- Title: WEST BANK / ISRAEL: Christians in Bethlehem mark start of Christmas season
- Date: 1st December 2008
- Summary: BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (NOVEMBER 30, 2008) (REUTERS) 1. CHURCH OF NATIVITY, JESUS' BIRTHPLACE, ACCORDING TO CHRISTIAN TRADITION 2. STATUES IN FRONT OF CHURCH 3. CROSS ON TOP OF CHURCH
- Embargoed: 16th December 2008 12:00
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVA2LZJBT18VPG8RJIJYLQ5G9K7Z
- Story Text: Hundreds of Christian worshippers gathered in Bethlehem, believed to be the birth town of Jesus, on Sunday (November 30), for the first Sunday mass of Advent - the period when Christians prepare for the birth of baby Jesus.
The Custodian of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Piezzaballa, led the mass in the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square, which is built over a grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus.
Three Christian denominations - the Armenians, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox - all share control of the church in the West Bank town.
On Saturday (November 29) Father Piezzaballa and other senior priests arrived to begin the Christmas season. Colourful flags decorated Manger Square and marching bands played as high ranking religious clerics arrived in the town.
The "Customs" or Custodian of the Holy Land is the Pope's envoy to the Middle East. He is the major superior of the friars in the Palestinian territories, as well as in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and Rhodes.
The word "Advent" means "coming" or "arrival".
It marks the beginning of the season of celebration of the birth of Jesus. Piezzaballa's arrival in the biblical town marks the beginning of a festive season in which millions of Christians around the world make their preparations for Christmas.
In 2007, thousands of pilgrims flocked to Bethlehem for Christmas mass in what was considered by many as the most peaceful -- and profitable -- Christmas for the town in years. Local officials reported that tourist numbers were the highest since before a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.
Pilgrims travelling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem have had to pass through Israel's separation barrier and go through an iron gateway in an eight metre (26 foot) high concrete structure since Israel completed its construction around the town.
Israel has erected its barrier inside the West Bank saying that it aims to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.
Palestinians say that the barrier's construction amounts to a land grab that denies them a viable state.
The World Court has branded the barrier illegal because it loops into occupied land.
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