The Latin Patriach of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, is expected to use his Midnight Mass sermon to criticize Israel's continued construction of settlements in the West bank, Sky News reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, the Holy Land’s top Roman Catholic cleric will likely brand settlements an obstacle to regional stability when he addresses pilgrims at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity on Tuesday night.
Twal's speech is expected to drive home the message he delivered last week when he said efforts toward Middle East peace are being "hampered" by settlement building.
"As long as this problem is not resolved, the people of our region will suffer," he said.
Meanwhile Lt. Col. Eyal Zeevi, head of the Israel Defense Forces' Bethlehem District Coordination Office, told the AFP that "Israel is making a significant effort to safeguard freedom of religion in the area, facilitate participation in religious ceremonies and ensure that Christians in the region enjoy the holiday spirit."
Palestinian Christians will join thousands of pilgrims to celebrate in holy cities in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Some 600 Christian residents of the Gaza Strip began their journey to the West Bank on Tuesday, where they will participate in Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, Palestinian sources said, according to Ma'an news agency.
Bethlehem's Manger Square and Church of the Nativity are traditionally the focal point of Catholic festivities.
Last year, Christmas coincided with the Palestinian bid for an upgrade in status at the United Nations.
At the time, Twal congratulated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his Midnight Mass address, and said he is "at the forefront of those who worked and continue to work for nonviolence, peace and justice."
Twal is expected to receive Pope Francis when he visits the Holy Land in May 2014.
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