SHAFAQNA- Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, which Christians believe stands on the site of the birthplace of Jesus [A.S], reopened on Tuesday after more than two months of Coronavirus Lockdown.
A handful of priests from different Christian denominations stood watch as the door to the church in the West Bank was opened, an AFP photographer reported. Once inside, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Bishop Theophylactos, kissed an icon while a priest sprayed holy water in the grotto of the church, where Christians believe Christ was born in a manger. The church had been closed since March 5 when an outbreak of Coronavirus was detected in Bethlehem, according to France24.
Initially only 50 people will be allowed in the church at one time and visitors must wear face coverings and observe social distancing, a joint statement from the churches that control the site said. Kissing or touching the stones, including in the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born, will be forbidden. Louis Michel, who has a tourist shop in Bethlehem and also works as a guide in the city, told CNN that tears came to his eyes as he saw the church open again.
“I have missed the church as much I miss my children who are studying in Italy at the moment. For me, it has felt like I have been isolated from everything I love, my children and the church,” Michel said. Michel said he has worked as a tour guide since 1996 and has never felt the mood of the city to be as sad as it is. “I don’t see how life will get back to normal in tourism; we need to wait until Christmas to see what will happen,” he added.
Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah urged travelers to return to Bethlehem. “Today, the reopening of the Church of the Nativity is a symbol of hope. We pray to God that this pandemic will end, that life will return to normal and that believers and tourists from all over the world can visit the holy places in the Holy Land in Palestine again,” she told CNN.