Dr. Ramzi Khoury, Director-General of the Palestinian National Fund and President of the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches Affairs, welcomed the relic from Jesus’ manger encased in an ornate stand, back to its permanent home in Bethlehem from Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Dr. Khoury, accompanied Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land with a procession of marching Palestinian scout bands from the Catholic Action Roundabout to the Church of St Catherine, next to the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.
At the Nativity Church they were welcomed by Major General Kamel Hameed, Governor of Bethlehem. General Nader Omar. Colonel Tareq Al Haj, Director of Bethlehem Police. Anton Salman, Mayor of Bethlehem. Rula Maayah, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, along with a group of religious leaders and representatives from different denominations with many pilgrims and believers from all communities.
The reception was followed by a mass at St. Catherine’s Church, where the Custos of the Holy Land, thanked the Presidential Committee for its presence, which reflects the Palestinian leadership’s Keenness in preserving the Christian presence.
Dr.Khoury said in an interview, “It is of great importance to have the relic of Jesus’ manger back in Palestine where we hope it will be a blessing for the Palestinian people, and bring peace and justice that we Palestinians seek to establish an independent state.”
During a visit to the Vatican in December 2018, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas asked Pope Francis to repatriate the crib fragment and his request was granted where its return coincided with the beginning of Advent, a four-week period leading up to Christmas.
The relic was donated by Saint Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to Pope Theodore I in the 7th century, who had Palestinian roots.