But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.
In an effort to restore a traditional spirit in the Christmas celebration, the mayor of Bethlehem called for an easing of the military guard in the town where Jesus was born. Since the 1967 war when Israel took over Bethlehem from Jordan, troops and police have appeared to outnumber the pilgrims as Israeli officials attempted to secure the town against sabotage from Arab El Fatah guerrillas. El Fatah has refused to guarantee the safety of tourists coming to the Holy Land for Christmas, thus frightening off large numbers of would-be visitors.
But in the three years since the war, there have been no incidents of terrorism in the crowded town at Christmas. Partly for this reason and partly because of the weakened condition of the Arab guerrillas since the civil war in Jordan in October, Mayor Elias Bandak of Bethlehem felt confident enough to ask that Israeli security precautions be kept to a minimum.
Bethlehem merchants expected a brisk business in olive wood and mother-of-pearl souvenirs from a larger influx of visitors during the 1970 holiday season. A Bethlehem municipal spokesman said that about 28,000 pilgrims were expected from around the world, almost double last year’s total.
The mayor also was said to have appealed to the Israeli military governor to allow Christian families from the surrounding Arab countries to spend the holidays in Bethlehem. The governor promised to arrange with the authorities a system for granting permits to those wishing to come. The spokesman declined to speculate on the possible number who might make the journey across the Jordan River into Israeli-occupied territory.
For Roman Catholics in the Holy Land, the 1970 Christmas observance took on a somber note with the death in late November of Monsignor Alberto Gori at the age of 81. As patriarch of Jerusalem, he was the leading Catholic prelate in the Middle East. One of his functions was to lead the annual procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. That role passed to his successor, Monsignor Jacob Joseph Beltritti.
The Bethlehem municipal spokesman said the death of Gori would not affect the 1970 Christmas celebration. The colorful procession from Jerusalem to Bethlehem takes place on Christmas Eve. The patriarch and his party leave shortly after noon and are met at the outskirts of Bethlehem by mounted guards. They are greeted there by the mayors of surrounding villages and other notables and pilgrims who then join the procession. From the gates of Bethlehem they travel slowly up the Road of the Star to Manger Square.
The procession is then met by the mayor of Bethlehem, the Israeli military governor of the district, and churchmen and members of the diplomatic corps. As church bells ring, the procession enters the Church of the Nativity, Christianity’s oldest church in continuous use (dating back to Constantine in the fourth century). Devotions are conducted to the accompaniment of “Adeste Fideles,” played by a local band.
The whole program of Christmas festivities at Bethlehem follows a very similar pattern each year. At twilight on Christmas Eve, the Jerusalem YMCA holds its annual Shepherds’ Field Protestant carol sing and Christmas narrative reading. Many Protestants who witness the event feel there a note of authenticity that is absent in the other rites. The service is held on a hillside thought to be the abiding place of the shepherds who visited the Holy Child. Before the service ends, the first stars break through to speak of the ancient guiding light that led the shepherds to the birth-stool of the Christian faith. Pilgrims from many lands sing “Glory to God in the Highest” with spontaneous joy and a compulsion thus described by one annual visitor: “If they didn’t, the stones on that ancient hillside surely would.”
At nine o’clock a small outer court of the Church of the Nativity becomes crowded with Protestants for their only service at the famous church. Through special permission from the Greek Orthodox patriarch (Benedictos I), the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, George Appleton, leads a carol and Scripture meditation.
A midnight Mass in the church is transmitted by closed-circuit TV to a huge screen erected in Manger Square for thousands who cannot be accommodated inside. The two-hour celebration was to have been carried live over the Voice of Israel radio and television for local Christians. A delayed relay via Telstar was planned for television audiences around the world (film was to be flown to France for transmission in a few hours so that viewers in North and South America could get it on their TV screens at comparable clock time—because of the time difference).
The church is located at the spot some tradition regards as the place where Jesus was born. A tiny grotto in the church houses a small metal star marker. Hours before midnight the grotto is stuffed with humanity from every corner of the earth. Groups read aloud the Christmas story in Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and a babble of other tongues before the manger. All await the tinkle of a silver bell at midnight announcing the beginning of Christ’s birthday. When it comes, waves of emotion flood the assembled pilgrims.
