I read some wonderful good news, big news, today for many people in and around Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, Palestine, – the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court, after nine years of deliberations, not to allow the famous Separation Wall to be build in the Cremisan Valley. That story, as it appeared in the website of the Latin Patriarchte of Jerusalem, is below.

By way of background about the importance of this decision, I want to tell you about my first encounter with the name Cremisan.

At Christmas 2008 I spent 10 marvelous, extraordinarily special days in Bethlehem, visiting old friends, making new ones, participating in every religious liturgy that I could, and re-visiting many of Bethlehem’s historic sites that I seen in February when I was on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  But Christmas time in Bethlehem is extra special and all the people I knew there went out of their way to make those 10 days extremely memorable. I’ve told many people that Christmas in Bethlehem should be the 11th commandment for Christians!

I was included, for example, in the Patriarch’s Christmas Eve motorcade from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, through the Separation Wall, with entrance to Bethlehem through the gate of Rachel’s Tomb – the only day of the year that gate is opened. That pilgrimage is made the afternoon of December 24, and the patriarch is joyfully and exuberantly welcomed to Bethlehem (Fouad Twal had only been patriarch a few months so this was his first Christmas celebration).

Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 117 Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 126 Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 140

At day’s end, of course, he celebrated Midnight Mass in the Church of St. Catherine.

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On my first full day in Bethlehem, December 22, I went to Nativity Square and visited the Bethlehem Peace Center and had a long and wonderful conversation with the then director, Jihan Anasta. Earlier, when we first met to make the appointment, she invited me to a reception and buffet lunch for a group of visiting Italians who were working on a Master Building Plan for Bethlehem with its then mayor, Victor Batarseh, who was also present and whom I interviewed the next day for “Vatican Insider.”

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Each home I visited in those ten days was filled with warmth and love and a genuinely happy welcome, with lots of great conversation (everyone I met on that trip spoke English and often some French in addition to their native Arabic), and with an untold variety of sweets, fruits, nuts, local specialities such as dates, wine and liqueurs. One of the most popular wines here is called “Cremisan” and is made by the Salesians who have vineyards in Beit Jala, near Beit Sahour and Bethlehem. Arab hospitality is indescribable and anyone who has visited the Middle East or the Holy Land knows this well.

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It was Jihan Anasta who first told me of Cremisan wine, noting that just up the street from the Peace Center was a church asnd other buildings owned by the Salesians. Part of their property included a number of acres of land on which they raised fruits and vegetables, for both consumption and to sell in order to support the craft school they ran for teens. They also had a vineyard whose grapes served to make Cremisan wine which was sold locally and also exported as wine for Mass.  I had a glass of Cremisan wine with probably every meal I ate in Bethlehem.

She told me at the time that there were threats to extend the famous Separation Wall, part of which would have cut the Salesian buildings off from their agriculture source. Jihan said every crop would have withered and died as the Palestinians would not have been allowed to go on that expropriated side of the Separation Wall to farm and Israelis would not have been allowed there either.

In fact, in February 2014, when the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour met with Pope Francis in Rome just months before his May trip to the Holy Land, they told him of the plans “to build the separation Wall in the Cremisan Valley and then expropriate the lands that belong to Palestinian Christians. If that happens, the whole area will be suppressed from the grip of the wall, and the first to go will be Christians”  That same morning, at a meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the mayors showed the secretary of State maps of the beautiful and fertile valley and planned wall expansion,

On Sunday, May 25, when he was in Bethlehem and lunched with five Palestinian families, Pope Francis got another first hand account about the Cremisan Valley, the Separation Wall, and the Cremisan winery. The individuals and families present at the papal lunch were chosen because each one represented one of the issues faced by Christians living in Israel: residency permits, Separation Wall, land confiscation, the Gaza blockade, and Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

I interviewed one of those at the papal lunch for “Vatican Insider.” Joseph works at the Pontifical Mission for Palestine. He is from Bethlehem and his wife Rima is from Jerusalem and they, with their children, are one of the many cases of families who cannot be reunited. He was seated across from the Pope as he speaks several languages, including Italian, and was ready to act as an interpreter.

