Bethlehem today

Anna Artymiak talks to Br. Raffaele Hatem Taym, OFM.

Br. Raffaele Hatem Taym was born on 17 November 1978 in the village of Ibellin in northern Galilee in Israel to a Christian family of the Eastern Melchite rite (Greek Catholic). He was the ninth child out of seven brothers and two sisters. In 1996 he finished a school of accountancy. That year he was received as an aspirant to the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in Emmaus (near Jerusalem). During that time he passed his final secondary school examinations. He joined the postulancy in Italy. He took his first vows on 15 August 1998. He became a seminarian in Bethlehem in 1999. After having graduated in philosophy he took his perpetual vows in the Basilica of St Catherine of Alexandria – the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem – on 5 October 2003. He was a sacristan in Bethlehem for three years. For the next three years he taught religious instruction and catechism in a school in the Holy Land in Bethlehem. For one year he has performed another function. He has been one of the closest collaborators of the parish priest in the Church of St Catherine in Bethlehem. He deals with various initiatives in the parish.

Anna Artymiak: – The light from Bethlehem is still shining in many Polish homes. However, many people do not realise that Christians’ lives are hard at the birthplace of Christ. What has changed the situation in Bethlehem so dramatically?

Br. Raffaele H. Taym, OFM: – Everyone in the world has the right to live in his/her land and to stay there. But it is different in Bethlehem. The big problem we face is the wall that separates us from the world. As long as it exists there is no chance for peace. People feel like being in prison. They cannot go to Israel without a special permit. This wall does not let them live and work in a normal way. We also have a religious problem. People cannot concentrate on their spiritual lives because all matters, all efforts, focus on material problems. The wall has caused that. As long as it exists we will have no real Christmas in freedom.

– In the year 2002 you, together with other people, were held hostage in the Basilica of the Nativity. How do you recollect this event?

– It is hard to speak about this although now I tell pilgrims about this event. I usually begin with the question: Have anyone of you experienced being held at home when someone else has the keys? That was what happened. We were closed in the basilica and could not go out. I ask other questions, ‘Has anyone of you been a prisoner in your own home and has not known when you will be released? Have you ever been in a secluded place and had no necessary things to survive, things like food or water? During the first days we faced death. People died on our hands. Another horrible thing. It was hard to look at those held inside eating tree leaves and herbs for animals…

– The popular saying is that Bethlehem is a house of bread. Today this bread is extremely difficult to get in Bethlehem. So the prayer ‘Our Father’ must be very special here.

– In Bethlehem ‘Our Father’ is crying to God. It is also silence. Silence, peace means a lot today. It costs. For six years the citizens of Bethlehem have been tired of this situation. The tension increases especially around Christmas. We have confidence in prayer alone.

– Because of this difficult situation how many Christians have left Bethlehem since 2002? Where do they most frequently immigrate?

– I do not know the exact number of families who have immigrated but there are really many of them. They usually leave for Latin America or the United States. And they go to the nearer places – they move to the Suez Canal.

– What are the tasks of the Catholic parish in Bethlehem?

– First of all, we think about young people. At first, we realised the project ‘Houses’. We wanted to give the newly married couples the possibility to have their own homes. We managed to organise around 100 apartments. We provide health care; we help families with medicaments. Then we realised the project ‘Job creation’, to give young people the chance to find a job. We have also opened souvenirs shops. We have two schools: for boys and for girls where we have ca. 2,000 pupils.

– As an Israelite have you experienced any problems caused by your Palestinian parishioners?

– I want to tell you one thing. I entered the congregation because of love for God and people. Because of man as a human being, not as a Christian, not as a Muslim, not as a Palestinian, not as an Israelite. I treat everyone as a person, as a man. If I manage to do that I become a better Christian. As a citizen I am an Israelite. As a man I am a Christian. Others understand that as well.

"Niedziela" 2/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: