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August 27, 2003. A feud has arisen at the church believed to stand where Our Lord was born, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The feud is between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic Churches, all three of which have claimed rights of ownership and access to the church for over 150 years. The dispute arose when recently the Greek Orthodox monks changed the locks to the church and refused to share the keys, insisting that only they have the right to them.
According to the 1852 Ottoman edict, better known as the “Status Quo”, the Greek Orthodox monks are responsible for opening and closing the church doors each day, but the Armenians and Catholics are entitled to keys of their own.
The Orthodox monks’ animosity stems from the siege that took place last year, during which a group of Palestinians took refuge in the church for several weeks. Several Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops, and the bodies were removed by the Catholic Franciscan priests. Apparently the Greeks did not want the doors to be opened for the removal of the bodies. And the Greeks were further angered when the Franciscans allowed Muslim prayers to be said over the dead bodies in the Greeks’ part of the church.
The Armenians and Catholics feel that their equal rights to the Church of the Nativity are in jeopardy. The Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs advisor, Ibrahim Kandalaft, plans to convene a committee in order to settle the dispute. However, until we have the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart, through which the schismatic churches will return to the one true fold of the Catholic Church, disputes such as this will persist. And sadly, the sacred place where Our Lord was born will continue to be a site of hostility.