Tourists Return To Celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, Pope Calls for ‘Reconciliation’ in Iran
The acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa led a Christmas midnight mass at Saint Catherine’s Church in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, early on Sunday morning. The prayer service was attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The mass was the high point of Christmas activities and celebrations in Bethlehem in the West Bank, which saw a return of tourists following two years of restrictions on visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the numbers of tourists have not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, reports note that hotels are full and shops are doing a good business. After midnight on Sunday, Pope Francis called for an end to the “senseless” war in Ukraine and for “reconciliation” in Iran , in his traditional Christmas message from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The pope also touched on several other conflicts currently taking place in MENA, including in Yemen and Syria. On Saturday in the hours before the mass in Bethlehem, hundreds of people visited Manger Square, where Jesus is said to have been born, enjoying marching bands and street entertainment against the backdrop of the giant Bethlehem Christmas tree. Also hung in Manger Square for visitors to see were banners bearing the photo of Nasser Abu Hmeid, a founder of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, who last week died of cancer while in an Israeli prison, where he had been for two decades, while serving multiple life sentences for the deaths of seven Israelis, killed during the Second Intifada.