And Joseph asked Pope Francis, on behalf of those present, including a family from Cremisan, Beit Jala, who risked losing their land, situated beyond the dividing wall, if this latter was extended as originally planned, to be their spokesperson in front of the whole world.

I know that’s a fair amount of background for the story that follows but it is essential to understand some of the particulars in order to understand the impact of the Israeli court decision.

By the way, on that December 2008 trip I made a point of going to the Holy Family maternity hospital to meet the first little baby boy born in Bethlehem on Christmas Day!

Here is Remy and his mother:Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 284Bethlehem-Christmas 2008 285

All of a sudden I have the desire to go back and see how they are!


Here’s a heartwarming story about Pope Francis from ANSA news service:

Pope Francis provoked tears of joy when he telephoned Argentina’s Marambio Base in Antarctica to convey his Easter greetings to the military personnel and their families, the Argentine air force website said Tuesday. “I am unable to convey the emotion,” non-commissioned officer Gabriel Almada who was on duty on Saturday and took the call.

Initially, Almada said he thought it was a joke, but then he was unable to “hold back tears of joy” when he realized it really was the Argentine pope on the end of the line. “It is an experience that will stick in my memory forever,” he said.

Pope Francis has become known for making surprise telephone calls in these first two years of his pontificate. The calls are part of a bid to bring the Church closer to the people and are characteristic of Francis’ informal human touch. (source: http://popefrancisnewsapp.com/)


Good news for the Salesians and for 58 families in the Cremisan Valley, a valley found on the border or seam line between the West Bank, Palestine and Jerusalem.

A communiqué from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced that, on Thursday, April 2, 2015, after nine years of a legal battle, the Israeli Supreme Court finally issued its final verdict on the Cremisan Valley threatened since 2006 by the Separation Wall construction project. The Latin Patriarchate welcomes this verdict that falls in favor of Christians in the region.

According to the April 3 communique, posted on the webpage of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Israeli Supreme Court finally accepted the petition against the construction of the Wall and therefore the Israeli army will give up such a project. The Court found “harmful to the local population and the valley monasteries,” noting that “the planned route as suggested by the Israeli Ministry of Defense is not the only alternative which could ensure security and cause the least harm possible as requested by Israeli administrative law.”

In fact, a decision in favor of such a project would have resulted in the expropriation of land belonging to 58 Christian families in Beit Jala, and the separation of two Salesian convents.

The Cremisan monastery is within Jerusalem municipal limits, while the storeroom on the other side of the parking lot is in the West Bank. The road to the monastery passes one of the coordinating offices between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The final decision of the Court means that the wall will not be built as foreseen by the Israeli Army. A victory and consolation for all those engaged since 2006 in a legal battle more complex.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, visited Cremisan this afternoon (April 2) for a press conference in the presence of the three area mayors – Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour – and several religious and political figures.

His Beatitude wished to thank all those who, locally and internationally, over the years committed to the Christian community in the Holy Land, including the parish of Beit Jala, the St. Yves Society, the Secretariat of State, the Bishops’ Conferences of the United States and Europe, the Consuls of Jerusalem, the Salesian Fathers, the lawyers involved and the three mayors of the region who visited the Holy Father a month ago to plead this cause.

With the huge number of those who are committed to this cause, the voice of Cremisan families could be heard on the international stage. On the Israeli side, this case has also received significant support, including from lawyers and even former soldiers and rabbis. His Beatitude welcomed “a victory for Israeli justice itself since it had the courage to take such a decision.”

He also recalled “the efficacy of prayer” and how the former pastor of Beit Jala persevered for years to celebrate, on site, the Mass every Friday in the presence of dozens of parishioners and people of all religion.

The Patriarch, on Holy Thursday, the first day of the Easter Triduum, concluded by noting that the news is “a joyful sign of the Resurrection” for the Christians of the Holy Land.