Pilgrims from around the world gathered Tuesday in the biblical city of Bethlehem, revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, to celebrate Christmas in the Holy Land.
Thousands of Palestinians and foreigners converged on the “little town” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with Christmas Eve festivities taking place in and around the Church of the Nativity.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Roman Catholic official in the Middle East, travelled from the holy city to Bethlehem on Tuesday afternoon.
He was later to lead midnight mass at the church, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expected to attend.
Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem, but cut off from the holy city by Israel’s separation barrier.
After crossing through the wall, Pizzaballa said it was a difficult time but there was reason for “hope”.
“We see in this period the weakness of politics, enormous economic problems, unemployment, problems in families — so when we look at this reality, we could say that there is nothing to hope for,” he said.
This year celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden fragment believed to be from the manger of Jesus.
Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month, Francesco Patton, chief custodian for the Holy Land, said.