Christmas in Jaffa

"Jaffa is a highly significant place in the history of Christianity," said Father Zahar, head of the Catholic community in Jaffa. He invites one and all to visit the ancient port city and participate in the unique and enchanted Christmas events Jaffa offers.

Jaffa, one of the world's oldest port towns, is located on the shores of the Mediterranean in the Holy Land. According to holy writings, the Prophet Jonah set out on his journey from Jaffa. In the New Testament, Jaffa appears in the story of St. Peter, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus and the person who according to Christian tradition was the first pope. According to writings, while Peter was staying in the home of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa, he had a vision of an angel of God. The vision revealed to Peter was considered a formative  event, following which Christianity expanded into other territories, increased the scope of missionary activity and attracted many adherents throughout the world.

 

St. Peter's Church

Today, at the site where, according to tradition, Simon the Tanner's home once stood is St. Peter's Church, where members of the Catholic community would gather to pray until several decades ago. The church and bell tower, which can be seen from afar, used to welcome Christian believers arriving from the sea on their way to Jerusalem. Since Christians began making pilgrimages, Jaffa served as a gateway to the Holy Land.

 

Churches, mosques and cafes

Aside from the importance ascribed to the city as a center of religious faith and tradition, Jaffa today is also an integral part of Israel's largest modern metropolis - Tel Aviv-Jaffa. In Jaffa, members of three religious communities - Christians, Jews and Muslims - live side by side in harmony, and if you walk through its ancient alleyways, you'll see modern cafes and up-to-the minute fashion juxtaposed against churches, ancient synagogues and mosque domes.

Today, the Catholic community generally conducts its prayer services in St. Anthony's Church on Yeffet Street. Next to the church, which was built in 1932 to serve Jaffa's large Catholic community, is Terra Santa High School.

 

Mass as an intercultural encounter

Father Zahar explained that the Christmas Masses held at St. Anthony's Church are unique and also influenced by the special ambiance and life around them. He recalled that the local Catholic community has a custom of including Catholic foreign workers and their families living in the Tel Aviv area, as well as members of other religions who live in Jaffa and the surrounding areas. This transforms Christmas Mass into an important intercultural encounter. Entire families come to the Christmas events, and there are also activities for children in the church courtyard.

 

Sense of calm and partnership

Father Zahar further noted that a concert is held both before and after the Christmas Mass, and Mass itself will be held in both English and Arabic.

"We invite one and all to come and be part of the special Christmas experience in Jaffa," said the head of the community, while sending a message of peace. "It is important to me, especially during what has been a difficult period, to convey a message of calm and peace. I want all those who visit us to feel a sense of partnership and camaraderie."

 

St. Peter's Church