Celebrating Christmas Day

tourists in bethlehem
Pilgrims in Bethlehem are lining up for a Christmas-day peek inside the tiny Church of the Nativity Saturday. The church is built on the site where tradition says Jesus was born. The town's relaxed, joyous mood is continuing as Israeli and Palestinian forces remain vigilant against the threat of terrorism.

Thousands of Christian pilgrims gathered in Bethlehem Friday for millennium Christmas festivities in Bethlehem, reports CBS News Correspondent Richard Roth.

The senior Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land called for reconciliation among Muslims, Christians and Jews. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah called for unity in the new millennium and prayed for a peace with a "just ending, for both Palestinians and Israelis."

Palestinian authorities had expected 60-thousand pilgrims to visit Bethlehem over the holidays, but it appears terrorism fears kept many away. Nonetheless, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among those attending midnight mass in Bethlehem.

At the Vatican in Rome, Pope John Paul II celebrated Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's Basilica and delivered his annual Christmas blessing for the faithful gathered outside Saturday morning.

Some 80,000 faithful from every corner of the globe watched as Pope John Paul II unsealed the holy door of St. Peter's Basilica, symbolically ushering the church's one billion Catholics across the threshold and into the next millennium.

The 79-year-old pope, wearing a blue, red and gold cape over his white vestments, pushed open the door, then knelt in prayer on the stone floor for several minutes during the ceremony.

In his homily during the traditional midnight Mass that followed the ceremony, John Paul called the birth of Jesus Christ "the truth which on this night the church wants to pass on to the third millennium.''

"And may all of you who will come after us accept this truth, which has totally changed history,'' John Paul said, speaking in a clear voice.

Only 8,200 people can fit inside the basilica, so four giant TV screens were set up for the overflow. All 40,000 seats in the square were filled and tens of thousands more stood out on the damp night to witness the millennium event.

A global TV hookup broadcast the ceremony live to 58 countries, including Cuba, for those unable to come to Rome.

This is the 22nd Christmas Eve Mass that Pope John Paul II has celebrated, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan, made even more special by the fact that he's declared this a holy Jubilee year. Vatican officials say he's determined to lead his flock through the year-long celebrations, which could mean a busy travel schedule, both here and abroad.

The Pope has called for the faithful to mark the holy year by making a pilgrimage. Some 30 million are expected to come to Rome over the course of the year; that's more than six times the normal number who visit here.

Back to
Savor the Season