Pilgrims celebrated Christmas Day Mass in the ancient Bethlehem church where tradition holds Jesus was born, candles illuminating the sacred site and joyous prayer filling its halls.
Worshippers lined up Tuesday inside the fourth-century Church of the Nativity complex, waiting to see the grotto that is Jesus’ traditional birthplace.
Duncan Hardock, a 24-year-old teacher from MacLean, Virginia, says he got to see “both sides of Bethlehem” as he arrived at Manger Square after passing through the separation barrier Israel built to ward off West Bank attackers.
Later, Pope Benedict XVI will deliver his Christmas message from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to thousands of pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered in the piazza below. The “Urbi et Orbi” message is traditionally a review of world events and global challenges.