O Little Town of Bethlehem, Packed With Tourists

Faithful flock to Church of the Nativity
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 24, 2011 9:33 AM CST
O Little Town of Bethlehem, Packed With Tourists
A Franciscan monk attends Christmas celebrations at the Church of the Nativity.   (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

There wasn't any room at the inns today as thousands of faithful thronged the streets of Bethlehem to worship at Christ's biblical birthplace. Visitors snapped photos at the 50-foot-tall Christmas tree at Manger Square and received blessings from Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the head of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, as he walked in a traditional procession from Jerusalem through Bethlehem. The big event is midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity, built over what's believed to be the spot where Jesus was born. Some 90,000 tourists are expected to visit the Holy Land over the holidays.

Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh said he hopes this year's celebrations will bring Palestinians closer to their dream of statehood. "We are celebrating this Christmas hoping that in the near future we'll get our right to self determination to establish our own democratic, secular Palestinian state on the Palestinian land. That is why this Christmas is unique," Batarseh told AP. The West Bank town is surrounded on three sides by a barrier Israel built to stop Palestinian militants from attacking during a wave of assaults in the last decade. (More Palestine stories.)

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