Church of the Nativity

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Cooperation among the three Christian communities in the Church of the Nativity has been “going smoothly” as a restoration survey of the building gets under way, said the secretary of the Status Quo Commission for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

“In the case of the Custody, we have accepted the role of the government because it is necessary to do something about the basilica,” said Franciscan Father Athanasius Macora. “The work is being supervised by the Palestinian Authority with strict consideration of the Status Quo,” a 19th-century agreement that regulates jurisdiction of and access to key Christian sites in Jerusalem for Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian communities.

He noted that talks had been conducted among the Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian Orthodox church communities for more than a decade trying, with encouragement from the Palestinian Authority, to find a way to renovate the roof. However, in 2009, the Palestinian Authority decided to take a more active role and, in September, an agreement was signed with an Italian consortium to undertake a survey of the ancient building, he said.

The survey, which is using sophisticated building scanners to accurately evaluate the building’s structural condition, began in September and is expected to be completed in November, said Father Macora.

The main concern is the state of the roof, which is hundreds of years old, has been leaking, and is made up of wood brought over from Venice in the 1480s, he said. The leaking has caused damaged to pillars and mosaics in the church.

Over the centuries, piecemeal repairs have been made to the roof, he said, and this will be the first comprehensive restoration on the church since it was completed in the fourth century.

“Some of the repairs have not been very good and we need to use modern technology,” said Father Macora. “After the survey is completed we will need to move to phase two and see what needs to be restored. As it stands now the main object is to do restoration of the roof.”

On Oct. 26 during a visit to the site by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority announced the plans for a major restoration of the church which is shared by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox churches.

The Palestinian Authority has said it expects the multi-year renovation project to cost millions of dollars and has appealed to governments abroad to help fund the project. The Palestinian tourism ministry said the restoration work would not hinder pilgrims visiting the holy site.

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