Bethlehem procession emphasizes solidarity among Palestinian Christians
Holding banners and carrying olive branches, the baseball-capped children sing carols while making their way through Bethlehem’s streets.
By Amelia Thomas, Middle East Times
BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- It is a chilly Saturday morning in Bethlehem on January 14, the date traditionally celebrated by many Christian Eastern Orthodox churches as New Year's Day.
While old women sell their wares in the tiny, crowded market, and men flock around vendors' cages of pigeons, ducks and chickens, the sounds of a procession can be heard, making its way down from Star Street to Manger Square in the center of the ancient town.
The procession consists of more than 1,000 Palestinian Christian children from over 50 Latin parishes across the West Bank, many of whom have never before had the chance to enter Bethlehem
Holding banners and carrying olive branches, symbolic of peace, the baseball-capped children sing carols while making their way excitedly through Bethlehem's winding cobbled streets, their chaperones - a combination of proud mothers and excited nuns - cheerfully urging them on.
This procession, organized by the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, is the second annual Journey to Bethlehem, aiming to "demonstrate the importance of solidarity among the Christian denominations in the Holy Land".
At a time when some Palestinian Christians fear that a widespread win for the Islamic organization Hamas in the upcoming Palestinian elections could be detrimental to an already isolated and fragmented group, this march is particularly symbolic.
Making up less than 2 percent of the Palestinian population, with around 35,000 Christians in the West Bank and 3,000 in Gaza, this minority fears not only for its rights, but also for its existence.
Many Palestinian Christians have already emigrated in the wake of the most recent intifada's violence and subsequent restrictions; in Bethlehem alone, it is estimated that over 2,500 Christians have left over the last four years.
This march, encompassing Anglican, Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite and Lutheran communities, thus intends to send an important message of solidarity to its participants, and to the wider world.