Thou­sands pack Manger Square

For Pales­tinian Chris­tians, it’s a spe­cial Christ­mas.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Dalia Nammari

BETH­LE­HEM, WEsT Bank — Thou­sands of Chris­tians from the world over packed Manger Square in Beth­le­hem Mon­day to cel­e­brate the birth of Je­sus in the an­cient West Bank town where he was born.

For their Pales­tinian hosts, this hol­i­day sea­son was an es­pe­cially joy­ous one, with the hard­ships of the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion that so of­ten clouded pre­vi­ous Christ­mas Eve cel­e­bra­tions eased by the United Na­tions’ re­cent recog­ni­tion of an in­de­pen­dent state of Pales­tine.

In his an­nual preChrist­mas homily, the top Ro­man Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Pa­tri­arch Fouad Twal, said the road to ac­tual free­dom was still long, but this year’s fes­tiv­i­ties were dou­bly joy­ful, cel­e­brat­ing “the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Pales­tine.”

“The path (to state­hood) re­mains long, and will re­quire a united ef­fort,” added Twal, a Pales­tinian cit­i­zen of Jor­dan, at the pa­tri­ar­chate’s head­quar­ters in Jerusalem.

Then he set off in a pro­ces­sion for the West Bank city of Beth­le­hem.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple greeted Twal in Manger Square, out­side the Church of the Na­tiv­ity. The mood was fes­tive un­der sunny skies, with chil­dren dressed in hol­i­day fin­ery or in Santa cos­tumes, and march­ing bands play­ing.

Af­ter night­fall, a packed Manger Square, re­splen­dent with strings of lights, dec­o­ra­tions and a 55-foot Christ­mas tree, took on a fes­ti­val at­mos­phere.

Cel­e­bra­tions led up to the mid­night Mass at St. Cather­ine’s Church, next to the fourth-cen­tury Church of the Na­tiv­ity, built over the grotto where tra­di­tion says Je­sus was born.

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