The Palestinian Authority has hosted thousands of visitors for Christmas celebrations in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Christmas Mass was celebrated at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, attended by many Palestinian Christians. This worshipper had a message of goodwill: “To make peace, that’s the message. For everyone in the world, to make peace.”
Bells rang out in Manger Square summoning throngs of pilgrims from around the world to the ancient grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. Gayle Weiland came from California in the United States.
“You know, I believe it’s all energy, and you can feel the energy here. It just transcends. It’s spiritual. I actually am an artist and I paint angels, and I feel like I’m surrounded [by angels],” said Weiland.
It was a big turnout of visitors this year and that is good news for Palestinian merchants in Manger Square. Shopkeeper Mary Giacaman offers pilgrims mementos from the Holy Land.
“We sell nativity scenes made from olive wood, we sell Christmas ornaments, anything made of olive wood or mother of pearl; we make it and sell it also,” she said.
Palestinians here complain that Bethlehem is walled off by the Israeli “occupation,” but they say that cannot take the joy out of Christmas.
“It’s always a Merry Christmas; it’s always a new hope for all the people. We pray it will bring peace in our hearts, in our home, in our country, all over the world,” said Giacaman.
In a land torn by conflict, Bethlehem remains a symbol of hope for better times.
IN PICTURES: Christmas Around the Word