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Christmas ceremonies begin in the Holy Land

origin 1The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa celebrates Christmas Eve in the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Ahmad Tayem/APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Christians from all over the world celebrated Christmas, the feast that marks the birth of Jesus Christ, in the Holy Land on Saturday.

The traditional Christmas procession arrived in Bethlehem in the afternoon.

The procession to Bethlehem had left Jerusalem at noon (10:00 GMT), led by the head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Pizzaballa walked the last part of the route to the place where Jesus is believed to have been born in Bethlehem. Once there, he was received by Christian representatives.

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected over the Christmas holidays, many more than in the last two years, when coronavirus restrictions were in place. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism said it expects around 120,000 pilgrims from around the world.

A huge Christmas tree with a star on top adorns the square in front of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, now a city in the West Bank.

In his midnight mass sermon, Pizzaballa warned that violence was increasing in the Holy Land.

“With our own eyes, we see that violence seems to have become our main language, our main way of communicating. Violence is on the rise, first of all in the language of politics,” he told the faithful.

“This year, moreover, we have seen a terrible increase in violence in the Palestinian streets, with death tolls taking us back decades. It is a sign of the worrying increase in political tension and growing unease, especially among our young people, regarding the increasingly distant resolution of the ongoing conflict”.

The Israeli military has conducted multiple raids in the West Bank, following a wave of terror in Israel in the spring.

According to the Ramallah Ministry of Health, more than 140 Palestinians have been killed this year by Israeli forces, many of them minors.

Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. The Palestinians want the territories for their own state, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Pizzaballa said that the Palestinian issue no longer seems to be the focus of the world’s attention. “This too is a form of violence, which wounds the conscience of millions of Palestinians, left increasingly alone and who, for too many generations, have been waiting for an answer to their legitimate desire for dignity and freedom”.

In their Christmas message, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem also lamented what they called an increase in attacks against Christians, discrimination and a decline in the Christian population.

“Such a discouraging climate has led to a lack of hope, especially among our young Christians, who feel increasingly unwelcome” in the land of their ancestors, reads the message.

The percentage of Christians has continued to decrease in the Holy Land. Out of about 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, less than 2% are Christians.

According to the latest data from the Israel Bureau of Statistics, some 185,000 Christian Arabs live in Israel.

origin 1The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa celebrates Christmas Eve in the Church of the Nativity in the biblical city of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Ahmad Tayem/APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa