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updated: 12/25/2013 6:55 AM

Worshippers rejoice in Jesus' Bethlehem birthplace

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  • EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, shakes hands with Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, during midnight Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.

      EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, shakes hands with Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, during midnight Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.
    Associated Press

  • Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, bottom center, leads the midnight Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.

      Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, bottom center, leads the midnight Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013.
    Associated Press

  • Nuns and worshipers attend Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, lead the midnight mass attended by many including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

      Nuns and worshipers attend Christmas mass at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, lead the midnight mass attended by many including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
    Associated Press

  • Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013.

      Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- Pilgrims are celebrating Christmas Day in the ancient Bethlehem church where tradition holds Jesus was born.

Worshippers filled the fourth-century Church of the Nativity complex Wednesday with candles illuminating the sacred site and the sounds of joyous prayer filling its halls.

Iskandar Salameh, an 18-year-old Palestinian, said the Christmas spirit was uniting those gathered. He says: "We all feel that Jesus is with us today."

The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, led a prayer for the worshippers. He called on followers to spread "the message of Jesus -- the message of love and reconciliation."

Later, Pope Francis will deliver his first Christmas message as pontiff from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered in the piazza below.

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