Easter gifts from Bethlehem displayed at St. Stephen's
WARWICK — Twice each year, during Lent and at Christmas time, a group of visitors from the Holy Land visit the Church of St, Stephen, the First Martyr. And each time they return, they bring new information about the plight of the Christian community in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ and now a city under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority.
On Saturday evening, March 15, and Sunday, March 16, George Dakrat and his family were on hand after all the Masses as representatives of a Christian community of artisans living in a Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem. They were offering for sale a large selection of religious carvings made from the olive tree, which is frequently referred to in the Gospels.
At the conclusion of each Mass, Dakrat addressed the parishioners. He reported that the Christian community in the area of Bethlehem, once about 22 percent of the population, is now less than one percent. And that tourism, which was a major source of income, has been significantly reduced.
"Over 60 percent of our income came from pilgrims," he said. "But now Christians are leaving and there are fewer pilgrims. Being close to our brothers and sisters in this church and the others we visit, gives us strength. We are not alone."
Dakrat explained that the art of producing religious carvings made from the olive tree, now handed down from father to son, was introduced by the Franciscans over 500 years ago. The artisans, who were not only Christians but also Jews and Muslims, had been stone carvers and learned quickly.
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