Category Archives: History of Middle East

Catholic locations recently declared World Heritage sites

image by Cybjorg~commonswiki

Bethany beyond the Jordan – believed to be the location of St. John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus

image by Travis Witt

San Antonio Missions in Texas

Catholic sites in Sicily – including Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale


Today in Catholic History – End of the Siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

On 10 May 2002 the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by the Israel Defense Forces came to an end. The siege had lasted since 2 April 2002 – for 39 days.
The IDF raid into Bethlehem began as an attempt to arrest wanted Palestinian militants but the militants were able to evade the Israeli forces by fleeing into the Church of the Nativity. Altogether the number of those who sought refuge in the church included members of Fatah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Security Forces and some monks and other Palestinians totaling about 220.

The IDF surrounded the Church with tanks and sniping positions. The Israeli government condemned the Palestinian occupation and accused the militants of firing on the IDF from inside the church. Michel Sabbah, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, said the gunmen had been given sanctuary, and that “the basilica is a place of refuge for everybody, even fighters, as long as they lay down their arms. We have an obligation to give refuge to Palestinians and Israelis alike”.

On the 7th of April, the Vatican warned Israel to respect the religious site and the Pope issued calls for prayers for peace. On 16 April there was a severe firefight between Palestinians and the IDF near the Church. On 20 April the Greek Orthodox called for a “solidarity day” for the people in the Church of the Nativity and the church itself.

The militants eventually turned themselves over to the IDF after being promised that they would be exiled to Europe or to the Gaza Strip. 8 militants were killed during the siege. One Armenian monk was severely wounded. The IDF reported finding 40 explosive devices left in the church by the militants.

On the Siege of the Church of the Nativity

Today in Catholic History – Pope John Paul II visits Umayyad Mosque

On 6 May 2001, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit a mosque when he visited the Muslim holy site at which the tomb of St John the Baptist is also located.

At the mosque, the pope encouraged Christians and Muslims to work toward forgiveness. He also spent time in silent prayer. There was no joint Catholic/Muslim prayer at the mosque out of respect for Muslim concerns but Sheik Ahmad Kuftaro called the visit “a great day for Muslims around the world”.

Still, the visit was not without controversy. Syrian President Bashar Assad attempted to use the visit to obtain Vatican support against Israel. Also, because the site was formerly a Christian church there was some concern that the Pope might be seeking a return of Christian property. But the pope made no reference to the earlier church while he was at the mosque.

As we make our way through life towards our heavenly destiny, Christians feel the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and Islam too pays tribute to Mary and hails her as “chosen above the women of the world” (Quran, III:42). The Virgin of Nazareth, the Lady of Saydnâya, has taught us that God protects the humble and “scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Lk 1:51). May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship, so that the Almighty may bless us with the peace which heaven alone can give. To the One, Merciful God be praise and glory for ever. Amen – Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II’s address at the Umayyad Mosque