Hopes for peace, the dominant theme of the season, were higher during preparations for the 1970 celebrations than they have been since the 1967 war. The cease-fire was expected to increase the influx of pilgrims and perhaps help to ease tensions. A local United Nations official held out the hope that “the rather bedraggled bird of peace will not get hijacked in this region this year.”
Papal Visit Sets Stage For Philippine Revolution
The stage for revolution in the Philippine Catholic Church is now fully set. This is the consensus of Philippine Catholic progressive theologians and liberal leaders as a result of the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Philippines November 27–29. In the vanguard of these progressives and liberals are hundreds of priests, mostly from the provincial parishes, who have formed a national group called Philippine Priests, Incorporated.
Pope Paul found his church in ferment on several fronts: between progressive theologians and the tradition-bound hierarchy; between liberal students and their conservative elders; between a post-Vatican II laity and the organized church; between the hierarchy and some religious orders.
Foremost in the ferment of the Philippine Catholic Church today is the laymen’s demand that the church reveal its assets, and that its priests lead lives of poverty, or at least simplicity.
While the issue of church wealth is somewhat clouded because church properties are owned by individual dioceses and religious orders—there is no national common fund where all these properties belong—nevertheless it is public knowledge that if the Catholic Church in the Philippines were a business enterprise, it could easily be listed among the top ten corporations in the country.
Its landholdings remain large, despite severe amputations made by the U. S. government in its almost fifty years of colonization of the country, and recently by the Philippine government. The church has become much more diverse in financial matters. It is now engaged in banking, investments, stocks, broadcasting, and publishing. It now encompasses even travel agentry, bodybuilding and slimming, and subdivisions. The Philippine Catholic Church has never been so rich as now.
Yet for all the church’s wealth, the majority of the parishes remain poor. Ninety per cent of them cannot pay their priests what a public school teacher receives.
To correct this, the Bishops Conference of the Philippines, composed of the bishops of all fifty-one dioceses, laid out a plan for change. The BCP declared: “The church cannot plead for social justice and amelioration when the majority of its own ministers are in dire want, when at the same time, within its midst are extremely rich archdioceses and parishes that can support the whole church in the Philippines.”
The major thesis of those who dislike Rufino Cardinal Santos, the archbishop of Manila, who is regarded as a bastion of resistance to change, is that the Catholic Church in the Philippines has not done justice to the reforms begun by Pope John in the Vatican Council. The church in the Philippines, they claim, has resisted modernization and has remained reactionary, narrowly conservative and, contrary to everything taught by Pope John, intolerant.
This ferment was pressed on the pontiffs attention in all his meetings during his three-day visit to Manila. Thousands of demonstrators led by progressives and liberals paraded, sang, and chanted for reforms wherever the Pope went.
A historic moment for the progressives came on the final day of the Pan Asian Bishops Conference. The conference (the main reason for the papal visit) resolved the church wealth issue in a nine-point resolution that advocated the redistribution of the wealth in the church and faithful adherence to the teachings of Vatican II. In response, the Pope reminded the bishops that Vatican II “sums up and ratifies the heritage of Catholic tradition and opens the way for a renewal of the Church according to the needs and possibilities of modern times.”
Reactions to the papal visit were generally favorable. The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) declared the visit of tremendous significance to the Filipino people and wished that the presence of the Pope would strengthen the people’s faith in God and in their fellow men. The NCCP, with 4.5 million members, includes about 90 per cent of the entire non-Catholic population in the Philippines.
The Philippine Independent Church, the largest constituency in the NCCP with close to four million members, expressed optimism for eventual reconciliation between the two groups.
Dissenting notes to the ecumenical message of the pontiff came from various places. Foremost was the stand of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches published in the country’s leading metropolitan daily newspaper. The PCEC, which has a following of a few independent evangelical denominations and conservative churches in the greater Manila area and suburban provinces, issued a manifesto explaining its refusal to welcome the Pope based wholly on biblical teachings that condemn the doctrines of papal infallibility and headship of the Pope over the church.
