July 10th, 2019 — The World Heritage Committee (WHC) held its 43rd session in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan, from the 30th June until the 10th of July 2019. Each year, the United Nations’ International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) experts attend the annual session of the World Heritage Committee, and make recommendations on all matters related to natural World Heritage. The Committee discusses and makes decisions based on these recommendations.

The IUCN announced on Tuesday that it was removing the Birthplace of Jesus Christ – The Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, from its List of World Heritage in Danger due to the extensive restorative works which were completed on Bethlehem’s Nativity Church, in Palestine during the past 6 years.

The Presidential Committee for the Restoration of the Church of the Nativity was established in 2008 to carry out a restoration program. An international bid for the assessment study and the establishment of the restoration program was launched in August 2009 and the contract was awarded to an international consortium of Italian universities and research centers (the universities of Ferrara, Siena, Roma-La Sapienza and Naples; and CNR-Ivalsa) led by CFR-Italy and supported locally by the Community Development Group (CDG), Bethlehem.

Following the program launch, the late Mr. Said Khoury, Co-Founder of Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC) and founder of the Bethlehem Development Foundation (BDF), spearheaded the efforts and was the first to fund the needed studies for these restorations in 2011.

In 2011 the late Mr. Said Khoury launched the Bethlehem Development Initiative with the aim to transform Bethlehem and surrounding area into a vibrant international spiritual destination. To implement this vision, a group of International and Palestinian philanthropists established the Bethlehem Development Foundation (BDF) as a non-governmental organization in May 2012. BDF’s mission is to create a sustainable economy and infrastructure for Bethlehem, and to enable the Holy City to sparkle as a peaceful beacon and unique spiritual center of the world for pilgrims of all faiths.

BDF Board of Trustees is now chaired by Mr. Said Khoury’s Samer Khoury.

In 2013 and beyond, BDF was able to secure a generous donation of $1M from the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development to fund the restoration of the external facades and internal plaster.

Mr. Samer Khoury established the American Friends of the Bethlehem Development Foundation (AFBDF) was established in November. AFBDF was formally launched in a gala dinner at the Willards Intercontinental in Washington DC in February 2018 as an American non-profit to support the efforts of BDF. AFBDF seeks to establish financial assistance, grassroots support, and recognition for the development of the city of Bethlehem. Two fundraising events took place in New York City on the 10th of October, 2018 at the New York Athletic Club and a dinner was hosted in Houston on the 8th of October, 2018 at the Post Oak Hotel.

Since the commencement of the restoration works in 2017, AFBDF managed to secure a grant from the Levant Foundation in 2018. The Foundation have agreed to adopt the restoration of 11 out of a total of 50 Corinthian columns in the central nave of the Church. AFBDF managed to secure funding close to $1M from the USA and Chile which enabled the completion of restoration works.

BDF also held a fundraising charity event on the evening of Tuesday, the 11th of December 2018, at the Palazzo della Rovere in the Vatican, headquarters of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, under the patronage of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri – Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Patron of the Vatican fundraising event, to present the status of the restoration works of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem. 

A total of 30 governments, religious institutions and private groups have helped finance the renovations. Proudly, CCC, BDF and AFBDF joined a long list of donors form all over the world who made this project happen. Finally, visitors are able to once again admire mosaics that have been hidden from public view for hundreds of years.