Beit Sahour is home to 13 denominations of Christianity and Islam. Residents of Beit Sahour freely and openly practice their faith whatever it may be. Currently, there are four main churches in Beit Sahour: Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church.
There are also three other significant religious sites in Beit Sahour:
1. Virgin Mary's Well and Chapel:
Known locally as Beer Al Seeda, supposedly this large well was created by Jacob, the son of Issac (son of Abraham) and is located in the heart of the Historic City. It is said that the Virgin Mary stopped by the well and requested a drink but was denied by the well keeper. Subsequently, the water in the well overflowed and the Virgin Mary was able to drink after all. Afterward, many other miracles are associated with the well. The existing chapel was built over the well in 1970.
2. Greek Orthodox Shepherds' Field:
Also known as "Hakel Al Rou'ah" it contains a subterranean (cave) church dedicated to the Mother of God. The olive trees in the field date back thousands of years and it is believed to be the spot where the angels appeared to the shepherds' and announced the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem according to Luke's gospel. The tombs of three shepherds are also located on the west side of the cave church.
3. Franciscan Shepherds' Field:
This site is known locally as "Isyar" and is located 1 km north of the Greek Orthodox Shepherds' Field. The current church was built in 1953-1954 over a cave in which it is believed the shepherds' lived. The tent design permits natural light to enter and illuminate the church in a beautiful way. There is also archeological evidence of the remnants of churches and monasteries from the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th centuries. One of these buildings contains stones from the original apse of the Church of the Nativity.
4. The Evangelical Lutheran Church
The congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour grew out of the original mission school around 1900, during the Ottoman Empire. Christians suffered under the Ottomans, and their numbers were dwindling. The aim of the Beit Sahour mission was to teach the Christian faith in the simple, understandable Lutheran ways, to complement the more elaborate orthodox religious practices. Bible studies and devotions grew, and, in 1956, the church building was built.
When compared with the historic churches of the Holy Land who trace their roots back to the first Pentecost, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Holy Land is new. Its ministries go back to the mid-19th century when German and English people began to serve in the land of Jesus.
By the standard of most of the world’s religious bodies, the ELCJ is a small church. Five of its six congregations are in Palestine, clustered around Jerusalem and Bethlehem and one is in the capital of Jordan, Amman. The Church of Hope in Ramallah and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman are made up largely of the families of refugees who fled their homes at the time of the tragic wars that followed the creation of Israel in 1948.
The church has two places of worship in the Bethlehem area. There is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour. Attached to the Christmas Church in Bethlehem, there is an international center for an intercultural encounter (Dar Annadwa), with galleries, meeting rooms and a historic cave and gift shop. The Church provides fellowship and activities for the community inside Beit Sahour and the neighboring communities. These activities include a choir, folk-dancers, Boy Scouts, Women's Group, Youth Group and a Sunday school.
5. The Greek Orthodox Church:
The Greek Orthodox community is the largest Christian community in Beit Sahour, numbering some 8,000 members. Originally services were held in the old church, located in the Greek Orthodox Shepherds' Field, but fear of attack from wild animals was too great and the congregation moved to a house in the city centre. In 1895, under the guidance of Patriarch Girasemos, a new church was built using donations of money and voluntary labor from the parishioners. During the 1940's an earthquake damaged the church and it underwent restoration and expansion in 1952.
In 1967, active and interested parishioners called for the formation of the Church Council to serve the Congregation and supervise its assets. Since then, and up to the present day, elected representatives from all Orthodox hamulas (family based tribes) form the Church Council. Representatives from this Council secure the active participation of the different hamulas. Since the late 60s, the mission and activities of the Council have been constantly developing. Presently, the Church Council consists of ten members who serve a four year term. The inside of the church is a blend of old and new. Original icons from the 1800’s adorn the altar area and colorful paintings of Jesus and various Saints decorate the walls and the ceiling dome. The recent art work was painted by a visiting Greek artist.
There is a long history associated with the Greek Orthodox Church in Beit Sahour and the world wide Greek Orthodox community. The Greek Orthodox community has always been very active, encouraging community participation. For example, 'Bir Al Sayedah,’ the women's committee, organizes a variety of activities, with an emphasis on children's recreation and education. They are also responsible for teaching at the Sunday school. Additionally, the church has built two halls for community use, with a nominal fee charged for hire to ensure that it is accessible to all residents.