Despite some negative reaction, progressive and liberal Catholic leaders feel that the stage for total revolution within the Philippine Catholic Church is now fully set and that the visit of the Pope concretized their stand for immediate reformation. How they will go about effecting this change remains to be seen. Cardinal Santos, leader of Philippine Catholic conservatism, still lives in his palace. The other Filipino cardinal, Julio Rosales, who lives in his mansion in Cebu City, staunchly remains with the tradition-bound Catholic hierarchy.
But as progressive and liberal leaders said: “The Catholic Church is still a rock, monolithic and granolithic in protecting its conservatism and material interests, but we hope we might be the force from within to break it up.”
Ramsey’S Return, Or Back At The Palace
Whether it was the sobering influence of Lambeth Palace on a foggy morning or appreciation of their host’s “difficult adventure,” British journalists were in an unusually douce mood when the archbishop of Canterbury held his first press conference after returning from South Africa last month.
Dr. Michael Ramsey, now in his tenth year as primate, expressed his distaste for “the horrible system of the paid informer” that penetrated all levels in the republic and was to be found even in church councils. These spies helped to perpetuate a system found also in the Soviet Union, wherein criticism of the government becomes treason against the state, he said. This factor had also made the archbishop skeptical of the “dummy parliament” set up in the Transkei, where inevitably there was also white economic domination.
“I’m not taken in by this so-called growth to independence in the Bantu homelands,” he said, going on to deplore the breakup of families so commonly found in South Africa.
A boycott from outside, however, would not provide the cure, Ramsey was convinced, and he urged the maintenance of contact wherever possible, but with two provisos: It must be contact with all races in South Africa, and it should include pressures about matters of conscience. Replying to a question, Ramsey declined to be drawn into comment on his meeting with South Africa premier John Vorster; there had been prior agreement that details should not be made public. But (this with an engaging grin) the widely publicized pictures before and after the encounter had been accurate in portraying him as looking “deliberately grim.”
Did he think his various overnight quarters had been bugged? He was not sure, but he had little doubt that “there were people who knew every move I made.” He was always conscious that even talking to nationals might be putting them at risk. He said he had tried to persuade church members that acquiescence in governmental policies was not good enough, and he expressed great dismay that the Dutch Reformed Church claimed scriptural support for “a massive sort of hardline apartheid.” The Afrikaans press, he added, had either ignored his visit or been openly hostile. Ramsey said he shrank from saying that violence was inevitable. Change may not come through the liberals (“they are squashed”) but through conservative realization that for economic and other reasons apartheid “just does not work.”
After this first trip to South Africa, Ramsey said he more than ever felt “certainly bound to criticize the World Council of Churches’ action” in giving aid to guerrilla movements (see November 20 issue, page 44). Whatever was claimed about the philanthropic and non-military purposes of the grants, he had found when he went on to East Africa that people there asked: “Why don’t you support our freedom fighters?” He said he was dubious about encouraging “a belligerent psychology.”
Asked whether he had made representations in Uganda about the plight of colored British citizens of Asian origin and others who were being forced to leave that country, Ramsey said he had warned against the “danger of using power in such a way as to be insensitive to the plight of minorities”—and that this applied to Uganda just as much as to South Africa.
When the flow of questions dried up, the archbishop beamed at the pressmen. They beamed back. He invited them for coffee next door, where he welcomed each one. Mrs. Ramsey did the serving. It was that sort of occasion. The archbishop had come home. Everyone was glad to see him. Few doubted that his personal reputation had been much enhanced by the way he had handled a tricky assignment.
J. D. DOUGLAS
Gulf Oil: Pings Over Portugal
While Shell Oil Company fire-fighters battled a stubborn offshore oil-well blaze, Gulf Oil Corporation officials last month were trying to douse a conflagration fanned by the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church.
Republican senator Hiram L. Fong of Hawaii was incorrectly listed as a Roman Catholic in the religious census of the Ninety-second Congress (see December 4 issue, page 34). Fong, who was a member of the Ninetieth Congress, is a member of the United Church of Christ.
