Documenting Christianity:

Scenes from the Middle East

During Christmas celebrations, Catholic clergy participate in a procession outside the Church of the in the biblical city of Bethlehem, West Bank, on December 24th 2007. (Photo by Heidi Levine).

Richard Sennott

Much of the photography in this special report “The Way of Sorrow” is by Heidi Levine, an American photojournalist based in Jerusalem. Over the course of her career, which started in 1983, Levine has covered critical moments in the region, such as the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, the crisis in Syria, the Israel-Lebanon war and the numerous conflicts in the Gaza Strip. Through the years, she has also photographed the Christian community walking the ancient stone pathways, step by step, with pilgrims and the faithful, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. 

The following selection of photos show her work over the years, documenting the Christian minority in the land where faith begin. It’s a population that is shrinking, as war and terrorism drive migration to Europe and America.

Elias Khoury, a Christian Arab, gazes at the stone church in the Palestinian village of Ikrit, where he was born. Residents were forced out of the village by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. On Christmas, they still attend services at the old stone church. Ikrit, December 1998 (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Elias Khoury, a Christian Arab, gazes at the stone church in the Palestinian village of Ikrit, where he was born. Residents were forced out of the village by Israeli soldiers during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. On Christmas, they still attend services at the old stone church. Ikrit, December 1998.

An Orthodox Christian worshipper stops at one of the fourteen stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrow”, in the Old City of Jerusalem. On Good Friday, Christians around carry out a procession along the Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Jerusalem, April 14, 2017. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

An Orthodox Christian worshipper stops at one of the fourteen stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrow”, in the Old City of Jerusalem. On Good Friday, Christians carry out a procession along the Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. Jerusalem, April 14, 2017. 

Christian worshippers hold crosses as they take part in the Eastern and Orthodox Church's Good Friday procession in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 13, 2012. Thousands of worshippers retraced the route Jesus took along the Via Dolorosa towards his crucifixion. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian worshippers hold crosses as they take part in the Eastern and Orthodox Church’s Good Friday procession in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 13, 2012. Thousands of worshippers retraced the route Jesus took along the Via Dolorosa towards his crucifixion. 

Christian pilgrims from Eritrea are seen amongst the thousands of pilgrims from all over the world who carried wooden crosses along the Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrow" in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 14, 2017. The Good Friday procession remembers the day Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified. Christian faith holds that two days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian pilgrims from Eritrea are seen amongst the thousands of pilgrims from all over the world who carried wooden crosses along the Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrow” in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 14, 2017. The Good Friday procession remembers the day Jesus was sentenced to death and crucified. Christian faith holds that two days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. 

Palestinian Christian Pilgrims from Beit Jala celebrate during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9, 2017. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Palestinian Christian Pilgrims from Beit Jala celebrate during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9, 2017. 

Palestinian Christian Pilgrims celebrate during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9, 2017. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Palestinian Christian Pilgrims celebrate during a Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9, 2017. 

Christian Pilgrims celebrate during the Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9,2017. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Christian Pilgrims celebrate during the Palm Sunday procession on the Mt. of Olives on April 9,2017. 

In an open vehicle, Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem's Manger Square, which was packed with over 10,000 Christian pilgrims on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The visit marked the beginning of his three-day Middle East tour aimed at easing an ancient rift with Orthodox Christians and forging regional peace. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

In an open vehicle, Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, which was packed with over 10,000 Christian pilgrims on Sunday, May 25, 2014. The visit marked the beginning of his three-day Middle East tour aimed at easing an ancient rift with Orthodox Christians and forging regional peace. 

Israeli border police stand guard as Christian pilgrims from Serbia carry wooden crosses along Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrow" in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 14, 2017. Security was heightened in and around the Old City on Friday and through the Easter weekend after a 20-year-old British exchange student in Jerusalem was killed Friday in a stabbing attack, the latest in a reported wave of attacks by Palestinian militants that have taken the lives of 40 Israelis and two foreigners over the last 18 months. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Israeli border police stand guard as Christian pilgrims from Serbia carry wooden crosses along Via Dolorosa, or “The Way of Sorrow” in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 14, 2017. Security was heightened in and around the Old City on Friday and through the Easter weekend after a 20-year-old British exchange student in Jerusalem was killed Friday in a stabbing attack, the latest in a reported wave of attacks by Palestinian militants that have taken the lives of 40 Israelis and two foreigners over the last 18 months.

An Israeli soldier in an armored personnel carrier in front of the Church of Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem, where the Christian faith holds that Jesus Christ was born. Israeli forces entered the city in May 2002 in a wide-scale operation to arrest Palestinian militants. Bethlehem, May 2002 (Photo by Heidi Levine)

(Photo by Heidi Levine)

An Israeli soldier in an armored personnel carrier in front of the Church of Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem, where the Christian faith holds that Jesus Christ was born. Israeli forces entered the city in May 2002 in a wide-scale operation to arrest Palestinian militants. Bethlehem, May 2002.

A damaged statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop the chapel of the Holy Family Hospital and Orphanage in Bethlehem. The statue was hit by shrapnel when a shell from an Israeli tank slammed into the church during a predawn attack on March 14, 2002. (Photo by Heidi Levine)

(Photo by Heidi Levine)

A damaged statue of the Virgin Mary stands atop the chapel of the Holy Family Hospital and Orphanage in Bethlehem. The statue was hit by shrapnel when a shell from an Israeli tank slammed into the church during a predawn attack on March 14, 2002. 

Tourists from Brazil visit the 26-feet-high concrete wall in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Israel's separation barrier has become an attraction for tourists from all over the world. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Tourists from Brazil visit the 26-feet-high concrete wall in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Israel’s separation barrier has become an attraction for tourists from all over the world. 

