The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem “welcomes” the recent decision to add the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to the UNESCO World Heritage list, the SIR news agency reported Wednesday. The highest Catholic authority in the Holy Land described the recognition by the UN cultural body of the birthplace of Jesus as a World Heritage site to be “very positive” and evidence “of a diplomatic victory”. However, it also pointed out that “Bethlehem already belonged to the heritage of mankind if you consider that two billion Christians revere this place and one billion Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet”.
The move by UNESCO, announced on June 29, sparked protests from Israel and the United States. The Church of the Nativity is the first site on the World Heritage List to appear under the name “Palestine”. Bethlehem saw two million visitors in 2011, making it the principal tourist site in the Palestinian Territories. UNESCO’s decision suggests “that Palestinians are interested in the Christian holy places and wish to encourage pilgrimages and religious tourism,” said the Latin Patriarchate.
The 4th-century church built over a grotto where Christians believe Christ was born is badly in need of repairs. However the Catholic authority expressed the desire that “both UNESCO and the Palestinian Authority may abide by the internal regulations, the status quo” that governs relations between the different Christian communities and their rights and responsibilities for the operation and maintenance of the church and “will not do anything unless in extraordinary circumstances”.