There were few foreign pilgrims at the Mass presided over by Patriarch Michel Sabbah. Hours earlier, the occupying Israeli army pulled back from the central parts of Bethlehem, in order to allow the Christmas celebrations. Soldiers searched all vehicles entering the town.
Cold and rain added to the feel of gloominess in Bethlehem, whose streets went unadorned for Christmas.
In his homily in St. Catherine's Church, the Palestinian patriarch made an emotional plea for an end to the violence and terrorism and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. He also called for a renewal of talks by new leaders who have a fresh vision of how to achieve peace.
In the front row was an empty seat, reserved for Yasser Arafat, who was banned from Bethlehem by the Israeli government.
At the end of his homily the patriarch recalled "all the poor of this conflict, the strong and the weak, and all its victims: the demolished houses, the injured, the dead, the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisons, those who receive the order to kill and those who give them. We put them all before God, we ask Him to purify them and to make them all, yes all, on whatever side they are, capable of love, justice and peace."