BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- The mood is a festive one today in Bethlehem, where hundreds gathered in Manger Square under sunny skies to greet the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land.
In his annual pre-Christmas homily, the cleric (Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal) told followers in Jerusalem's Old City earlier today that the festivities are doubly joyful this year -- since they celebrate not only the birth of Christ, but also "the birth of the state of Palestine."
But he said that even though the U.N. recently recognized a Palestinian state, the road to actual freedom from Israeli occupation remains long.
Manger Square is dominated by a lavishly decorated 55-foot fir tree with a nativity scene at its base. Festivities will culminate with Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity.
Devout Christians in Bethlehem today say it's a moving experience to be so close to the origins of their faith.
129-r-27-(Musicians playing 'Angels We Have Heard on High' on Christmas Eve, near Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity)--Distant sound of musicians playing the gloria refrain to 'Angels We Have Heard on High' on Christmas Eve, near Manger Square near the Church of the Nativity. (24 Dec 2012)
APPHOTO JRL120: A cross is held during Christmas celebrations outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshippers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site where many believe Jesus Christ was born. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) (24 Dec 2012)
APPHOTO JRL117: Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal arrives in the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi) (24 Dec 2012)
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