News / Middle East

Pilgrims Flock to Bethlehem’s Nativity Grotto on Christmas

Christian worshippers and tourists celebrate at the Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
Christian worshippers and tourists celebrate at the Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
Robert Berger
The Christian faithful thronged to Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas in the town where it all began.

Thousands of pilgrims from around the world flocked to the West Bank town of Bethlehem to visit the Grotto of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They stood in long lines to spend just a few minutes in the crowded, stuffy grotto; but for the faithful, it was worth the wait.

Lucy Nunn of North Carolina in the United States was moved to tears. “Really thankful to be here. Thinking about Jesus being born, here, it was just special,” Nunn said.

Moriah Lamb came from Houston, Texas. “I think it’s very meaningful and it’s a very special time of year because it’s the time when Jesus was born. And to be here during that time it’s a very spiritual experience and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Lamb said.

  • A general view of Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is seen on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian girl watches a Christmas parade outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian boy scout marching band parades during a Christmas procession at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem,December 24, 2012.
  • A member of the clergy holds a cross as he waits for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal (C) prepares to bless the crowd outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Catholic pilgrim touches a column inside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem,December 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshipers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem to mark Christmas at the site many believe Jesus Christ was born.
  • Christian worshipers visit the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 23, 2012.
  • A Christian worshiper walks out of the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.
  • A Palestinian vendor sells balloons and Christmas hats at Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, December 24, 2012.

About 75,000 tourists visited Bethlehem this Christmas, 25 percent fewer than last year. Many people stayed away because of last month’s conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza.

The lower turnout is a blow to the Bethlehem economy, which depends on tourism. Palestinian shopkeeper George Kanavati says foreigners have a misperception that Bethlehem is not safe, even though it is ruled by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and not Hamas.

“Some people, they feel afraid and they prefer not to come. They think like Gaza is somewhere around Bethlehem and they said, oh, it’s problems and conflicts there and violence, and we are not going to dangerous places,” Kanavati said.

Erica Marusich of Denver, in the U.S. state of Colorado, said for her family, security was not an issue.

“I feel very safe here. I think the people are very kind, and I don’t have any second thoughts about coming here,” Marusich said.

Bethlehem can only be reached by passing through Israel. And since tourism benefits Israelis and Palestinians alike, both sides had an interest in promoting the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem. There was strong cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the atmosphere was peaceful and calm.

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Comments
     
by: Charlie from: California
December 25, 2012 4:31 PM
You fail to mention that Bethlehem is being choked to death by Jewish settlements on every hill top and it is being sqeezed to death by Israe's wall, not a fence but a King Kong sized wall to steal as much land now while the US provides political cover and money to continue settling Jews with guns across the West Bank. Welcome to the aparteid one state solution.

by: ed mays from: brick nj
December 25, 2012 3:32 PM
Peace and calm between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in Bethlehem at Christmas...now that`s what we need year round.

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