Links for Learning
Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students
This months Links for Learners will support high school
World historyMiddle East events; history of
the Holy Land
Christian lifestyleshospitality, service and
Understanding Basic Terms in This Months Article
Look for these key words and terms as you read the article. Definitions or
explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource
materials cited throughout the Link for Learners.
The siege at the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem
reflected conditions that have prevailed in the Middle East
city for centuries. Situated in an area that is presently
under the Palestinian Authority, but largely controlled by
the Israeli military, the basilica and its complex of churches,
shrines and monasteries have been fought over almost since
Jesus was born there 2,000 years ago.
Just a glance at a picture
of the basilica conveys its fortress-like
construction, a testament to its need for defense against
invaders. A detailed
history of the basilica reveals ongoing conflict. The
present structure dates largely to the time of the Emperor
(527-565). Justinian rebuilt the basilica after the Samaritan
revolt of 529 badly damaged the original building. Throughout
the 10th century the Crusaders
controlled Bethlehem and the entire Jerusalem area. For generations
various Christian groups argued over who should have custody
of the shrines and churches at the nativity site. In 1852,
the Turkish Sultan Abdul Majid settled the issue with a written
declaration called the "Status
Quo," declaring that the Holy Places would be maintained
by three Christian rites: Greek Orthodox, Armenian
When we hear the word "Bethlehem" we conjure up
Christmas card images of a star shining down on a bucolic
scene. Mary and Joseph nurture the newly born Jesus while
quiet animals and adoring shepherds look on. With this image
no doubt in mind, journalists who viewed the basilica immediately
after the siege this spring labeled the conditions at the
church a "desecration."
Cathleen Falsani, religion writer for the Chicago
Sun-Times, offers a different perspective on the "desecration"
in a recent article.
Several hundred people lived in the church for over a month,
she reminds us. Water and food were scarce. Electricity was
cut off. Sanitary facilities were shut down. Wounds could
not be cared for properly. The dead could not be buried.
Falsani argues that these conditions were not really very
different from those at the time of Jesus' birth: a smelly
stable full of animals; a cold night; an unwed teen mother
giving birth in a poor, arid land, far from family and friends.
Indeed, Falsani believes Jesus would be more offended by the
squabbling among Christian rites over his birthplace than
he would over the conditions in the siege situation.
Falsani's point is that the reality of our faith often lacks
polish. It can be gritty, uncomfortable, often without conveniences.
Siege As an Opportunity for Ministry
Churches and Church groups have offered sanctuary throughout
much of history. In the 1980s, there was a "sanctuary
movement" growing out of political oppressionand some Church workers' response to itin Central America.
In the trying conditions during the Bethlehem siege, Christian
hospitality shone through. It's no surprise that the Franciscan
friars and others ministered to the Palestinians during the
siege. They could not do otherwise and call themselves Christian.
written after the siege ended stated that, as food became
scarce, the friars in fact disobeyed Israeli directives not
to feed the Palestinians who had taken refuge there. For the
friars, and indeed for all Christians, hospitality is an imperative.
friars and other religious who maintain custody of the
holy places engage in a ministry of hospitality to pilgrims.
Their function might be loosely compared to parish volunteers
who care for the church and the altar, or to teen ministers
of hospitality who greet and direct churchgoers every Sunday.
On a secular level it may compare to the volunteers who act
as museum docents or care for historic sites and national
parks. Other Franciscans maintain the Holy
Land Foundation to help Christian Palestinians with education,
jobs and housing.
Our gospel calls on us to extend loving service to all, regardless
of circumstances. Even military conflict does not excuse us
from ministry. It tests our faith and our strength, certainly.
Armed refugees filled the Bethlehem church. Outside, snipers
were a constant reminder of the threat of military intervention.
The entire infrastructure was pulled out from under the religious
caretakers: no electricity, disrupted phone communications,
little food and water, no sanitary facilities. Yet through
it all, the Christians in the besieged basilica met the demands
of Christian service.
Disruptive events occur all too often, don't they? We cannot
forget the tragic results of the terror attacks of September
11, 2001. Natural disasters such as devastating hurricanes
and tornadoes, widespread floods, raging wildfires, shocking
earthquakes turn our lives upside down. Yet we have so many
examples of heroic love and generous hospitality in all these
events. During the recent wildfires in Arizona, for example,
local hotels offered free accommodations for those evacuated
from their homes.
Our national news reports almost daily about layoffs as companies
like Enron and Worldcom face bankruptcy. Your own parents
may be dealing with loss of work or income because of company
failures. Friends' families may be suffering, even moving
away to find work elsewhere.
How would you react if the infrastructure of your own life
were disrupted? Or how have you reacted when your own life
turned upside down? Can you identify circumstances where you
can, or did, extend hospitality to someone in need? Examples
might include "breaking the rules" to offer a welcoming
hand to someone outside your crowd at school, or remaining
kind to two feuding friends or classmates. Perhaps you can
find ways to be more supportive of your parents as they struggle
with family finances and demanding jobs. Service organizations
in your neighborhood and parish always need volunteers.
In the days when "snail mail" was the only means
of correspondence, teens adopted far-off pen pals with whom
they exchanged letters. In our day of e-mail and instant messaging,
can you find a teen pen-pal
somewhere who needs your caring attention? Through your school
or parish, you could link with a peer
group elsewheremaybe teens
in the Middle East, or on an isolated Indian reservation,
or simply from a different neighborhood in your own city.
For inspiration and strength, read the gospel story of the
Samaritan. This is hospitality at its best. A stranger
comes upon a man beaten and robbed by bandits. He cleans him
up, then pays for him to stay at an inn until he is well enough
to continue traveling.
Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further general reference.
Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles
contained within the site’s archives.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
of Vatican II
The New York Times
The Los Angeles Times
The Washington Post
The Miami Herald
The Associated Press
PathfinderAccess site to a number of online news publications
The History Channel
The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based
Channel One online resource for the school channel