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Bethlehem celebrates Christmas as tourists return

Bethlehem celebrates Christmas as tourists return
, Sunday, 25 December 2022 (12:41 IST)
Thousands of visitors descended on Bethlehem to join the Christmas celebrations in the town rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic. Bethlehem is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity.
The Israeli Tourism Ministry said it expected about 120,000 pilgrims from all over the world.
It includes nearly 600 Palestinian Christians from Gaza whose travel to the town located in the occupied West Bank was approved by Israeli authorities.
'The message of Christmas is a message of peace'
The top Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaball, on Saturday led a procession from Jerusalem.
He covered the last part of the way to the site where Jesus is believed to have been born in Bethlehem on foot.
He would celebrate Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, built on the spot Christians believe was Jesus's birthplace.
"We are living in very difficult challenges,'' he said, noting the war in Ukraine and a recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence. "But the message of Christmas is a message of peace."
"It's possible to change things,'' he added. "We will be very clear in what we have to do and what we have to say in order to preserve the importance of unity and reconciliation among all,'' Pizzaballa said.
Bethlehem once again crowded by visitors from abroad
A huge Christmas tree with a star on top adorns the square in front of the Church of the Nativity.
"Christmas is the town's celebration, and we put in a lot of time and effort to prepare for it," Bethlehem mayor Hanna Hanania said.
For the past two years, the pandemic kept international visitors away, but they are now back , said the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank.
"We are celebrating Christmas this year in a very much different way than last year,'' said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah. "We're celebrating Christmas with pilgrims coming from all over the world.''
Throughout the day, hundreds of people strolled through Manger Square for Christmas Eve celebrations.
Marching bands pounding on drums and playing bagpipes paraded through the area, and foreign tourists meandered about and snapped selfies with the town's large Christmas tree behind them.

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