The twenty-seven directors of the UCC Council for Christian Social Action adopted by mail a resolution urging UCC members to boycott Gulf products in protest against the company’s alleged economic role in Portugal’s African colonies.
In contrasting action aimed at the same effect, the United Presbyterian Council on Church and Society and the denomination’s Southern Africa Task Force asked UPC boards and agencies to retain or purchase Gulf stock in order to be eligible to speak out at the annual spring meeting of Gulf stockholders.
The UCC council charged that Gulf’s oil concession in Angola supported the Portuguese in their wars against the independence movements of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. And the council urged the two million UCC members to return their Gulf credit cards with letters of protest to the oil company’s president.
The UCC action may have been designed in part to bolster the shaky defenses of a similar resolution passed in June by delegates of the 230,000-member Ohio Conference, the UCC’s largest state unit. The council’s move was announced on the eve of a meeting called by trustees of the Ohio Conference to reconsider the June resolution.
Gulf president B. R. Dorsey, implying threats of legal action, had demanded a retraction of the Ohio statement, which, he claimed, contained false figures and other erroneous information gleaned from a biased 1969 United Nations document. (The U. N. report, disputed by delegates of the United States and other Western countries, was written by representatives of Russia, Syria, and several other nations. UCC international-relations head Thomas Manton said that U. N. documents and reports of returned missionaries were the chief source materials for the accusations against Gulf.) Later, under cooler conditions, Gulf negotiators met with the Ohio trustees and explained Gulf’s side of the issue.
The trustees decided to ask the Ohio churches to study the June resolution and background data until the next annual meeting, when further action could be taken. They said their own study confirmed Gulfs guilt in Angola, but they absolved Gulf from “singular culpability” because “additional factors” were involved.
Indeed, four other oil companies operate in Angola. Gulf maintains that its presence has helped the country’s economic development, that it has received no profit yet from its African operations, and that it has paid out a total of only $12 million in taxes and royalties to Angola’s provincial government. Opponents complained that Gulf shelled out $20 million a year to the Portuguese, who used most of the money for military suppression. Gulf also insisted it had to remain neutral in matters of foreign politics.
William Cox, Gulf public-relations coordinator, reported that twenty credit cards were returned as a result of the Ohio action in June, and that sixty letters received ran two to one in Gulfs favor. The resolution, he said, was identical to one handed him months earlier by a militant group of former Peace Corps members, the Committee of Returned Volunteers.
EDWARD E. PLOWMAN
A takeover by about 100 black students last month forced a one-day shutdown of Pepperdine College, a liberal-arts Church of Christ-related school in southwest Los Angeles. The students, protesting the firing of a black public-relations staffer at the college, padlocked doors to buildings where 70 per cent of the 2,400-student school’s classes are held, and a fire causing $25,000 worth of damage was set in the Fine Arts building and auditorium.
When Pepperdine chancellor William S. Banowsky failed to get an injunction against the dissidents, who were joined by some white sympathizers outside the occupied buildings, he told strikers to disperse within five minutes or face arrest and suspension. Forty officers stood by while the blacks left.
An administration spokesman said some demands by the blacks (there are about 500 at Pepperdine) were being considered. Negro public relations assistant Ron Ellerbe, hired on a six-months basis, will not be rehired despite the protest, the spokesman said. He added that failure to reinstate Ellerbe stemmed from a desire to “upgrade the public-relations department” rather than from reported administration concern with letters Ellerbe sent out “hinting at the racist tenor of the institution.” Pepperdine has eight or nine black faculty members.
Shot In Defense
Ten Cent Beer Night has been changed to Tuesday at Okie’s Lounge next door to the University Church of Christ in Albuquerque. This was done, announced Okie’s, to avoid conflict over illicit use of the church parking lot during Wednesday night church services. The switch followed the shooting of church member Dewitt Tucker by an alleged bar patron who balked at moving his car. Tucker will recover.
Nineteen-year-old Anthony “Tony” Manili, a Catholic, was not so fortunate. He was slain by another youth at a Silver Hill, Maryland, party during a debate on whether God exists. A policeman said “Tony was defending God” when he was shot.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more