Bethlehem, a new home for a Christmas of peace and sharing

Giacomo Pizzi17 December 2018

Placing the little houses, the sheep and the shepherd’s statues in the Crib, our imagination flies towards distant exotic landscapes, towards that ancient and rural village in the desert that was to be Bethlehem at the time of Jesus. Today, that which in the Gospel text is described as the last of the main cities of Judah, it is a large urban complex that has more than 30 thousand inhabitants, almost 60 thousand if we consider the two neighboring countries that are part of the Betlemite district, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. An expanse of houses and roofs that unfold starting from the city center: the Piazza della Mangiatoia where the imposing Basilica of the Nativity protects and welcomes the cave that more than two thousand years ago became the refuge for pregnant Madonna and Giuseppe. Those who see Bethlehem for the first time very often are amazed because still in their minds the images of the nativity scene resound, but today they are in front of a city in full Middle Eastern style: chaotic, noisy, colorful and always in turmoil.

However, the political and economic situation significantly affects the quality of life of many Betlehite families, in addition to the serious water problem we have often told you, another strong discomfort strikes a fundamental primary good that everyone should be entitled to: being able to live in a house that is consonant, structurally sound and healthy. Many houses in Bethlehem have serious problems of structural stability and housing security due to old water systems and water infiltrations that damage the building making it unhealthy and dangerous. Families who fail to meet restructuring costs find themselves living in situations of extreme discomfort.

A joint action between ATS pro Terra Sancta and the Pontifical Mission, a Christian organization founded by Pope Pius XII in 1949 in support of the needy Palestinian families, seeks to remedy this disastrous situation. Thanks to this project, around 10-12 houses are renovated every year in the area of ​​Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. 84 families were asked to apply for help this year and over a dozen have already obtained it. Each question is examined by experts to understand the seriousness of the problem: after the checks by Muna Salman, project manager and head of the technical office of ATS pro Terra Sancta in Bethlehem, the family has a meeting with the social worker of ATS Nadia Nasser to evaluate the economic and social situation. When the project is approved, the family is asked to make a small contribution to the costs for greater accountability. In a few weeks works are carried out that often include the reconstruction of the ceiling, the waterproofing of the rooms, and the painting, but each case is different.

We went with Muna to visit some ongoing projects and to talk to several people who benefited from the renovations. “My husband and I could not afford these jobs, I am a housewife and he works as a school janitor, for years we lived with water dripping from the ceiling in the kitchen and in the bedroom” Lina tells us. The workers are finishing the last finishes before delivering the house as new and can only be said to be happy to know that this year he will be able to invite all his daughters married in his renovated kitchen for Christmas lunch.

Even for Suzi, the mother of two children aged 5 and 6, this year Christmas will have a new spirit: “I do not have to feel ashamed of having guests at home. Moreover, the most important thing, I finally solved the problem of my children’s asthma caused by the damp and unhealthy environment. “George and Bassam, jumping on the bed, make us proudly see their new room painted with light blue.