Thousands pack Manger Square
For Palestinian Christians, it’s a special Christmas.
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.