Somber Vigil Replaces Festive Cheer in Bethlehem as Christians Pray for Gaza

Church of the Nativity

Instead of the usual joyous festivities, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem held a somber Christmas vigil on Saturday night. With candlelit hymns and prayers replacing vibrant decorations, their focus was on peace in Gaza, just 50km away.

Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, typically basks in its central role in the Christian narrative. Pilgrims usually flock to the Church of the Nativity, where Christmas often brings dazzling lights and joyous scenes in Manger Square.

Church of the Nativity
Church of the Nativity

However, the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with its devastating toll of over 20,000 lives lost, cast a long shadow over Bethlehem's celebrations this year. In a poignant gesture of solidarity, the usual Christmas tree and festive displays were replaced with rubble and barbed wire around the nativity scene, mirroring the suffering in Gaza.

"Bethlehem is not just a city," declared Father Ibrahim Faltas, a friar at the vigil. "It's a message of peace to the world. From this sacred place, we urge everyone: stop the war, stop the bloodshed, the killing, and the revenge."

Christians comprise roughly 2% of the population across Israel and the Palestinian territories, with a smaller community in Gaza. This Christmas, however, saw a significant drop in foreign visitors due to the conflict. The usually bustling streets and squares during Advent remained largely empty, a stark contrast to previous years.

"This Christmas in Bethlehem is different," lamented Mayor Hanna Hanania, lighting a candle in Manger Square. "Our city, like all of Palestine, mourns. We feel the deep sadness."

Despite the somber atmosphere, Bethlehem's Christmas vigil offered a powerful message of hope and a plea for peace. As Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Christ, the vigil served as a poignant reminder of the fragility of peace and the ongoing suffering in Gaza.

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