QUARANTINE - DAY 17 - 22nd March 2020
The government today announced that a curfew will be enforced from 10pm tonight, across Palestine and including Bethlehem, saying that no one can leave their houses other than for essential trips to the doctor, pharmacy, bakeries or grocery shops. Two cases were discovered just outside Gaza as the virus inches perilously closer but as yet has not been found in Gaza. Tonight there has been a call to sing from rooftops across Aida Camp in unity during these difficult times.
The church doors remain closed today in Bethlehem on the third Sunday of quarantine. At this time of year, during Lent, Bethlehem - home to the Church of the Nativity, the centre for the celebration of the birth of Jesus - would be receiving many pilgrims and would be preparing itself to welcome many visitors over Easter in a few weeks' time. Instead, people in Bethlehem, and across the world, observe Lent and pray at home. Many participate in Church services held online. Church bells ring out approximately every 4 hours to remind people to pray. Fra Emad of St Catharine's, Bethlehem, shares his reflections at this time:
We, the Brothers, as consecrated sons of Saint Francis, consider community life as a priority. Since the mosques and churches closed two weeks ago, in the middle of Lent and the lead up to Easter, we take advantage of this time "without commitments" to immerse ourselves in the heart of community life, by living the life of Brothers. We pray together during Mass, recite the Rosary, and observe the Stations of the Cross. I see an intensification of the family spirit among the Brothers, especially since we are no longer involved in the tasks to which we were called before the arrival of this coronavirus.
We are still in daily contact with our parishioners, but without the direct contact that we had before through activities and celebrations. There are indeed great initiatives by young people who, coordinated by us, the Brothers, organize themselves to visit the most disadvantaged in material terms, providing them with the food they need to live. Thanks to these young people, we are able to reach out to the people we know to be the most in difficulty. Through the Christian Media Centre, Mass is broadcast from Nazareth and we try to transmit a few moments of prayer, especially the Stations of the Cross, online. Finally, we invite our faithful to make their houses small churches where they can raise their praises and their calls to the Lord.
We have always known that Lent was a strong moment during which the faithful are invited to return to God, to detach themselves from material things, and to free their souls and their hearts to make room for the Lord. But this year, Lent is very special because we are living the tragedy of the Coronavirus.
Watching Bethlehem today is very sad. Nothing remains of its crowded streets of buses, pilgrims on the road, locals who drive their children to school or go to work. There is not even a cat on the street. This virus has had the effect of frightening people, who now live in fear. And that is the problem. Living Lent in this context is very significant. For me, it is necessary to carry out a true conversion of the heart to God because these facts, these great events, these crises can be instruments of salvation.
And so yes, it is true that we must live Lent in the sense of returning to God, by giving it first place, to Him who is the master of life, who is capable of doing everything, who is the All Powerful. Out of love for us, he let us suffer in the face of a very small thing like coronavirus so that we would realise our limits.
So, this Lent must lead us to place God in the first place forever, to kneel before Him, asking for forgiveness, asking for his grace and mercy, so that He can save the whole world from the fear of this virus and the harm it causes.
Bethlehem has always had strong and intimate ties with Italy, because many Italian parishes are twinned with the parish of Bethlehem, which explains why we feel "in family" with Italy. Seeing what's going on is absolute suffering, because of the frightening number of cases, because of the frightening number of deaths. This morning, I heard from a friend of mine in Italy at ten in the morning, that he had already buried the ninth person who had died from the virus since the beginning of the day. This means that a person dies almost every half hour. We are therefore close to Italy, we pray for the Italians so that the Lord really turns his gaze towards this country and supports them again in the fight against this virus, towards final victory.
We are sending a message of solidarity and brotherhood from Bethlehem before the Nativity church, before the star where Jesus was born. We are close to you in prayer, in the hope that you will soon be able to overcome this moment of trial so sad and so strong, by overcoming it with the Grace of God.