Nuns were pictured kissing a tiny thumb-size piece of wood believed to be part of Jesus’ manger which arrived Bethlehem 1,400 years after it was sent to Rome just in time for the first day of Christmas.
Cheerful crowds greeted the relic, which was a gift to the pope, before a service of celebration at Franciscan Church of St. Catherine next to the Church of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born.
Young Palestinian scouts played bagpipes and the crowd snapped pictures as a clergyman held the silver container containing the wood preserved inside, and marched towards the church.
Men rested their foreheads on the relic to receive a blessing in a highly emotive moment many Palestinians have only dreamed of.
Yisca Harani, an Israeli expert on Christianity, said relics are useful for dispelling arguments that Jesus was more spiritual than a physical being.
She claimed the object’s return is a ‘statement saying the Vatican and the Holy Land are together’.
Brother Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Franciscan order in the Holy Land, said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had asked Pope Francis to borrow the entire manger, but the pope decided to send a tiny portion of it to stay permanently in Bethlehem.
He told Wafa that ‘it’s a great joy’ that the relic gets to return to its original place.
A wooden structure that Christians believe was part of the manger where Jesus was born was sent by St. Sophronius, the patriarch of Jerusalem, to Pope Theodore I in the 640s, around the time of the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land.
The thumb-sized wooden piece was unveiled to worshippers at the Notre Dame church in Jerusalem for a day of celebrations and prayer.
Around 50 worshippers attended a special Mass with the relic on display, yesterday.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and other officials will attend the lighting of a Christmas tree in the Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Phoebe Eckersley