During Christmas celebrations, Catholic clergy participate in a procession outside the Church of the in the biblical city of Bethlehem, West Bank, on December 24th 2007. (Photo by Heidi Levine).

(Photo by Heidi Levine)

During Christmas celebrations, Catholic clergy participate in a procession outside the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem, West Bank, on December 24th 2007. 

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa (wearing pink), and other clergymen stand by the Stone of Unction during the Easter Sunday procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from around the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017 (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa (wearing pink), and other clergymen stand by the Stone of Unction during the Easter Sunday procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from around the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017. 

Christian pilgrims during the Easter Sunday procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from around the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017 (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian pilgrims during the Easter Sunday procession at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from around the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017.

Christian pilgrims light candles during Easter Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from across the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017 (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian pilgrims light candles during Easter Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally believed by Christians to be the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ. Thousands of Christians from across the world flocked to Jerusalem to commemorate the day when, according to Christian tradition, Jesus resurrected. Jerusalem, April 16, 2017.

A single shaft of sunlight streams into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, illuminating the spot where fire erupted from the Tomb of Christ during the ceremony of the Holy Fire on Saturday, the day before Orthodox Christian Easter, in 2005. Fire comes from within the tomb and is quickly spread to candles held by the faithful of Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Coptic denominations. More than 10,000 Orthodox pilgrims filled the church that year. Jerusalem, April 30, 2005 (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

A single shaft of sunlight streams into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, illuminating the spot where fire erupted from the Tomb of Christ during the ceremony of the Holy Fire on Saturday, the day before Orthodox Christian Easter, in 2005. Fire comes from within the tomb and is quickly spread to candles held by the faithful of Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Coptic denominations. More than 10,000 Orthodox pilgrims filled the church that year. Jerusalem, April 30, 2005.

Christian pilgrims carry crosses inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during a Good Friday procession in the Old city of Jerusalem on April 2, 2010. Christian worshippers retraced the route Jesus Christ took along the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrow”, towards his crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/Sipa Press)

Christian pilgrims carry crosses inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during a Good Friday procession in the Old city of Jerusalem on April 2, 2010. Christian worshippers retraced the route Jesus Christ took along the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrow”, towards his crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Anton Qulibyoba Yoakim, 63, (R) kisses his friend Baker Ma’Ali, 63, at the Franciscan Church of Emmaus in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017. Anton recalled how they both breastfed from each other’s mother when they were babies. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Anton Qulibyoba Yoakim, 63, (R) kisses his friend Baker Ma’Ali, 63, at the Franciscan Church of Emmaus in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017. Anton recalled how they both breastfed from each other’s mother when they were babies. 

Christian clergymen prepare to hand out Bethlehem-baked rolls of bread to worshippers in the Franciscan Church of Emmaus. The tradition honors the biblical story in which Jesus “broke the bread” with the disciples Cleopas and Simeon. Over a thousand Christian worshippers from across the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as foreign pilgrims, attended the Mass in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017.(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth).

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian clergymen prepare to hand out Bethlehem-baked rolls of bread to worshippers in the Franciscan Church of Emmaus. The tradition honors the biblical story in which Jesus “broke the bread” with the disciples Cleopas and Simeon. Over a thousand Christian worshippers from across the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as foreign pilgrims, attended the Mass in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017.

Palestinian Christians worship at the Franciscan Church of Emmaus during a Mass that celebrates the biblical story of The Road to Emmaus, in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Palestinian Christians worship at the Franciscan Church of Emmaus during a Mass that celebrates the biblical story of The Road to Emmaus, in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh on Monday, April 17, 2017. 

Priestly robes and a statue of Saint Francis are seen in the sacristy of the Franciscan Church of Emmaus in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, also known as Emmaus. On Monday April 17, 2017, over a thousand Christian pilgrims flocked to a Mass that celebrates the biblical story of The Road to Emmaus. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Priestly robes and a statue of Saint Francis are seen in the sacristy of the Franciscan Church of Emmaus in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, also known as Emmaus. On Monday April 17, 2017, over a thousand Christian pilgrims flocked to a Mass that celebrates the biblical story of The Road to Emmaus. 

Father Salem Yunis, from Aleppo, Syria (R), and Father Oscar Rodriguez, from El Salvador (L), stand on the remnants of an ancient Roman road in Emmaus, which today lies in West Bank territory.

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Father Salem Yunis, from Aleppo, Syria (R), and Father Oscar Rodriguez, from El Salvador (L), stand on the remnants of an ancient Roman road in Emmaus, which today lies in West Bank territory.

Christian tombstones are seen in a neglected Christian cemetery in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, also known as Emmaus. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Christian tombstones are seen in a neglected Christian cemetery in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, also known as Emmaus. 

Anton Qulibyoba Yoakim, 63, bangs on the metal door of the home he grew up in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, on Monday, April 17, 2017. He now lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his family. (Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

(Photo by Heidi Levine/GroundTruth)

Anton Qulibyoba Yoakim, 63, bangs on the metal door of the home he grew up in the West Bank village of El Qubeibeh, on Monday, April 17, 2017. He now lives in the Old City of Jerusalem with his family. 

 

About the photographer

Heidi Levine started her career as a staffer with the Associated Press in Israel, then joined the French photo agency Sipa Press in 1993. 
She has brought frontline action and behind-the-scenes human stories to the world’s major press outlets. Her photographs have appeared, often as cover stories, in numerous international publications, including Time, Stern, Focus, Paris Match, L’Express, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Amnesty International, Forbes Magazine and more. Levine has won several awards for her photography, including an Emmy nomination in 2012.

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