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Pilgrims, clergy come to Bethlehem for Christmas

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By Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and clergy converged on Bethlehem on Friday as the town of Jesus' birth prepared to celebrate Christmas Eve.

Boy Scout marching bands played in Manger Square, just outside the Church of the Nativity, which Christian tradition identifies as the site of Jesus' birth in a stable two millennia ago. Pilgrims lit candles inside, and Palestinian policemen deployed around the town to keep the peace.

"This is where Jesus Christ was born and walked the earth. So I just want to walk the same earth," said Mary Healy, a tourist from Independence, Missouri, who said she was in Bethlehem for the fourth time.

The Roman Catholic Church's top clergyman in the Holy Land arrived in Bethlehem in a traditional procession from Jerusalem just past midday. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal was to celebrate Midnight Mass later at the church, the peak of the holiday's events in the town.

As he entered Bethlehem, Twal expressed his traditional wishes for "peace, love and unity among us."

But on an unseasonably warm winter day, when temperatures approached 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), he added another wish to his list, "which is to ask God to send us rain and winter besides peace and justice and dignity for all."


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