John Paul II Foundation / Magazine / Rony Tabash, entrepreneur in Bethlehem: "Pilgrims return, help us beat fear"

Rony Tabash, entrepreneur in Bethlehem: "Pilgrims return, help us beat fear"

by Renato Burigana

We reached out to Bethlehem Rony Tabash a young entrepreneur who has always lived in the town where Jesus was born. He is a dynamic and enterprising young man, but the Covid and more than a year and a half of no tourists and pilgrims are testing him.

What is the economic situation like in Bethlehem, a city that thrives on tourism like Florence? A city where the last pilgrim/tourist was seen in March 2020?

"We have a historic store near Manger Square. The store was opened by my grandfather in 1927, and after that, from 1956, my father Victor carried on the business. Now, for a few years I have been there. The economic situation in Bethlehem and in the whole Holy Land is really very sad, serious, very dangerous because we have been at a standstill for almost a year and a half with no pilgrims, no work, no subsidies. To me in the morning coming to my store and then entering the Basilica of the Nativity, which I see empty, without pilgrims, without anybody, it's scary, really scary. The Manger Square and the Basilica have been empty for months, that is the place where Our Lord was born. Now there is no one there, no one enters this Basilica through the door of Humility. We equally come every day to the store to open, to wait for someone. But no one has come for over a year, and all of us have lost hope because, especially in Bethlehem, we depend on tourism almost 85 percent. Everyone here works with tourism and without pilgrims in Bethlehem the difficulty is and will be great, very great."

You are a young man with a family. How are young people like you experiencing this economic and social situation?

"We who live in Bethlehem have never felt like a young European, because we have always had great responsibilities, we have always lived in difficulties and hardships. However, we who live in Bethlehem have great joy and are happy because we are close to the Basilica of the Nativity and we feel like the 'soldiers' of the Nativity. Even in difficult times we had hope in the future, now we live only in fear because we are really losing hope in tomorrow. That is why we ask Italians not to leave us alone: return with your pilgrimages to Bethlehem as soon, as soon as possible."

The Franciscans are also by your side in these months, as always in difficult situations in the city's history. Their schools are working and they have remained in their place, a place that St. Francis pointed out to them. How are the children experiencing this difficult time?

"Throughout the Holy Land, Christians are a minority. Our numbers are decreasing and those who can have left or want to leave to live their lives in other countries of the world. Now, with Covid the situation has become much more complex. An economic situation like this we had never experienced, not even in the most difficult times in our history. Now we have to think about our children, and well have the Franciscans done in keeping all the schools open, even in the midst of enormous difficulties. In particular, we must think of the most defenseless and needy little ones, such as those who are cared for by the Effetà Institute. For only if we assist and care for our little boys and girls can we hope for a better future. We must pray that our future and the future of the Holy Land will be our children. I would like to end by telling you one thing. When I arrive in Manger Square in the morning and see no one, I think it is a nightmare and I hope someone will wake me up."

Sign up for newsletter