NEW YORK CITY–A sacred Armenian Church property near Bethlehem–seized by the Israeli government and facing demolition–must be protected and returned to its rightful owners–National Council of Churches (USA) General Secretary Bob Edgar says in an urgent appeal to Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Baron Der–in the northern outskirts of Bethlehem–has belonged to the Armenian Church since 1641.
Of great historical and spiritual significance to Armenia’s worldwide–it includes an Armenian Church administrative and training center–religious retreat and archaeological site.
The site’s olive trees–some of them 500 years old–by custom have supplied the oil used in lamps at the traditional tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and also at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem–revered as the traditional birthplace of Christ.
Dr. Edgar–in his July 31 letter to Prime Minister Sharon–writes–"As a national US ecumenical body–comprised of 36 Orthodox and Protestant communions–including our brothers and sisters in the Armenian Church of America–we feel compelled to speak out regarding reports of the seizure of this holy place and of plans to destroy it by erecting a barrier that would run through the property.
"As a result–the Patriarchate may lose this sacred and historically important property–and also the income derived from it-another blow to a minority Christian community there that already is tremendously stressed.
"We further understand that the seizure of Baron Der is taking place despite repeated efforts on the part of the Patriarchate to prevent the division of the property and to resolve the matter in a mutually satisfactory manner," Dr. Edgar wrote.
"We respectfully ask you to do everything in your power to assist in resolving this matter in a way that ensures the return of this holy site to its rightful owners–and that guarantees the protection of the Armenian and other religious minorities living in Israel."