Fragment of Jesus' manger arrives in Bethlehem

Fragment of Jesus' manger arrives in Bethlehem”

The relic was donated by St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem to Pope Theodore I in (642-649 CE). It was handed over earlier this week to the custodian of the Bethlehem church, who said it brought "great honour to believers and pilgrims in the area".

Men rested their foreheads on the relic to receive a blessing in a highly emotive moment many Palestinians have only dreamed of.

On Saturday, thousands of people visited the Manger Square to witness the lighting of the tree, an event that beyond its festive nature is the first of a multitude of Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land and Bethlehem where according to Christian tradition, Jesus Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago.

"In receiving this gift from Pope Francis, with ardent faith, our joy can not be superficial but must be profound", Monsignor Leopoldo Girelli said during the homily in Jerusalem, a Custodia Terra Sanctae statement shows.

Now the relic is to be installed "for ever" in Bethlehem, he said.

The Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton (C-L), carries the Relic of the Holy Crib of the Child Jesus, during a procession at the Church of the Nativity compound in Bethlehem on November 30, 2019, initiating celebrations for the arrival of the relic, a gift from the Pope Francis to the Custody of the Holy Land. Christmas trees are scheduled to be lit in main squares in several cities besides Bethlehem, including East Jerusalem and Ramallah.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly asked Pope Francis to borrow the entire manger for some time, but the pope chose to send a fragment of the manger to stay in Bethlehem permanently. "Now, Rome is strong enough that it can return relics to Jerusalem and Bethlehem", she said.

Clergymen carry the wooden relic believed to be from Jesus' manger outside the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus. We are proud that part of the manger is back to Bethlehem because we feel that the soul of God is with us more than before.

Others were a little let down.

"It's a small piece, we thought it would be a bigger piece", said 32-year-old Sandy Shahin Hijazeen.

Bethlehem, which is now located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, welcomed the return of the relic, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested directly from Pope Francis. "When we heard that the manger is coming back we thought it would be the whole manger, but then we saw it". Christians make up around 1% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

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