“Welcome Home!” : The new guesthouse opened its doors in Bethlehem

We made it!” exclaimed the head of ATS in Bethlehem. The kids who were playing in a corner stopped doing so. Vincenzo Catalano, enthusiastic and excited, chose these words to begin the ceremony. Next to the Basilica of the Nativity, in the heart of the old city, the new guesthouse in Bethlehem finally opened its doors. Those present gathered for the occasion in the small courtyard. Some looked for a place to sit on the stairs, and some peeked from overhanging balconies: there were more than two hundred participants Everyone looked for a spot as they waited for the blessing of the Custos.

Vincent spoke while standing on the stairs in front of the entrance door. Behind him, the guesthouse logo, features three camels bringing the Three Kings and the name Dar al-majus–which in Arabic means, ‘House of the Magi.’ “We chose this image for two reasons. It is said that during the first Islamic conquest of Palestine, at the entrance of the church there was a stone relief that represented the three kings. When the army saw the image of these three men from the East, who had come from Persia, he acknowledged them and thought he was home. So, this church was spared,” said Vincenzo. “The second reason is the number: three like the institutions that have allowed this dream to become a reality,” he said, referring to ATS and the two donors. Fr. Javier Madrid and Madame Guya, who for the occasion received the “Grata Animo” medal by the Custody of the Holy Land as a sign of gratitude. Other gifts were offered by ATS and the Mosaic Center in Jericho.

The Custos then poured the holy water. In his speech, Fr. Francesco Patton recalled how “the opening of this guesthouse is important from an economic standpoint, but also from a spiritual one. When we welcome a guest, we have to think about welcoming Jesus. The word ‘guest’ has a special meaning for Christians: as shown by the Holy Scriptures, the term ‘host’ is Jesus himself.” After the blessing, the Custos thanked those who helped, the authorities and all of those present. The mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Babour, who was present for the occasion, and the two donors then cut the symbolic red ribbon. Guests were able to explore the three floors of the guesthouse with its rooms that are decorated with cozy colors.

In a lively and friendly atmosphere, those present were then gathered on the top floor to continue with the buffet on the terrace with stunning views. No one could hide their enthusiasm. Even Sister Lucia, of the Caritas Baby Hospital, who has lived in Bethlehem for more than ten years, after having congratulated the cooks, said in her first impression that she felt “like she was with family this evening.” On these occasions, “these rooms, these stones, come to life. Giving an opportunity to locals truly beautiful. Thanks to these things, we can say that it is worth living in Bethlehem, sharing all of this and being here.”

And in fact this project goes beyond the idea of a simple guesthouse. “It is a sustainable project that will include many local families. They are the ones that will work here in Dar al-majus,” said Melania of the ATS office in Bethlehem. Many of the new employees were in fact present at the blessing. Skander, who is 21, is studying theology in Bethlehem. He will work at the reception: “I am very happy and cannot wait to start! Everything has changed here: I remember how the house looked before and there is no comparison with today’s result. It’s wonderful being able to contribute!”

Even the architect Osama Hamadan, director of the Mosaic Center in Jericho, believes that this is an opportunity to “engage, provide jobs and enhance local heritage”: it is a very old building and originally it was very beautiful. All we did was improve it,” he explained. According to Fr. Rami Asakrieh, the parish priest in Bethlehem, “this place is important: we are very close to the Basilica of the Nativity. These are places that we need to preserve and protect.” Fr. Rami found the right words with which to summarize the value of the Dar al-majus guesthouse in Bethlehem: “those who decide to be hosted here will have a unique experience: they will be next to the Nativity and close to this community.”

In addition to the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, those who participated in the ceremony included the Secretary of the Holy Land, Fr. David Grenier, the bursar, Fr. Ramzi Sidawi, Fr. Stephane Milovitch, the director of the Boys’ Home, Fr. Marwan Di’des, the pastor of Bethlehem, Fr. Rami Asakrieh, along with a group of friars who came from Jerusalem. Also present was ATS Pro Terra Sancta Association and the Mosaic Center of Jericho, who participated in the construction of the guesthouse, and who managed and coordinated the renovations. The Dar al-majus has a sign that reads: “Welcome home.”

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