Home / RELIGION / 1000s Follow The Peace Talks to Town of Bethlehem

1000s Follow The Peace Talks to Town of Bethlehem

  • Talk of peace increases tourism
  • Increased tourism brings hope to Bethlehem leaders
  • People were encouraged to be optimistic in hard times
  • Hope for peace among brothers

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations on Tuesday, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.

The heavy turnout, its highest in years, helped lift spirits in Bethlehem as leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally

Christians pilgrim worshippers visit the Grotto of the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Christians pilgrim worshippers visit the Grotto of the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

“The message of Christmas is a message of peace, love and brotherhood. We have to be brothers with each other,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, as he arrived in town.

Excited tourists milled about the town’s Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and admiring a large, illuminated Christmas Tree. Marching bands and scout troops performed for the visitors in the streets, and on a stage next to the tree.

Will Green of New York City, along with his wife, Debbie, and their 2-year-old daughter Daphne were among the crowds of people who greeted Twal’s motorcade as he entered town from nearby Jerusalem.

Green said that being in Bethlehem for Christmas was a dream come true. “All the stories that we grew up with. It’s here. It’s part of our life. We heard them in the family, school and church. This is the birthplace,” he said.

Palestinian dignitaries greeted Twal at the entrance of Bethlehem. His motorcade crawled through the town’s narrow streets as he stopped to shake hands and greet the throngs of visitors. It took him nearly 90 minutes to make the short trip to celebrate Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity compound.

Hundreds of people packed the compound for the service. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh were among the dignitaries in attendance.

In his homily, Twal addressed Abbas, telling the president he prays for a “just and equitable solution” for the Palestinians. Twal, himself a Palestinian, also expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, particularly families with relatives imprisoned by Israel or those who have suffered as a result of the conflict with Israel.

“The world is living through a long night of wars, destruction, fear, hate, racism and, at the present time, cold and snow,” he said. Lamenting strife in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, he also urged worshippers “not to forget our own problems here: the prisoners and their families who hope for their release, the poor who have lost their land and their homes demolished, families waiting to be reunited, those out of work and all who suffer from the economic crisis.”

Yet Twal called on people not to despair. “We are invited to be optimistic and to renew our faith that this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people,” he said.

“Oh Holy Child, God of goodness and mercy, look with kindness on the Holy Land and on our people who live in Palestine, in Israel, in Jordan and all the Middle East. Grant them the gift of reconciliation so that they may all be brothers — sons of one God,” he said.

The number of visitors to Bethlehem remained below the record levels of the late 1990s, when Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts were at their height.

Following a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, the numbers plunged. But thanks to a period of relative calm, they have been steadily climbing in recent years — and got an extra push this year thanks to the resumption of peace talks.

“Our message is a message of justice and peace,” said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah. “We Palestinians are seeking peace and we deserve to have peace and our children deserve to live in peace.”

A spokesman said 10,000 foreign visitors had entered town by the early evening, slightly higher than last year. Israel’s Tourism Ministry, which coordinates the visits with the Palestinians, said the number could reach 25,000 during the holiday season.

Despite the Christmas cheer, Mideast politics loomed in the background. In order to enter Bethlehem, Twal’s motorcade had to cross through the hulking concrete separation barrier that Israel built during the uprising. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep attackers from entering nearby Jerusalem, but Palestinians say the structure has stifled the town and stolen their land.

In addition, few Palestinians seem to think that the current round of peace talks will bear fruit. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry relaunched the talks last summer, but there have been no signs of progress.

Israel carried out a series of airstrikes and other attacks Tuesday in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian who had been working along the border. The fighting, which left a 3-year-old Palestinian girl dead, was the heaviest in more than a year.

Christmas also serves as a reminder of the dwindling numbers of Christians who live in the Holy Land. Over the decades, tens of thousands of Christians have left, fleeing violence or in search of better opportunities overseas. Christians now make up a tiny percentage of the population.

Bethlehem is now only one-third Christian, with most residents Muslim. In an annual gesture, Israel permitted some 500 members of Gaza’s small Christian community to leave the Hamas-ruled territory and cross through Israel to attend the celebrations in Bethlehem.

But for one night at least, residents and visitors brushed aside their troubles to celebrate the holiday.

Nick Parker, a student from Georgia Tech University, said he was enjoying the food and making friends with local residents and fellow travelers.

“It’s special to be here where Jesus was born,” he said. “It’s a special opportunity, once in a lifetime.”

 

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Featured Image: Associated Press

1000s Follow The Peace Talks to Town of Bethlehem

About Associated Press

Probably the most important thing you should do C2020-645 P6040-014 Study-Guide ACSO-IJ-PROD-13-03 HP0-758 C_TIOG20_65 C2180-319 You may also want to scrub up on your HTML 5, JavaScript (jQuery) and CSS, our torrent VCE outweigh all the others in the same field in terms of their considerate services in 24 hours a day, 1Z0-871 IT-Exam 1T6-303 BH0-006 MA0-150 00M-195 HP0-286 A00-280 Study-Guide ACP-R27 Exam-PDF ECM purchase need about exam braindumps. They are enthusiastic about what there are doing every day. Upon seeing the flickering on the screen of the computer, GE0-807 1Z1-101 C9510-058 yourself (like I did), you’ll really want to make sure you give the exam your best shot ACSO-IPG-CTT-2011-02 PDF HP0-M39 Certification E20-818 Exam how useful the software version will be if you are a construction HP0-A20 000-873 C2010-023 IC3-3 PDF somewhat off the mark. 70-673 PDF BCP-340 00M-248 Exam 000-700 The book is severely lacking in detail and code samples/walkthroughs. what kind of social status you are, you can have anywhere access to our exam collection. Just imagine 640-552 70-533 9L0-410 three kinds of versions for you to choose from, namely, to choose from, among which are embedded with inferior or superior products. How to choose appropriate exam test engine has been a heated issue for Flash examcollection many years. We offer you worry-free purchasing. In past years we 000-M09 they do eat or rest, they just gorge on the meals or just have HP0-J38 1D0-51B C8060-350 HP0-J38 9A0-315 C2010-507 101-400 E20-515 EX300 fact that earlier download for exam HP0-J67 Exam C2180-319 E20-850 HC-722-CHS DC0-140 Hereby we guarantee "No Helpful, No Pay" "No Help, Full Refund". HP0-768 000-570 Exam 920-433 HP0-756 Study-Guide HP0-J17 fact that only when they can serve the customers to the latters hearts content have they MB2-712