Today we had our “official” tour of the Church of the Nativity with a professional guide. As we walked to the church she pointed out the various places in the city where they really fixed up the buildings in honor of the visit of John Paul II in 2000. Unfortunately, there was a big Palestinian uprising after that and now everything is in bad shape again. As you visit the Church of the Nativity you can’t help but run into the complicated issue of what is known as the “Status Quo”. Basically, there are at least 5 different altars in the church to accommodate all the different Christian rites. The “Status Quo” refers to the system of rules that govern who can say Mass where and who can say what prayers here or there.
When Pope Benedict recently went to Turkey he referred to this separation among Christians as a scandal to the world and it is very evident here. In the cave where Jesus was born there are two altars. The Orthodox and Armenians are the only ones allowed to use the altar over the star and the Catholics are allowed to use the altar by the manger. There’s a certain little area that the Catholic priest has to stay in so as not to cross into the Armenian territory. It borders on the ridiculous. There are so many Muslims here that you would think the Christians would be a pretty tightly knit group. However, it seems that perhaps the greatest signs of division here are not between Christians and Muslims, but among the Christians ourselves.
After our tour of the church I went to Bethlehem University with a number of other seminarians to play volleyball with the students. It was a great time. We are really coming to value the friends we have made at Bethlehem U. This was our night to go out to dinner so we thought we’d sample the local food. We ended up having cheeseburgers at a restaurant named Bonjour that was playing Spanish music while we watched the Blues Brothers on TV with Arabic subtitles. We’ll have to do better next time.