HOUSTON — For centuries, the ancient Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, has served as an anchor for Bethlehem, Palestine, as millions of people from all over the world have traveled to the holy site to experience the story of their faith.
The church was named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2012 and was quickly added to the World Heritage in Danger list, as the church, which had not undergone any major renovations since AD 1480, was about to collapse. That same year, the Bethlehem Development Foundation (BDF), founded by the late Said Tawfik Khoury and now led by his son Samer Khoury, chairman of its Board of Trustees, received the blessing of the Palestinian Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of Nativity to begin working alongside other organizations to restore the church.
“The Church of the Nativity is a treasure of history and of faith,” said Managing Director and CEO Mazen Karam, “We’ve made great progress and look forward to completing the work to return this treasure back to the world.”
In 2018, BDF launched the American Friends of the Bethlehem Foundation(AFBDF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan and nongovernmental organization dedicated to the restoration and development of the Holy Region of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. Over the past 8 years, the sister organizations have raised and spent more than $30 million on the Bethlehem region, including over $15 million — much of which has come from Christian donors in the United States — to restore the 1,700-year-old church to its former glory, preserving a treasure for future generations.
“Christians in the United States have an enthusiastic love for the Holy City of Bethlehem,” said George Salem, president of the American Friends of Bethlehem Development Foundation. “We are thrilled by the outpouring of support from our American friends and their commitment to help revitalize the Church of the Nativity.”
Thus far, BDF and AFBDF have completed the restoration of the external facades and internal plaster, the last 11 columns of the central nave, the narthex, the narthex eastern wooden door, the external stone façades, a wall mosaic, the Basilica metal doors, wooden architraves and have installed lighting and smoke detection systems.
More work, however, remains to be done.
Looking to the future, BDF and AFBDF have outlined the following funding priorities:
- Stone and marble floor tiling: $352,000
- Consolidation of the Basilica walls against seismic action: $726,000
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- Study and restoration of the church’s front yard stone tiles: $594,000
- Installation of firefighting and microclimatic systems: $528,000
“We are committed to restoring the Nativity Church to its former glory,” said Samer Khoury, chairman of BDF’s board of trustees. “But our commitment to Bethlehem is so much more; we’re targeting sustainable initiatives and community projects, hoping to restore some peace, love and joy to the people of Bethlehem.”
To support the work of AFBDF, click here.
To support the work of BDF, click here.