Thousands fill Bethlehem’s Manger Square


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Some 100,000 people visited Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Christmas Eve.

"We ask the child of Bethlehem to give us the peace we are in desperate need for, peace in the Middle East, peace in the Holy Land, peace in the heart and in our families," Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal said during a procession from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Saturday evening. He later celebrated midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

"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," Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told The Associated Press. "That is why this Christmas is unique."

The official turnout in Bethlehem, including pilgrims, tourists and local Christians, reportedly was about 30 percent higher than last year.

Pope Benedict XVI in his Christmas message Sunday reportedly called for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

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