News / Middle East

Pilgrims Converge for Bethlehem Christmas

Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
Robert Berger
Pilgrims from around the world have converged on the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations hosted by the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian boy and girl scouts kicked off Christmas celebrations with a festive march through Manger Square in Bethlehem. The square is decked out for the holiday with a giant Christmas tree, bells, lights and Palestinian flags.

The mood was more solemn inside the ancient Church of the Nativity, as thousands of pilgrims lined up to visit the grotto where tradition says Jesus Christ was born.

Shmuel Oluwa of Lagos, Nigeria said the grotto on Christmas is an experience of faith. “It’s fantastic, it’s a wonderful feeling, it’s something that every Christian should aspire to achieve. If you try and absorb the meaning of what happened there, then it’s a miraculous feeling.”

It is a good turnout this year thanks to a lull in Israel-Palestinian violence.

“For this month we are expecting 300,000 tourists," said Bethlehem’s Palestinian Mayor Vera Baboun, who told VOA there is no room at the inn.

“We have almost 4,000 rooms in Bethlehem in 33 hotels, all of them are booked. This means the city is accommodating and having a full number of tourists,” said Baboun.

Still, the Palestinians complain about the big wall Israel erected around Bethlehem about 10 years ago, following a wave of deadly suicide bombings. Residents describe the city as a big prison, but Baboun said walls cannot quell Bethlehem’s message of hope, love and peace.

“It will ever be a Merry Christmas because Christmas is joy, despite all the hardships that we go through and the siege of the city, but still Christmas is joyful,” said Baboun.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are working together to facilitate the entry of pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, in the spirit of Christmas goodwill.

  • Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal arrives at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Girls wearing traditional Palestinian costumes take part in a Christmas procession at Manger Square in front of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Christian pilgrim worshippers from Nigeria pray in the Grotto of the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2013.
  • Visitors light candles in the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.
  • A nun walks inside the Church of the Nativity ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Dec. 23, 2013.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid