Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bethlehem Christmas: Christians set for Midnight Mass

Thousands of Christian pilgrims and tourists from around the world are flocking to Bethlehem for Christmas.
Some 90,000 visitors are expected in the Palestinian West Bank town, which will stage a procession and concerts.
Celebrations will culminate in Midnight Mass at the 1,700-year-old Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where it is believed Jesus was born.
Outside, carol-singing crowds have been gathering around a 50-foot (15-m) Christmas tree in Manger Square.
Restaurants and shops selling memorabilia such as olive wood-carved religious statues were doing brisk trade as habit-wearing monks rubbed shoulders with Father Christmas hat-wearing Filipino tourists.
'Unique Christmas' Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said he hoped the festivities would bring Palestinians closer to their dream of statehood.
"We are celebrating this Christmas hoping that in the near future we'll get our right to self-determination - our right to establish our own democratic, secular Palestinian state on the Palestinian land," Mr Batarseh told the Associated Press news agency.
"That is why this Christmas is unique."
Many Bethlehemites bemoan the absence of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israel controls access to the town through checkpoints and a controversial barrier.
Residents say their livelihoods are imperilled by the barrier which skirts around the edge of Bethlehem, surrounding it on three sides.
Once predominantly Christian, two-thirds of Bethlehem's 50,000 residents are now Muslim.
Some say the economic restrictions imposed by Israel are the main reason behind the exodus of Christians from the West Bank; others cite persecution by militant Muslims.

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