Visitors converged on the town’s large Christmas tree in Manger Square, near the spot believed to mark Jesus’ birthplace. Uniformed Palestinian scouts wearing yellow and gold capes paraded past assembled visitors, the sound of drums and bagpipes filling the cool, clear air. Vendors hawked snacks and holiday gifts, adding to the festive atmosphere.
The Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, hosted Palestinian dignitaries and pilgrims from around the world for a midnight Mass. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was among those in attendance.
At midday Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crossed an Israeli army checkpoint from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where he was greeted by prominent members of Bethlehem’s Christian community. He later celebrated Midnight Mass at the Church of Saint Catherine, part of the Church of the Nativity compound, which houses the grotto revered as Jesus’ birthplace.
In his homily, Pizzaballa lamented the violence and deep divisions that characterize the modern Holy Land. But he also praised those who pursue what he called the “style of Bethlehem,” or example of Jesus.
“Celebrating Christmas also means celebrating those who still have a desire to love mankind and put themselves on the line for it,” he said. “Here in the Holy Land, and not only today but every day of the year, there are still many people who celebrate the Christmas of Jesus in this way.”