BETHLEHEM – The Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs in Palestine announced yesterday Monday, November 11, 2019, that it reached an understanding with the three Churches administrating the Church of the Nativity to extend the opening hours of the holy site by an extra 3 hours, i.e. from 5 am until 8 pm, in preparation for Advent and Christmas.
According to the website of the Presidential Committee, this step comes within the efforts of the Committee’s president Dr. Ramzy Khoury to promote the City of Bethlehem during the Christmas festivities. Dr. Khoury pointed out that these efforts are being carried out in response to the increase in the numbers of pilgrims and tourists, both locally and those coming from far afield, visiting Bethlehem and the Church of Nativity.
This increase in numbers, especially to the Church of Nativity, has resulted in long queues of people who have to wait from 45 minutes to 2 hours to get a glimpse of the Grotto, where according to tradition baby Jesus was born. To add to that, the church has been undergoing restoration since 2012, which some pilgrims have lamented as they could not yet see some of the works like the discovered angel mosaic or the painted columns. Restoration works are still expected to continue until next year.
“Bethlehem and (East) Jerusalem governorates are the main holy destinations for tourists coming to Palestine” reads a press release by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, published on World Tourism Day last September. In the first half of 2019, tourist and Holy Sites in the West Bank had received 1,726,560 visits, an increase of 17% compared to the same period of 2018, with the Bethlehem Governorate receiving the highest percentage of visits with 38%. In terms of visitors, it also received the highest percentage with 64%.
The City and Municipality of Bethlehem are currently preparing for the Christmas celebrations and events, which will include, among others, the lighting of the tree in the Manger Square, the Christmas Market, and the yearly processions into Bethlehem of the Patriarchs and Bishops of Jerusalem and the Christmas Midnight Masses.
Governorate: an administrative division of a particular territory. There are 16 Governorates of the State of Palestine which are administrative divisions of the Palestinian Territories, that fall under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority.