Vatican to return Jesus manger relic to Bethlehem

Fragment of Jesus' manger arrives in Bethlehem

Fragment of Jesus' manger arrives in Bethlehem

The small piece of wood that, according to Christian tradition, belongs to the cradle where the Virgin Mary placed Jesus as a child over, returned to the Holy Land from Rome after Pope Francis donated it.

A fragment of wood believed to have formed part of Jesus' manger is set to be returned to Bethlehem after more than 1,000 years in Europe. Still, they are revered by the Christian faithful, among them the many pilgrims who squeeze through a narrow sandstone entrance in the Church of the Nativity to visit the birth grotto that is its centerpiece.

Earlier this year, the pontificate also gave bone fragments believed to be relics of Saint Peter to the Eastern Orthodox Church, an effort of goodwill his Orthodox counterpart called a "grand, fraternal and historic gesture", according to the Catholic News Service.

"We are excited and thank the pope, the holy father, Francis, for the gift and the right to safeguard the holy relic", Patton said in a statement.

Brother Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Franciscan order in the Holy Land, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had asked Pope Francis to borrow the entire manger, but the pope made a decision to send a tiny portion of it to stay permanently in Bethlehem.

Now the item, about a centimetre wide by 2.5 centimetres long, is to be installed "forever" in Bethlehem, he said.

The tree lighting ceremony began with the scouts of Bethlehem singing a Palestinian hymn as well as local orchestras and different musical groups, both Palestinian and global, taking part in the Christmas carols event.

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The piece, only several centimetres in length and sheathed in a silver ornamental case, was greeted by a crowd upon its arrival at the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine next to the Church of the Nativity, in the West Bank.

On Friday, the thumb-sized wooden piece was unveiled to worshippers at the Notre Dame church in Jerusalem for a day of celebrations and prayer.

"We are proud that part of the manger is back in Bethlehem because we feel that the soul of God is with us more than before", Chris Giacaman, 53, a Bethlehem homemaker, told Reuters as she stood outside the church.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly asked Pope Francis to borrow the entire manger for some time, but the pope chose to send a fragment of the manger to stay in Bethlehem permanently.

Palestinians on Saturday evening lit the Christmas tree at the Manger square of the West Bank city of Bethlehem in an official ceremony announcing the beginning of Christmas celebrations in Palestine.

Others were a little let down. Troubled Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is bracing for the occasion, where pilgrims from around the world flock to the city. "When we heard that the manger is coming back we thought it would be the whole manger, but then we saw it".

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