Bethlehem celebrates Orthodox Christmas

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Maan News Agency – Jan 6, 2012

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Scouts and marching bands paraded through Bethlehem’s streets on Friday as Christians welcomed their archbishops and patriarchs to mark Christmas Eve in the Orthodox calendar.

Processions began early as over 2,120 scouts in 16 troops from across the West Bank marched through the city with pipes and drums.

Presidential adviser for Christian affairs Ziad Bandak, Tourism Minister Khloud Diabes, Bethlehem Governor Abdul Fattah Hamayel and Mayor Victor Batarseh attended celebrations in Nativity Square along with hundreds of locals and tourists.

Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad arrived in the square at around 8 a.m and sent a message of peace and love to the world as he stepped out of his car.

“We’ll pray today for peace and security, and to stop the war” the archbishop said.

“Our message in these holy days is to support the reconciliation between the Palestinian people.”

Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad (MaanImages/Wajdi Jafari)

A little later, crowds greeted Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Abraham as he arrived at the Nativity Church for prayers.

Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Abraham(MaanImages/Wajdi Jafari)

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III was the third religious leader to enter Bethlehem to music provided by scout troops.

The patriarch told Ma’an he wished for peace in Bethlehem and the world.

“In these holy days, we can only wish that stability will prevail in the whole world and especially in Bethlehem and Palestine.”

He wished a happy Christmas for all.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (MaanImages/Wajdi Jafari)

Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop Abba Kwestos concluded the processions, arriving at the Ethiopian church at around 3 p.m. to hymns sung in an Ethiopian language.

Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Khloud Daibes told Ma’an many domestic tourists came from around the West Bank to celebrate in Bethlehem.

“We, as a ministry, always work to keep this tourism active which Palestine is witnessing, especially in Bethlehem, through promotion and marketing.”

Meanwhile the governor of Bethlehem Abdul Fattah Hamayel told Ma’an that President Mahmoud Abbas could not attend midnight mass as he is traveling, but PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will join Abbas’ Secretary-General At-Tayeb Abdul Rahim at the Nativity Church.

The mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, told Ma’an that Fayyad and Abdul Rahim would also attend a dinner at the Greek Orthodox monastery to celebrate Christmas.

“Our message in these days is love and peace to all especially in the Holy Land,” the mayor said.

He noted the motto of Christmas this year was “Palestine celebrates hope” referring to Palestinians’ aspirations for an independent state.

Source and more at the Maan News Agency

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