The ancient basilica on the site of Jesus’ birth has been given world heritage status by Unesco, the educational, scientific and cultural agency of the United Nations.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built over the cave venerated as Christ’s birthplace, is the oldest complete church in the Christian world. It was dedicated in 339.
Unesco also granted the site endangered status and funding for repairs — despite strong objections from the United States and Israel.
Bethlehem is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule. Israel saw the Palestinian move to gain world heritage status for the church as an effort to embarrass Israel on the world stage.
Last year, Unesco granted the Palestinians full membership, a decision seen at the time as a boost to their bid, since largely stalled, to win unilateral statehood recognition from the United Nations.
The Palestinian Authority’s request included part of the Pilgrimage Route, the path which tradition says Joseph and Mary took to the city on their journey from Nazareth 2000 years ago.
The Palestinian government plans to register about 20 more sites with Unesco, including the ancient city of Jericho and the archaeological site of Sebastia — a traditional site for the burial of St John the Baptist.
The Church of the Nativity is almost wholly a Greek Orthodox place of worship, while the Armenian Orthodox and Catholics have rights to some areas.
More than two million people visit the church each year.
Commenting on Unesco’s decision, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzabella, OFM, said all three churches hoped that “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”.
News category: World.