The usually well-kept Manger Square in Bethlehem is extraordinarily immaculate this week. Palestinian workers rush about securing lighting rigs and speaker stacks as part of last-minute preparations. All of the tree trunks surrounding the square have been painted white.
Come Sunday the square outside the Church of Nativity, the birth place of Jesus, will be packed with up to 9,000 Christians and 1,000 journalists who will attend a mass Pope Francis will lead after he arrives by helicopter from Amman, Jordan.
In Bethlehem, the pope will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, hold the mass and then visit a nearby refugee camp.
Tickets to the mass have been issued to Palestinian Christians from Jerusalem, Ramallah, the Galilee and Gaza. But not all Christians will be able to see the pope during this visit as Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary and spokesman for Pope Francis’s visit, said it would be “a big mass in a small space.”