You can read this story in Dutch at Millenniumtravels.nl
Our tour guide Toine explains that the Nativity Church in Bethlehem has seen moments when Muslims and Christians together have agreed on the use of the church. In the 7th century, for example, Christians allowed that Muslims could pray in the Church of Nativity. As a condition they claimed that they just were not allowed to pray in a group, because otherwise it would be a mosque. One religion does not have to exclude another.
Today the church is divided into three parts: Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic. The remarkable thing about the church today was the renovation work on the frescoes in the Greek Orthodox and Armenian section. The Greek Orthodox section is thoroughly addressed and significant progress is visible after eighteen months. For the Armenian part less money is available and this also makes a poor impression. The male hierarchy within the church divides the building and thus also handles maintenance. The church is not experienced as a whole by the various Christian communities.
This is also shown by another fact, because besides the three Christian communities, there is also a fourth. At noon the Franciscan monks can walk their rounds through the cave to the birth star of Jesus. That’s the only time they have access to the church.
We are admonished to silence by the Greek Orthodox priest and urged to leave the church as soon as possible: ‘Yes, lady it’s enough now. Be quiet. You can go now. Make space”. In the Catholic section I finally felt more calm to light a candle, but the atmosphere remained tense. It did not feel like we were welcome.
How different was the situation at Breastmilk Church, a few feet away. In this church, a drop of the milk of Mary changed red rock in white stone. It has traditionally been a pilgrimage place for women with fertility problems. There is a peaceful atmosphere and we saw some Iberian nuns hosting a service. Their convent is attached to the church. It is noteworthy that in this Church old and new architecture is connected. An Italian architect has designed a modern oratory attached to the cave.
On the same afternoon we visit the Mosque on the square …. Here we go inside at a quiet time when there is no service. Through a window we have a beautiful view on the Nativity Church…
It moves me to experience the differences between the two churches and the Mosque, and it hits me that the religions here in Bethlehem nevertheless prove to be able to bridge the differences and search for a belief in stories that come from the same source.