Despite recent terror attacks against Christians in Jordan, Egypt and Germany, thousands gathered at Bethlehem in Israel to celebrate Christmas.
The gathering took place on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, which is known as the birthplace of Jesus, The Associated Press reports.
Security was out in full force to protect not only local Christians, but also all the tourists and pilgrims visiting during this time of year for the celebration.
A teacher from Georgia visiting Bethlehem for the first time expressed how humbled she was by the experience, but also discouraged and disillusioned by the looming threat of violence.
“It’s been sobering and humbling because it’s a place with a lot of heavy stuff, religious and historical,” Sharolyn Knight told The Associated Press. “At the same time, disillusioning because there is so much strife in the place where Jesus was born.”
Some of that strife erupted over the past few days as the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that condemns Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank. The United States allowed the resolution to move forward, declining to use its veto power. The Obama administration has repeatedly criticized Israel’s construction of settlements, saying that it hurts progress towards a two-state solution.
And Bethlehem, of course, brings this conflict into sharp relief because a concrete barrier surrounding part of the city dips into the West Bank, causing some Palestinians to complain.
Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, temporary head Catholic cleric to the Holy Land, celebrated Christmas Eve at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
“I wish this joyous atmosphere of Christmas will continue in the year and not just for a few days and I hope the coming year will bring a little more serenity and peaceful relations in our country. We need it,” Pizzaballa said.
“I am happy that the war, at least the military war, in Aleppo is finished and that for the first time in Aleppo the Christians can celebrate without fear the Christmas season. I wish that they can now reconstruct, rebuild the city, not only the infrastructure but also the common relations that was a tradition over there,” Pizzaballa added.
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