I would like to wish all my Christian readers and friends a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May 2014 be a year of peace, happiness and prosperity for all of us.
Unfortunately there has been so much negative news surrounding Christmas in the Holy Land this year, but I don’t want to be the Grinch who ruins the holiday for everyone, so I’ll keep this post as positive as possible. The Grinch can wait until later.
The good news is that the turnout of tourists and pilgrims to Manger Square this year was the highest it’s been in years.
Excited tourists milled about the town’s Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and admiring a large, illuminated Christmas Tree. Marching bands and scout troops performed for the visitors in the streets, and on a stage next to the tree.
Hundreds of people packed the compound for the service. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh were among the dignitaries in attendance.
The Latin Patriarch couldn’t resist a dig at Israel for the plight of the Palestinians:
In his homily, Twal addressed Abbas, telling the president he prays for a “just and equitable solution” for the Palestinians. Twal, himself a Palestinian, also expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, particularly families with relatives imprisoned by Israel or those who have suffered as a result of the conflict with Israel.
“The world is living through a long night of wars, destruction, fear, hate, racism and, at the present time, cold and snow,” he said. Lamenting strife in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, he also urged worshippers “not to forget our own problems here: the prisoners and their families who hope for their release, the poor who have lost their land and their homes demolished, families waiting to be reunited, those out of work and all who suffer from the economic crisis.”
Yet Twal called on people not to despair. “We are invited to be optimistic and to renew our faith that this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people,” he said.
Even the BBC mentioned the growing number of Christmas visitors to Bethlehem, although they too couldn’t resist a jibe at Israel’s security barrier:
The number of visitors to Bethlehem has been steadily rising in recent years as peace talks to resolve the Middle East conflict have resumed.
Despite the erection of Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank – which appears as a high concrete wall around the town – three gates have been opened for Christmas to allow the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Bethlehem.
“The message of Christmas is a message of peace, love and brotherhood. We have to be brothers with each other,” said Latin Patriarch Archbishop Fouad Twal – the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land – as he arrived in town.
There are some nice pictures of the celebrations at the BBC link.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conveyed his warm Christmas greetings from Jerusalem:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, conveyed warm Christmas greetings from the State of Israel to Christians celebrating around the world on Tuesday night, via a snowy video message.
“This is Jerusalem of gold, now it’s Jerusalem of snow,” Netanyahu said, speaking “from the city of peace, Jerusalem.”
“We celebrate Christmas with you. We know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel, and to the city of Jerusalem where so much of our common history was forged,” he added. ”We have a great past, we have common values, we have the desire to seize a common future of security, prosperity and peace.”
Here is the Prime Minister’s video:
I answer a fervent Amen to the PM’s prayers and wish Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!