of Christmas Eve, a boys' choir from Lugano (Switzerland) sang Christmas carols, a show of closeness and solidarity by healthy children to ill children recovering at the Caritas Baby Hospital. Children understand each other better than adults.
On the feast day of St Stephen, doctors dressed up as clowns gave patients gifts received from around the world.
Usually, gifts are sent throughout the year and we put aside them aside for this occasion so that even the poorest children can have one. It is one way of recreating that moment in Jesus' nativity when the shepherds gave the child what they had. For us, the children who come to our hospital are a bit today's 'child Jesus'.
From Bethlehem, Merry Christmas to all!

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