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.
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