Bethlehem (Anawim Today)- The coronavirus pandemic has left Bethlehem’s
tourism-reliant economy in tatters, according to a shop owner, who has appealed
to pilgrims, saying he longs for the day when they can safely return.
Rony Tabash, owner of the Nativity Store in Bethlehem, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that COVID-19 is the biggest crisis he has faced in his life.
He said: “My grandfather opened a store near the Nativity Church in 1927. My father took over in 1955 and I came in 2003. I am the third generation. During all this time, we had many difficulties with our store, particularly political problems.
“We always said ‘we have to continue, we have to keep smiling’. We always hoped for tourists. Yet, when the coronavirus came, we lost all hope. Coronavirus has destroyed our life.”
Describing how the number of foreign visitors to Bethlehem – normally at two million a year – have collapsed, he said: “We are almost finished. Nine months without work – 80 percent of Bethlehem depends on tourism.
“We need pilgrims and tourists because we don’t have anything else.”
He added: “We have almost 100 cases of coronavirus every day in our tiny city. You don’t see anyone entering the Nativity Church. Usually, you would get a minimum of 6,000 people a day and a maximum of 12,000 people.
“In the hotels, the highest point will see 7,700 guests staying throughout the city, the lowest would still see 3,500 people. Everyone here is dependent on tourists.”
According to Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun, in 1950 the population of Bethlehem and the surrounding villages was 86 percent Christian but by 2016 it was just 12 percent.
Reports say up to 90 percent of workers in Bethlehem’s tourism industry are Christian.
Mr Tabash said: “This problem is affecting all the population in Bethlehem and the Holy Land. Christians are the minority and you can see the strain on them clearly…
“We’ve had many political problems but we say we never give up hope...”
He added: “Tell the pilgrims, we are waiting for you to come back again. The Church is all of us. We are united. The spirit of the pilgrims is the Church. Without the pilgrims, something is missing in the Holy Land.”
ACN is helping the olive wood workers in Bethlehem by retailing their hand-carved Bethlehem Stars with Mother of Pearl. Price: £4 each plus p&p: https://acnuk.org/products/bethlehem-star-with-mother-of-pearl/
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.