Record Crowds Throng Bethlehem

Most pilgrims in a decade come to mark Jesus' birth

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Dec 25, 2010 5:46 AM CST

(Newser) – The largest number of pilgrims in a decade gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas, with tens of thousands flocking to the Church of the Nativity for prayers this morning. Israeli military officials, who coordinate movement in and out of the West Bank, said more than 100,000 pilgrims have come to the town since Christmas Eve, compared to about 50,000 last year. Father Juan Maria Solana, from Jerusalem, said the beautiful day was "a good sign of serenity, a good sign of peace."

The town's 2,750 hotel rooms were booked solid for Christmas week. The warm weather, a sharp decline in Israeli-Palestinian violence and an economic revival in the West Bank all added to the holiday cheer this year. Only one-third of Bethlehem's 50,000 residents are Christian today, down from about 75% in the 1950s. The Palestinian tourism police chief said of the throng of visitors, "We have passed the bad years." The Catholic Church's top clergyman in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, issued a call for peace during his homily: "During this Christmas season, may the sound of the bells of our churches drown the noise of weapons in our wounded Middle East, calling all men to peace and the joy."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday, Dec....   (Fadi Arouri)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, attends the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday,...   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal carries the statuette of baby Jesus during the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank...   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, right, chats with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, second left, prior to the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church...   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal leads the Christmas midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem...   (Fadi Arouri)
A nun attends the Christmas midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal leads Christmas midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early...   (Fadi Arouri)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, attends the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday,...   (Fadi Arouri)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, attends the midnight Mass ceremony which marks the beginning of Christmas Day at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Saturday,...   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal leads the Christmas midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem...   (Fadi Arouri)
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal blesses the statue of the baby Jesus inside in the grotto where Christians believe Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, following the Christmas midnight Mass at the...   (Fadi Arouri)
A nun takes communion from Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal during midnight mass at Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, in Bethlehem on Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010.   (Fadi Arouri)
« Prev« Prev | Next »Next » Slideshow
My TakeCLICK BELOW TO VOTE
5%
10%
20%
10%
55%
0%
To report an error on this story, notify our editors.

NEWS FROM OUR PARTNERS
Other Sites We Like:   The Street   |   MSN Living   |   PopSugar Tech   |   RealClear   |   24/7 Wall St.   |   Biography   |   Barstool Sports   |   OK!