The Bethlehem-born curator of the travelling exhibition was baptized in the font of the Church of the Nativity, located where Jesus is believed to have been born, and which features in the collection.
“This is a living exhibition. It is always on the move,” says Hasbun on the exposition displayed in the World Council of Churches for one month.
The exhibition marks the first renovation of the Church of the Nativity in 600 years and has toured different world cities, including Paris, Rome, and other parts of Italy. After four weeks in Geneva, it will move to Washington, DC, in November.
Bethlehem’s Christian population has, however, been dwindling for years. Hasbun says, “In the 1960s, Christians made up about 20 percent of Bethlehem’s population. Today, it is around 4 percent.”
“This exhibition also helps the city to live and encourage the Christians who are there to stay,” said Hasbun, who no longer lives in Bethlehem but in Italy.
It helps Bethlehem partly because the exhibition highlights the Church of the Nativity’s rehabilitation works with its artistic beauty, historical significance, and precious spiritual message.
World Council of Churches general secretary, Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, said at the exhibition’s opening on 12 September, “The walls of the city and the Church of the Nativity tell tales of resistance, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to a just cause.
Message of love, compassion
“The message of love, compassion, and peace, brought to us by the birth of Jesus, transcend borders and religions and reminds us to stand firm in our commitment to Justice and Peace to all in the Holy Land. The Church of the Nativity itself is a testament to the enduring power of faith as it witnessed centuries of prayers for peace.”
Despite the checkpoints, barriers, and ongoing conflicts, Pillay noted that Bethlehem “carries the light of the star guiding the way for the wise men.”
He said that the small Palestinian city reminds the world every day, even in the darkest of times, of the guiding light that is a source of hope leading to a brighter future.
Pillay echoed the words of Hasbun that for many, Bethlehem’s very existence and ability to survive, thrive, and remain relevant—is a symbol of hope for the Palestinians and the entire world.
That was illustrated by the opening ceremony’s presence of 55 Geneva-based diplomats from around the globe.
Dr Ramzi Khoury, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and chairman of the High Presidential Committee for Church Affairs, came to Geneva for the opening of the exhibition but rued what had happened to the city.
“This siege on the birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ reflects the immense suffering experienced by our Palestinian people, both inside and outside their homeland. Israeli authorities deny them the right to access their city and churches, violating international agreements that guarantee freedom of worship.”
The exhibition is promoted by the State of Palestine; the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine; the Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity; and the Embassy of the State of Palestine to the Holy See in cooperation with Bethlehem Development Foundation; Piacenti S.p.a and with the participation of University of Pavia.
First published on the World Council of Churches website on 15 September 2023.Jump to next article