On Sunday, Dec. 24, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, made his entrance into Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas. It was also his first entrance into the “City of Christmas” since being made a cardinal.
Following tradition, the patriarch entered the city through the area adjacent to the Tomb of Rachel, the burial place of the matriarch of the Jewish people. This is a small strip of land inside Bethlehem, under Israeli control, completely surrounded by the separation wall.
The cardinal walked along Star Street, winding through the heart of Bethlehem, which is the route traditionally believed to have been taken by the Holy Family. On his red robe, he wore the keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian head covering, which was placed around his neck upon his arrival.
The patriarch was accompanied by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, sent by the pope to the Holy Land to express his closeness during this Christmas season.
The gray sky and light rain reflected the somber atmosphere in Bethlehem this Christmas, with the city largely stripped of lights, songs, and music. The deployment of law enforcement was significant, despite the streets being mostly bereft of pilgrims and local Christians.
Tensions continue to linger following the Dec. 21 meeting of the patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. The controversy has only partially eased in the wake of a clarification statement issued on Dec. 23.
The Scouts of the Holy Land opened the small procession, displaying banners expressing solidarity with the population of Gaza and calling for a cease-fire. Phrases such as “Gaza in the heart,” “Our children want to play and laugh,” and “Let the war stop now” could be read on some of them.
In Manger Square, where the Christmas tree is usually set up, a Nativity scene has been arranged featuring the Holy Family amid the debris of war and surrounded by barbed wire. Addressing journalists, the cardinal emphasized the importance of unity among Christians and the Palestinian people because “the work of the devil is to divide.”