Visit by Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister to St. Catherine’s in Bethlehem

On Sunday, May 8, the guardian of St. Catherine’s monastery Br. Ricardo Bustos, welcomed Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mr. Didier Reynders, to Bethlehem.

During his visit to Palestine, Mr. Reynders had planned not only to visit the Church of the Nativity, but also the adjoining St Catherine’s monastery. In doing so, he wanted to point out that Belgium continues to maintain its position as “one of the four Latin nations that is protective of the Christian community.” He also wanted to reaffirm this role by making a link to Belgium’s past, which is connected to the Custody of the Holy Land. Hence, this special meeting, which brought together Custodial Vicar Br. Dobromoir Jazstal and the Custody’s Secretary, Br. Sergio Galdi.

Br. Stéphane Milovitch, a French speaker, had the honor of guiding the Belgian minister’s visit. At the Church of the Nativity, which is being worked on currently, Mr. Reynders had the privilege of climb the scaffolding in order to understand the restorations and appreciate the outstanding results. He took used this moment to announce that the Belgian government, which is already involved in helping to finance the restoration, was going to continue supporting this project financially. Indeed, the churches and the Palestinian Authority continue to collect donations because the more more funds will be available, the more will be able to be done on the project.

After a short visit to the grotto, Mr. Reynders took the time to meet with a panel of Christians in the city, who work in tourism, education, politics and social work. Those who wanted to do so, could briefly express their expectations and aspirations in regards to the actions of Belgian and European policymakers.

After this, Mr. Reynders went to the Church of St. Catherine. The first faithful were seated for Sunday Mass led by young people. Accompanied by Franciscans, they later headed to the choir area. This is where the Minister unveiled a commemorative plaque for the stained glass window that Belgium gifted to the church in 1926.

At that time, the Church of St. Catherine, which was built just a few years earlier, still showed signs of its modernity. It was beautiful but it needed to be embellished further. And it was the Belgian government that offered to help do this by gifting the three windows that can still be seen in the choir.

In 2004, the Belgian government also paid for the necessary restoration work by the passage of time and the damage that it underwent during the second intifada and the siege of the Nativity.

The plaque was put up this year is because this set of windows was awarded last December in Belgium with the prize of Belgian heritage abroad.

The largest stained-glass window in the apse of the nave represents Christ’s Nativity and the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Belgium, as well as Cardinal Mercier’s fire medallion. Its restoration in 2004 was provided by master glassmakers from the Belgian town of Ghent.

A small ceremony took place for the presentation of the plaque and the Prime Minister used the Franciscan Casa Nova as a meeting place for other appointments.

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