As we approach the festive Christmas season, the Holy Land usually brims with jubilant celebrations, vibrant decorations and a tangible sense of joy. However, this year marks a departure from tradition as Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jordan brace for an atypical Christmas—a Christmas subdued by the weight of recent events, where the twinkling lights and cheerful gatherings give way to a solemn solidarity.

For over 800 years, the Franciscans have been custodians of the Holy Land, preserving its sanctity and serving as guardians of spiritual wealth. Their tireless efforts extend beyond maintaining sacred sites; they encompass supporting pilgrims, nurturing the local Christian community, and providing essential services, even during the most trying circumstances.

In the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, these cherished holiday celebrations have been shelved. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, will not sparkle with its usual brilliance. The decision reflects a collective acknowledgment of the suffering in Gaza, where lives have been lost and homes destroyed. It’s a poignant gesture, a testament to solidarity and a call for peace in the midst of turmoil.

Across Jordan, a nation deeply intertwined with the Palestinian refugee community, Christmas festivities have similarly been set aside. Christian leaders, representing a long-standing heritage, made a deliberate choice—to stand with the innocent victims of conflict. Their cancellation of public celebrations echoes the desire for healing and an end to violence that has scarred the region.

This year’s subdued celebrations go beyond just following traditions. It represents a strong wish for peace, a call for understanding and a reminder of our common humanity in a place where history and religion are deeply connected.

The Franciscans and other Christian leaders, echoing the sentiments of the local population, advocate for dialogue, empathy and international intervention to address the conflicts plaguing the region. Their call for peace resonates with an urgency born from the enduring challenges faced by the Christian community—economic instability, dependence on pilgrimages and limited access to medical care.

The cancellation of Christmas festivities, while a departure from the norm, serves as a reminder of the need for compassion and remembrance. It signifies a collective stance—a stance that honors the suffering, seeks understanding and yearns for a brighter future.

In this time of solemnity, the spirit of Christmas endures—a spirit of hope. A hope that one day, peace will prevail. A hope that the lights will once again adorn the streets of Bethlehem, that joy will return, and that the spirit of unity and compassion will triumph over adversity.

As we navigate these challenging times, let us remember the true spirit of the season—a season of reflection, empathy and unwavering hope. May the Holy Land, steeped in history and revered by many, find solace, healing and peace this Christmas and beyond.

In these trying times, there’s a pressing call for increased prayer and action to restore hope and peace. An extra effort is needed to swiftly respond to this crisis. Please consider donating to uphold Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land’s mission and support those in need.