Thousands of tourists, pilgrims and clergy are converging on Bethlehem as the town of Jesus' birth prepares to celebrate Christmas Eve. Boy Scout marching bands are playing in Manger Square, just outside the Church of the Nativity, which Christian tradition identifies as the site of Jesus' birth in a stable two millennia ago. Pilgrims are lighting candles inside.
The Catholic Church's top clergyman in the Holy Land is to arrive in Bethlehem in a traditional procession just past midday Friday. Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal will later attend midnight mass at the church. The number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has been steadily rising in recent years, and the town's 2,750 hotel rooms are booked solid for Christmas week.