Updated: Tuesday, December 21, 1999 at 00:14
  • Restoration of St. Catherine's Church at Bethlehem

    Among the initiatives taken by the Custody of the Holy Land in view of the Great Jubilee was the radical renovation of construction accomplished in the church of St. Catherine at Bethlehem

    What was involved was a structural intervention that enlarged the church remarkably, by extending it about 50 feet, and gave to the entire complex a more harmonious appearance more in line with the tastes and needs of today. The work was done by local laborers under the direction of the architect, Fr. Alberto Prodomo and the engineer, Morcos Nasri.

    The altars of the side aisles were removed and the choir used by the Franciscan community for prayer was transferred to a new chapel that will also serve for small groups of pilgrims or for personal prayer. In this way the church has been made more spacious and accommodating. The old floor was replaced while the decorations and furnishings have been completely changed. At the end of the main aisle a large stained-class window was installed, the gift of Belgium in 1926, representing the crib scene alongside the figures of St. Francis and St. Anthony.

    The Custody of the Holy Land was delighted to offer to the local Christian community and to the entire Church, in the person of Cardinal Silvestrini, this new achievement which had been preceded several years ago by the construction of a grand chapel done within the crypt of the Church of St. Catherine through utilizing the remains of an ancient monastery from the time of the Crusades.

    In fact, the Church of St. Catherine is not only at the service of the Catholic community of the Latin Rite who live in Bethlehen, but quite often is used by groups of pilgrims who are too numerous to find room in the Grotto of the Nativity or in the chapels built around it. It is within this modest church, built alongside the venerated basilica of the sixth century with which it shares a supporting wall and on the remains of buildings from the time of St. Jerome and the epoch of the Crusades that, ideally, millions of Christians from the entire world are gathered when, on Christmas Night, each year when the Eucharistic celebration and the moving procession that accompanies the statue of the Infant Jesus from the altar of the manger to the Grotto of the Nativity is televised throughout the world.

    The title of St. Catherine of Alexandria is due to a tradition according to which the saintly Alexandrian martyr, highly venerated in Christian antiquity, here celebrated her mystical marriage with Jesus. Already in the time of the Crusades there was a chapel dedicated to the Saint. The church is very dear to the Franciscans and to the Christian community of Bethlehem also because its construction was contributed to by the prayer, the sacrifice, and the work of Blessed FrŽdŽric Janssoone (1838-1916). the untiring Franciscan apostle, who for ten years was Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land.

    Cardinal Silvestrini who was in Bethlehem for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, an institution desired by the Holy See to meet the multiple necessities of the Palestinian population and generously supported in great part by the Bishops of the United States of America, expressed his own pleasure and joy at being able to preside at this new stage in the preparations for the Great Jubilee that certainly will witness the crowds of pilgrims coming to Bethlehem to venerate the place where "Mary made the Lord of glory our brother" (St. Francis).

    Jerusalem — December 1999

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    Created / Updated Tuesday, December 21, 1999 at 00:14:52 by John Abela ofm
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