Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in Israel, crossed an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem on Monday ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gathered in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts paraded past a giant Christmas tree.
Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.
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Earlier this month, thousands of faithful and dignitaries attended the lighting of the giant Christmas tree outside the Church of the Nativity in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Father Francesco Patton, a top official with the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, were presen.
Hamdallah said the Palestinians were resisting Israeli plans “to uproot us and strip us from our civilization and history.”
The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.