Bethlehem Christians hope for Irish pilgrims’ return after bishop’s plea

Bethlehem Christians hope for Irish pilgrims’ return after bishop’s plea A Palestinian Catholic from Bethlehem lights a candle in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2022. Photo: CNS/Debbie Hill

Christians in the birthplace of Christ hope for the return of Irish pilgrims after a plea from a Palestinian bishop to support for the local Christian population.

Bethlehem Christians are “still in darkness” due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, but they hope to see pilgrims return soon, local guides and shop owners told The Irish Catholic.

“We hope they come back, they want to come back,” tour guide Louis Michel said.

“We keep in our prayers the hope that everything will get better and calm, that there will be a good solution, so that tourists can come back,” he added.

David Tabash, who runs a Christian souvenir store in Bethlehem, said the people are “still in darkness”, but he hopes for a truce soon and the return of pilgrims.

“Some days we open our eyes and wonder what we are doing here in Bethlehem, we feel pessimistic – but our faith is bigger than this,” he said.

“There will be light at the end, I believe it will stop… I live where Jesus was born, people will come again,” said Mr Tabash.

A Christian Palestinian tour guide based in Bethlehem who did not want to be identified said he hopes everything will get back to normal, but times are difficult.

“I don’t know if it will be soon – everybody is suffering but there is always hope, our Faith gives us hope.”

The Bethlehem Christians’ comments come after Palestinian-born Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem urged pilgrims to return to the Holy Land.

Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims had to leave the Holy Land on emergency flights following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks.

The absence of pilgrims has had a dramatic effect on the region’s tiny Christian minority in particular, given that many Christians are employed working with pilgrims.

“As churches, we want people to visit Nazareth, Jerusalem, Tiberias and Bethlehem with other Palestinian places,” Bishop Shomali told OSV News.

According to Bishop Shomali, “It is true that there are difficulties because of security, but still Jericho and Bethlehem can be visited”.

“The visit to Bethlehem is possible, even during the war,” he said.