– A Catholic goods shop opened its first brick and mortar store last month, presenting a wide variety of merchandise which supports artisans in the Holy Land.
The store, Bethlehem Handicrafts, is owned by the Bannoura family, who produce a majority of the items at a factory in Bethlehem along with a number of other families.
The shop opened in 2000 as a website. In 2003, the Bannouras moved to Denver, selling items at numerous parishes and mall kiosks throughout Colorado. Fifteen years after settling in the state, the family were finally able to open their first physical shop in Aurora, Colorado, April 2.
“We never ever showed everything in one spot because we have a lot of items. Especially now because we carry some very large items, some of them even for churches,” co-owner George Bannoura told CNA.
“We came to Denver, and at that time we [had] almost no tourists coming to Bethlehem, and we collected the finished wood from various families around us and we came to Denver, and we opened here.”
Most of the ware is chiseled out of olive wood, a type of timber common in the Bethlehem region and used in Palestinian tradition. The store offer items such as olive wood crosses, crucifixes, rosaries, saint statues, and kitchen ware. Additionally, the shop holds ceramic items and soap from the region as well. Bannoura said that among the most popular items are the crucifixes, which have little windowed compartments filled with Holy Land soil, stones, frankincense, and flowers.
Many pieces are made by his own family in the Holy Land, where he goes back to visit almost every summer and helps out in the factory. Bethlehem Handicrafts works with almost 400 artisans and collaborates with numerous Christian families, each with their own niche.
“For example, we don’t do much work with the crosses; we buy the crosses from a number of families, the rosaries, we get them from the ladies who make the rosaries and the bracelets; the ceramic from the community who makes the ceramic; kitchen utensils, we have a wonderful group that does nothing but kitchen utensils for years.”
Besides aiding families in the Holy Land, Bannoura said he enjoys that the excellence of their merchandise raises the bar for the quality of work from other families. “We have a great influence on many families on how to improve the quality,” he said.
In 2000, Bethlehem was off limits to the general public due to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Because Christians already make up a small portion of the area, Bannoura said the lack of tourists affected the communities, who depended on the tourism as a major source of income.
“Bethlehem had closed for almost three years, and we basically had almost no tourists coming to Bethlehem. So we had no income for three years, not just me and my family, other families as well. A majority of the Bethlehem people had no income for three years.”
Bannoura lamented the conflict, which has driven many Christians away. Without the Christian community, he said the churches and holy sites would become closer to museums than places of worship.
“We want to live in a peaceful community, we want to live in a peaceful environment. We pray for peace, and our Lord himself, asked us to pray for our enemies … My hope is the three major religions – Jewish, Muslim, and Christian – will have Jerusalem for everyone … Jerusalem can hold the three religions.”