From Bethlehem, hope is made naturally

The real people in the real town of Bethlehem, Israel, live in world very far removed from familiar Christmas hymns. The region's economy is depressed, and the Christians who live in the birthplace of Our Lord are suffering. The good news is that many of them have banded together to build better lives for their families, and they're doing so mostly out of available natural resources, like wood--as did a famous carpenter from Nazareth some 2,000 years ago.

And so we meet the group called the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans, which, in their own words, is

a non-profit, holistic development initiative formed in 2009 by members of the Bethlehem community.  We want to provide local artisans with access to global markets while also engaging in development projects. Many local craftspeople are the sole providers for their families, but are unable to sell their products at a fair price due to the economic crisis, language barriers and other outside forces. We want to give artisans the opportunity to be connected to the international community within the framework of fair trade, meaning that they get paid a fair price for what they make. By helping the artisans, making more sales and growing the organization; we hope to strengthen other areas of Bethlehem’s economy.  We want to promote recycling, education and food security to help ensure the sustainability of the community. 

You can't help but applaud the industry of these men and women, who, in seeking to build better lives, are doing so in many ways with an eye towards conservation. Many of their hand-made products are created from recycled materials such as wood and glass. And their handiwork is, to put it simply, absolutely beautiful. 

And so this Christmas--and all throughout the year--learn about the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisan group, and help them with your purchases. In doing so, you will be helping the town in which Our Lord was born, as well the creation for which he came to save. You'll also be helping your fellow Christians. Indeed, in one of their informational documents, we read that  

almost all of our producers, when asked what message they want to deliver, say the same thing: “Please support the remaining Christians in Palestine.  We are only asking that you help us by buying our crafts.  We don’t want a handout. We only want to support our families and community by doing the work that we love.”  These Christian artists need your support to remain as “living stones” in the Holy Land.

Here's some of their work: Crosses, embroideryjewelry, olive oil soap, and rosaries, with the wood products made from olive wood. Below is their Christmas message to supporters and the world: 

Dear Friends,

My name is Jiries (George) Canavati.  I am the the Sales Manager of the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA) based in Bethlehem, Palestine. I write to send you Christmas greetings from the town where Christ was born, and to ask you to think of us as you celebrate your Christmas wherever you are across the world.

Our non-profit organization operates to give the artisans of Bethlehem, their work force and families, the opportunity to spread their trade world-wide.  These Bethlehem artisans have a wealth of experience when it comes to crafting olive wood and embroidered goods, and developing natural products such as olive soap.  The wisdom of these crafts has been handed down from generation to generation, particularly those who craft olive wood. 

Unfortunately this craft is in danger of dying out for several reasons.  Among them, while the tourist traffic in Bethlehem remains high it is also narrow.  Not all carvers get an opportunity to sell their goods in part because the political situation in the region means that tourists are bused to and from prominent religious sites without a chance to explore the area and meet the people at leisure.  As a result many shops and showrooms have greatly reduced traffic.  Furthermore, effective communication with the tourist population about our needs, and our goods is always a challenge.  To address these needs BFTA has developed a website ( to allow 98 artisans and more to sell their products all over the world.  We could not have done this without your valuable cooperation. 

We received funding help from Swedish sources that established our organization in well-equipped office space, allowing our tireless volunteers space to work and the artisans a location to connect with customers around the world. It is a welcoming location to extend hospitality, and we look forward to hosting more supportive delegation to connect them directly to the producers. The visitors and the locals will have the space to share ideas and expertise for empowering their handicrafts production.  We are always grateful for support and expertise as we seek to develop our organization.

Our region is blessed with a wonderful range of natural and organic products, many special to this area.  We believe they should be available without prejudice because of origin to people all over the world.

We wish you all the best and we hope the year 2011 will be a good one for everyone, and may bring Joy, Love and Peace.

I hope that you will continue to support and promote us through 2011; I look forward to hearing from you, and strengthening our friendship. From the heart of the Holy Land, the artisans, board members, staff we wish you Merry Christmas and a blessed happy New Year.  

We thank you for your continued support to promote,

Peace & Much Love
Jiries (George) Canavati
Sales Manager
Roubina Canavati
Assistant Manager, or contact us at [email protected] and [email protected]


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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.