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UNESCO declares Bethlehem basilica a World Heritage site

Catholic World News - July 02, 2012

The UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated the Nativity basilica in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site.

The UNESCO decision, reached on a secret ballot, came in response to a request from the Palestinian Authority. Israel and the US had opposed the move, arguing that it was a political exploitation of the Christian shrine. Palestinian representative Hanan Ashwari said that “the Palestinian people welcome this decision with joy as a moment of national pride and a confirmation of their identity and of their heritage.”

Church officials in Israel welcomed the UNESCO decision, because it could provide protection for the Nativity basilica, which has been in deteriorating condition because the Christian custodians cannot agree on needed maintenance work. The administration of many shrines in the Holy Land is divided between Catholic and Orthodox custodians, under the terms of an agreement that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Frequent clashes over territory within the shrines has often prevented cooperation on repairs. Because of the UNESCO decision, Palestinian officials will be able to raise funds for overdue maintenance work at the Nativity basilica.

Some Catholics are leery of Israeli plans to put Christian shrines in Galilee under the protection of the government. The Church has insisted that the shrines should be free from all political influences.

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