In Bethlehem, where the mosaic becomes a school

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As part of the current project, “New mosaicists for Bethlehem”, financed by the Province of Trento and carried out by the Association ATS Pro Terra Sancta, a series of cultural meetings and sightseeing tours in the Al-Tarajmeh and Al-Heirizat quarters of the Old Town have been offered to the residents of Bethlehem, in particular to those inhabiting Star Street. Taking a brief look, the “Road of the Star” is the ancient road that Joseph and Mary traveled in search of a place where Jesus could be born, leading them to the manger. As the evangelist Luke attests, Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem for a census as a result of a decree of Caesar Augustus. The white stone houses along this street were once the center of the Christian community of Bethlehem and a place of passage for pilgrims who, departing from Jerusalem, traveled to Manger Square and the Cave of the Nativity. Today many of the houses have been abandoned, there was a time when the terraces were not so encumbered with water tanks due to the water emergency, but rather by Christian and Muslim faces that shared everyday life. With the large emigration to the United States and South America of Palestinian Christian families, today it seems that the “flame” of life and history is in danger of being extinguished.

For this reason we at ATS Pro Terra Sancta are organizing three events in collaboration with the “Centre for Cultural Heritage Preservation (CCHP)- Dar Al Sabagh Centre for Diaspora Studies and Research (DSCD)”. The point of departure of this program is communicating and reviving the sense of belonging, starting from one’s own history with a look at Palestinian tradition and art, at archaeological sites and even at one’s own identity. We think that the economic and social importance of this place must pass through an awareness of its own cultural heritage, thus creating opportunities for growth and work.

The first of the three events was held on Tuesday 25 June at the Dar Al Sabagh Centre at the beginning of Star Street and saw a good response from the residents of Bethlehem. Professor Khalil Shoken, the centre’s director, presented some historical-anthropological readings relating to families from the Al-Tarajmeh and Al-Heirizat quarters, emphasizing that, due to the conflict, some family groups were no longer to be found on Star Street. Young and old families had the opportunity to listen and discuss the the historical origins of a heritage, an important element that requires attention if it is not to be lost. Vincenzo Bellomo, head of ATS pro Terra Sancta in Bethlehem, presented the main points of the project, noting that “for us at ATS the beauty to be preserved of this land should once again become something to be shared on a daily basis and not something isolated”. A presentation that had its origin from walking alongside those most in need, with simplicity.

“We all breathed together a climate of closeness, encounter and hope. We believe that only with these small steps can the life that flows in these neighborhoods and in the alleyways of these streets take shape again through an interest in historical and human beauty, beginning with those who are still living today in Bethlehem. Bethlehem comes from Arabic ‘Beit Lahm’ or ‘House of Meat’ and bears witness to an event that should resonate with us Christians all over the world as a home that belongs to us, as a physical and intimate place to be preserved.”