The Christian population in Palestine is in steady decline, and in Gaza, the situation is even more precarious.
Bethlehem, West Bank
The Palestinian Authority has asked municipalities to tone down their public Christmas celebrations this year amid escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
Hanna Amireh, who heads a government committee on churches in the West Bank, confirmed the Palestinian Authority is requesting “a certain decrease” in festivities following the deaths of dozens of Palestinians since mid-September. The majority of them were killed during clashes with Israeli forces or carrying out terrorist attacks, according to the Israeli government.
Christian leaders in the Holy Land hope two new Palestinian saints will become intercessors for peace and a bridge among faiths.
"I am sure they follow our situation from heaven and will continue to intercede for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land," Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem said at a news conference May 6. "Their intercession is strong and efficacious."
Despite the immense destruction still evident in Gaza following the war there last summer, the resilience of the people gave hope to 16 bishops of the Holy Land Coordination during their Jan. 11-12 visit to the Gaza Strip.
One boy's words continued to resonate with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M. The boy, who was the last student to speak to the bishops before they left Holy Family School in Gaza, told them he simply wanted dignity.
Despite insisting that his three-day trip in the Middle East would be “strictly religious,” Pope Francis dove headfirst into the political situation.
A lack of courageous leadership has hampered the peace process, one woman said. "How many courageous hearts do we have in the world? Francis is a courageous heart."
The Ma'an lil-Hayat workshop is in full swing as adults shape felted wool into round balls for a large order of sheep to fill people's Nativity scenes.
Ma'an lil-Hayat -- Arabic for "Together for Life" -- is part of the international L'Arche network founded in 1964 by Canadian Catholic Jean Vanier for people with intellectual disabilities. The workshop takes a local resource closely associated with the Christmas story -- sheep wool -- and uses it to bring dignity and recognition to a population often overlooked in Palestinian society.