Bethlehem (Agenzia Fides) – Bethlehem prepares for Christmas, and is also waiting that with the holiday season the sharp drop in the stream of pilgrims registered in recent weeks as an additional side effect of the Israeli military operation in Gaza “pillar of smoke” comes to an end .
“The number of groups of pilgrims,” explains to Fides Agency between Stephane Milovitch OFM, Guardian of the Church of the Nativity – dropped in the week after the events in the month of November. Most of the reservations in the following weeks were cancelled. But now people are starting to come back again. Christmas marks a fresh start. Operators tell us that the flow will intensify in the coming days, and reservations for the next few months, until April are being made. I personally invite those who still have some concern to have no hesitation: now here everything is calm” points out the Guardian monk of Bethlehem” and we have to support the local Christian community with the presence and testimony of pilgrims who come from outside. All will be welcomed with joy.”
Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, the local Christian community prepares for the feast. The City Hall has lit since December 15th on the square of the Nativity, a huge Christmas tree and even the streets around the church are decorated with lights.
The Solemnity of the Nativity in the city where Jesus was born will be lived following the usual protocol. The celebrations will be presided by His Beatitude Fuad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who will arrive in Bethlehem, on December 24, welcomed by Scouts and by the people. After the entrance into the Basilica – where the First Christmas Vespers will be celebrated – The Patriarch will lead the procession in the grotto, incensing the place of Jesus’ birth, the Crib and the Altar of the Magi and then go through the underground grottos of St. Joseph , of the Holy Innocents and back to St. Caterina. Then dinner will be served, where also the President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen has been invited. After dinner, there will be the Readings and then midnight mass, attended by President Mazen and the mayor, a woman, of Bethlehem Vera Baboun and other political authorities, together with the consuls of Italy, France, Spain and Belgium. Only 1500 faithful can be accommodated in the Basilica. After the Mass, the statue of the Infant Jesus will be brought in procession to the Grotto of the Nativity, where he will remain until January 6, when he ascends to be returned in triumph to St. Catherine by the Custodian of the Holy Land.