Thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world are beginning to converge on the small town of Bethlehem on the West Bank to celebrate Christmas at the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.
GV ZOOM City of Bethlehem with pilgrims singing in background and temple (2 shots)
SV Priests lead Franciscan procession through Church of Nativity. Nuns carrying candles (3 shots)
SV Priest begins service at the alter and carries incense and holy water into church
SV Stone slab alleged to have been the place where Jesus was put after his birth
SV PULL OUT From picture of Virgin and Child to wide view of alter (2 shots)
GV Shepherd with sheep on side of hill near Bethlehem.
GV Exterior of another church and close up of ornamental angel (2 shots)
SV Christian scholar speaking
GV Bethlehem street scenes (3 shots)
GV Decorated Christmas tree with people walking in nearby streets (2 shots)
GV ZOOM Church with shining cross with monks outside (2 shots)
GV Decorated Christmas tree and pan down to Israeli soldiers sitting outside Church (2 shots)
CHRISTIAN SCHOLAR: "The early Christians were no interested in holy places. Maybe also the situation and the political situation did not able them to sanctify places. But only from the fourth century, when the Christian faith was recognised officially by the Roman Empire, and only later, when the Christian faith turned to be the faith of the Caesers, the Roman Caesers, only then Christians saw an interest in the holy places. And they just tried to identify and on each one they built a church for sanctuary."
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Background: Thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world are beginning to converge on the small town of Bethlehem on the West Bank to celebrate Christmas at the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.
SYNOPSIS: Over 30,000 pilgrims, from every part of the globe, are expected to arrive in the small town of Bethlehem between now and Christmas day. Already many celebrations have begun.
Although Bethlehem has been deeply involved at the heart of the political controversy surrounding the West Bank, all seems forgotten as priests lead a procession through the Church of Nativity. Politics are put aside as Jesus' message of peace on Earth is remembered.
The Church of Nativity is, in fact, three churches - for the Greek Orthodox Faith, for the Armenian Church and for the Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine.
All have access to the slab where Christ was allegedly laid after his birth and to the Grotto of Nativity. There is a strictly guarded set of ritual demarcations. Some visitors say that at certain times of the day it seems like the whole of Bethlehem is at prayer.
This is the 14th year that Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas under Israeli rule. The West Bank of Jordan, including Bethlehem, was captured by the Israeli forces in a lighting campaign during the 1967 Six-Day War. In recent years, West Bank Palestinians have protested strongly against Israeli rule. Students at Bethlehem's Frere University have held several anti-Israel demonstrations this year which have been broken up by Israeli troops. The same troops will enforce tight security during the festive season. All visitors to Bethlehem will need a special permit and no vehicles will be allowed. But Bethlehem has not always been recognised as a holy place as one scholar of Christianity points out.
Now Bethlehem is crowded with traditional decorations and the streets are massed with visitors. Outside the town, Israeli troops have been patrolling for several days and have set up a special monitoring system and command post to ensure the celebrations are held in peace. Several years ago, Soviet missile launchers were discovered in a field outside Bethlehem, pointing at Manger Square. Security is important also for the town's merchants who make their living by selling Christmas goods. Of course here Christmas lasts the whole year round with many Nativity items sold in Summer too.
The main event for most visitors will come on Wednesday Evening, (24 December) Christmas Eve, when the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Monsignor Giacomo Belritti, will conduct Mass inside St. Catherine's Church.
Around the world, million more will be able to watch the whole ceremony live on a special television broadcast.
For the people here in Bethlehem, Christmas is a strange mixture of festivities and tight security. The local people are used to seeing Israeli soldiers with firearms but, in Bethlehem during the season of Goodwill, they look strangely out of place.