A devout Christian, Bush makes pilgrimage to Jesus' birthplace
In a break from diplomacy, the U.S. President said his soul was uplifted by 'the place where our savior was born.'
Passing through a tiny "Door of Humility", U.S. President George W. Bush made a pilgrimage to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on Thursday in the West Bank.
Revered by Christians as a place of peace, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity stood in contrast to symbols of conflict Bush saw earlier in a motorcade from Jerusalem to the city of Ramallah, where he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The drive gave Bush a first-hand look at many of the more contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the separation fence, Israel Defense Forces checkpoints, and West Bank settlements.
In a courtyard next to the centuries-old church in Manger Square, Bush voiced hope a future state would bring an end to Israeli security measures, allowing Palestinians far greater freedom.
"Some day, I hope that as a result of the formation of a Palestinian state, there won't be walls, and checkpoints. People will move freely in a democratic [Palestinian] state," Bush said.
"That's the vision, greatly inspired by my belief that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to each man, woman and child on the face of the Earth is freedom."
After voicing confidence in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal this year, Bush traveled by helicopter to Bethlehem, a town whose lifeblood tourist industry has been hit hard by the past seven years of violence between the sides.
A devout Christian, Bush entered the basilica, one of the oldest churches in continuous use in the world, through its small "Door of Humility" and said his soul was uplifted by the "place where our savior was born".
The door to the church, originally built in the fourth century, was made low to stop marauders entering on horseback.
Bush was greeted by a group of bearded Greek Orthodox priests wearing black robes and held hands with two of them as he visited the church's grotto, where a 14-point star marks the spot where the faithful believe the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ.