More than 2,000 Indian migrant workers in the Holy Land took part in a brief pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity over the weekend as part of their preparations for Christmas.

As they walked the five miles between the cities on Dec. 13, the faithful prayed the rosary for the intention of peace in Palestine and Israel.

The pilgrimage is held annually by the Indian Chaplaincy in the Holy Land.

"It has become an annual event in the life of the Indian community in the Holy Land to prepare spiritually for the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ and especially to pray for lasting peace and harmony in the region," Fr. Tojy Jose, OFM, head of the Indian Chaplaincy in the Holy Land, told CNA Dec. 15.

"The pilgrimage is an expression of love and devotion to the Baby Jesus, and we treck on the trail of the Holy Family."

Fr. Jose thanked the Indian expatriate community working in Israel which gathered at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City at 9 in the morning.

Bishop William Shomali, an auxiliary bishop of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, blessed the pilgrimage in the presence of Fr. David Neuhause, SJ, patriarchal vicar for Hebrew-speaking communities; Fr. Guy Tardivy, OP, prior of St. Stephen's Monastery; and Fr. Dominic Mendonsa, OP, as well as other clergy.

"There is a need for healing and reconciliation for lasting peace in the land," Bishop Shomali said.

Praising the migrant community, the prelate added that "the Indian faithful are an example to the Christians in the Holy Land in their practice of the Catholic faith."

The faithful manifested the joy of Christmas, singing joyful carols and waving thousands of colourful flags and placards, many of them in Santa hats.

"The Santa cap-clad singing and dancing stole the attention of the Israelis and Palestinians on the road to Bethlehem, communicating to them the message of peace," Fr. Jose concluded.

On arriving at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Fr. Jose explained it was a unique opportunity to be a part of a biblical experience, reflecting on the Holy Family's trip to the same location more than 2,000 years ago for the birth of Christ.

"Re-living and reflecting on this experience galvanizes our faith, unity, and solidarity," he said.

The procession was followed by Masses said in Konkani and Malayalam at St. Catherine's church and at the Salesian monastery chapel in Bethlehem. Konkani is the official language of Goa, while Malayalam is that of Kerala; both Indian states have, for India, especially high numbers of Christians, and many of those served by the Indian Chaplaincy in the Holy Land have roots in these states.