According to the Fides News Agency in Rome, the number of pilgrims in Bethlehem has increased slightly this Christmas, but the volume is still not sufficient to offset the overall drop in visitors.
Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, a Franciscan from the Basilica of the Nativity, told Fides that Christian families in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are preparing to celebrate Christmas in prayer and poverty.
“There is a small increase in the flow of pilgrims: we hope the situation improves and continues to get better. The economic situation is very difficult, there is much bitterness. Unemployment affects about 85% of the population. It’s hard to find smiling faces,” said Fr. Faltas.
“Christmas of 2003 will nevertheless be better than last year,” he said, “but we want pilgrims from all over the world to ‘invade’ the Holy Land again.”
“I remember in the past how thousands of pilgrims would come at Christmas. This year if there are a thousand we will be lucky. We hope the international community will strive to implement the Road map and bring peace back to this land which has been martyred for so many years from the scourge of war.”