One more time: Which church is above the traditional site of the birth of Jesus?

Trust me, I know that I just dealt with this issue in a pre-Christmas post about an error in a Bethlehem dateline story in The Washington Post.

It appears that there is still confusion, out there in major newsrooms, about which church is which on Manger Square in Bethlehem. That earlier Post advance report -- which has not been corrected -- stated:

There will be a Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the 1,700-year-old basilica built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born and visited by Bethlehem shepherds.

Alas, the Associated Press story covering Christmas events in Bethlehem -- the story that will be read in the vast majority of American newspapers -- has repeated the same error that was in the Post report. Read carefully and see if you spot the overlap:

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led a procession from his Jerusalem headquarters into Bethlehem, passing through a military checkpoint and past Israel's concrete separation barrier, which surrounds much of the town. ...
Twal led worshippers in a Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.
In his homily, Twal expressed sympathy for the plight of Palestinians, Syrian refugees and "victims of all forms of terrorism everywhere," according to a transcript issued by his office. He wished "all inhabitants of the Holy Land" a happy and healthy new year.

Yes, the Post reference was more specific -- making the error more obvious.

Now, let's follow the logic here.

First, Patriarch Twal is the leader of the Latin -- that means Roman Catholic -- church in this region. Thus, he would be leading the midnight Mass on the 25th of December in the Catholic church sanctuary at Manger Square.

Does that make sense? Catholic prelates lead Catholic rites at Catholic altars.

Now look at the old Time graphic at the top of this post. It shows the layout of the ancient Eastern Orthodox Church of the Nativity, in which the Orthodox Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on the 7th of January, following the older Julian calendar, marking the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, notice that the Grotto of the Nativity is underneath the altar of this Orthodox sanctuary.

Follow the logic: Orthodox bishops lead Orthodox rites at Orthodox altars.

Now, look at the right half of the following diagram. First, on the right, is the ancient Orthodox sanctuary. Then, on the left side of that drawing, is another, newer church sanctuary -- marked with the letter H.

What is the name of that newer church sanctuary?

That is very easy to find online. Here is a typical reference from a guide for pilgrims and tourists, complete with a helpful note about Christmas:

These days the Church of Saint Catherine in Bethlehem, Israel is probably best known as the venue where the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem holds the midnight mass on Christmas Eve each year. The event is televised worldwide and the mass is attended by hundreds of Christians who come from near and far to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The Church of Saint Catherine in Bethlehem is a Roman Catholic Church right next door to the Church of the Nativity.

So the Catholic, Franciscan sanctuary -- the name is the Church of St. Catherine -- is located NEXT to the 1,700-year-old Orthodox sanctuary, with its altar that is positioned above the cave that is, according to church tradition, the birthplace of Jesus.

The Catholic patriarch did NOT lead a Catholic Mass at the altar in the Orthodox Church of the Nativity. If he did, that would be an international news story in and of itself.

Both of these news stories contain errors that should be corrected.

Attention editors who care about accuracy: Want more evidence?

Watch this video from a January 7th Christmas Orthodox Divine Liturgy in the ancient Church of the Nativity.

Now, watch this video of a pre-Christmas Mass in the Church of St. Catherine.

Can you see that these rites are being observed in very different churches?

Once again, what is wrong with this passage from that Washington Post story?

There will be a Christmas Eve Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the 1,700-year-old basilica built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born and visited by Bethlehem shepherds.

That is wrong. Why not correct this error?

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