Thousands of Christians native to Palestine and from around the world greeted the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, on Monday in Bethlehem's Manger Square, hours before he would officiate the Mass of the Rooster in the Church of the Nativity as Christmas Day began.

Twal arrived in the city from Jerusalem on a traditional pilgrimage, with the first part under Israeli police escort and subsequently, after passing through a gate in the wall separating the two territories, guarded by the Palestinian National Authority.

From the earliest hour of the morning a feeling of celebration was in the air in this Palestinian town located just 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Jerusalem where the entire population, Christians and Muslims alike, find Christmas a time for rejoicing.

The famous Manger Square was decorated Monday with a large globe in colors of the Palestinian flag and bordered with a "keffiyeh" - a scarf typical of the region - on which the words "Merry Christmas" were printed.

At the entrance to the Church of the Nativity a tree with colorful ornaments stood over a creche recalling the reason why Bethlehem is the center of the Christian world during these holidays.

Twal blessed those present before entering the Door of Humility, a small rectangular opening to the basilica that makes anyone going through it bow down. EFE