By JUDITH SUDILOVSKY

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — Helping restore the roof of the Church of the Nativity is like touching a piece of the beginning of Christian history, said an Italian restorer who is heading work on the first phase of the long-awaited repairs.

“I am not a practicing religious person, but working on this church is very emotional,” said Marcello Piacenti, 53, the on-site project manager and a restorer with his family’s company, Piacenti Spa, which began the work in September. “I have restored many old churches in the world, but when I arrived here I knew I had arrived to the center of everything.”

More than five years in the planning and researching, the restoration of the church’s wooden beams and lead roof and its 38 windows represents the beginning of an ambitious project, said engineer Imad Nasser, technical representative of the Palestinian Authority’s national committee for the restoration of the Church of the Nativity. Nasser said that, two years ago, it was estimated that the repairs would cost $15 million, not including the construction management fees.

Repairs are being done in several phases, as the funds become available, he said, with essential repairs such as the roof given priority. The next stage will include the completion of protection of the stone facade of the external walls once the funds are acquired, he said, noting that more than $2.7 million is still needed for that phase.

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