6. The Greek Catholic Parish in Beit Sahour:
The church was established in 1891 in the time of the Patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem, Archbishop Fillip Malouk. Some Beit Sahourian families joined the Catholic Church, and the Patriarchate exerted efforts to build a church for them. The St. Michael Church was built in 1895, and father Khalil Abu Sada was the first priest to serve the Parish and the people of Beit Sahour. He was followed by father Elias Sida, and then Father Bulos Antaki (now the Patriarchal Vicar in Alexandria). The Parish increased in number, and begot its devoted son the Patriarchal Vicar, the late Archbishop Jubrael Abu Sada. He worked hard to serve his people and his town Beit Sahour. In 1955 he built the current church known as “Church of Shepherds’ Lady.” He also helped in building schools and clinics in all over the patriarchate. In Beit Sahour, a seminary (Seminary of Shepherds’ Lady) was built in 1958, and in 1965 Archbishop Jubrael Abu Sada laid the cornerstone of the Greek Catholic School. Archbishop Elarion Kaputchi continued building it.
With this prosperity in Beit Sahour, Archbishop Jubrael Abu Sada asked for the assistance of the Basilian Salvatorian Order to help him take care of the people and institutions of Beit Sahour. The attention and regard of the Basilian Salvatorian Order played a great role in the development and progress of the Christian community.
In 1989, the Patriarchal Vicar Archbishop Lutfi Lahham (now his Beatitude Patriarch Grigorius Lahham) built the Salvatorian Seminary in order to receive the vocations for the priesthood from Palestine, Jordan and Israel to raise them spiritually and educationally. This Seminary is now under the supervision of father Nu’man Kazahia. The Greek Catholic Church actively participates in the Beit Sahour Community. The Housing project of the Greek Catholic Church was erected for young low income families. Additionally, the church established the “Choir of the Shepherds’ Lady.” The fathers who served this congregation had a prominent role in establishing and improving this choir. As a commitment to the youth in the community, the Scouts group was established in 1995 with the endeavor and benediction of Archbishop Lutfi Lahham. This group has had an active role in the national and religious occasions. In 2004 the “Christian Youth” was renewed and renamed “Greek Catholic Youth.” In a short period of time the “Youth” grew and developed to be one of the most active Youth groups in the region. Moreover, other human and social activities are taking place in the congregation, like developing prayers and hymns, renovating and decorating the churches of St. Michael and the Shepherds’ Lady.
7. Lady of Fatima Catholic Church (Latin Patriarchate Church):
When the Franciscan Fathers arrived in Bethlehem in 1347, a group of faithful residents started to form in the nearby vicinity of Beit Sahour. They were met by a few Catholics that had already existed there. The Franciscan brothers began to offer their pastoral services to that community.
In 1724, the Franciscan brothers partially bought the land that was known as the Shepherds’ Field. In 1820, they fully owned it and put the property in the service of the Catholic community in the town.
In 1847, in the aftermath of the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Mgr. Valerga, the first Roman Catholic Patriarch, started to establish parishes all over the country. In 1858, Pere Moretain, a French priest who was also an architectural engineer, was appointed as parish priest of Beit Sahour upon the request of Mr. Salem Ayyad, a prominent figure of Beit Sahour’s Catholic community. Full of enthusiasm and pastoral zeal he succeeded in raising enough funds during a visit to Italy to come back and start the new parish. In 1863, Pere Moretain bought the piece of property where the actual parish is today and built a small church and rectory. From that day on the Latin Parish of Beit Sahour, called Our Lady of Fatima Parish and sometimes Saint Theresa of the Little Flower Parish, continued to cater to the pastoral needs of its parishioners in addition to many other needs, especially through its school.
The main activity in the service of the parish and the whole town is the Latin High School. The school’s demographics contain approximately 400 students coming from Beit Sahour and the neighboring villages and towns. In addition to this institution, a scout group, the Christian Young Students Group, the Leggio Mariae Groups and the Liturgical Choir are some of the main pastoral activities of the parish.