Relic from Jesus’ manger arrives at Bethlehem new home

An Israeli soldier detains a Palestinian boy during an anti-Israel protest in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2019

Relic from Jesus’ manger arrives at Bethlehem new home

  • The provenance of ancient relics is often questionable. Still, they are revered by the Christian faithful

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK: A tiny wooden relic believed to have been part of Jesus’ manger has returned to its permanent home in the biblical city of Bethlehem 1,400 years after it was sent to Rome as a gift to the pope.

Sheathed in an ornate case, cheerful crowds greeted the relic on Saturday with much fanfare before it entered the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine next to the Church of the Nativity, the West Bank holy site where tradition says Jesus was born.

The return of the relic by the Vatican coincides with Advent, a four-week period leading up to Christmas.

The Palestinians welcomed the relic as a spirit-lifting occasion as Bethlehem braced for Christmas, where pilgrims from around the world flock to the city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The wood piece, just a few centimeters long, was once kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. It was handed over earlier this week to the custodian of the Bethlehem church, who said it brought “great honor to believers and pilgrims in the area.”

The provenance of ancient relics is often questionable. Still, they are revered by the Christian faithful, among them the coachloads of pilgrims who squeeze through a narrow sandstone entrance in the Church of the Nativity to visit the birth grotto that is its centerpiece.

According to the Custos of the Holy Land for the Catholic church, Francesco Patton, the relic dates back more than 2,000 years and was sent to the Vatican in the 7th century.

Encased in a silver-colored ornamental table-top stand, the relic was unveiled to the public on Friday at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, before it was taken to Bethlehem on Saturday.

A procession of marching bands greeted the relic as it arrived in Bethlehem. It was placed in Saint Catherine’s Church, at the Church of the Nativity compound in Manger Square.

“We are proud that part of the manger is back in Bethlehem because we feel that the soul of God is with us more than before,” said Chris Gacaman, 53, a Bethlehem homemaker, as she stood outside the church.

Others were a little let down.

“It’s a small piece, we thought it would be a bigger piece,” said Sandy Shahin Hijazeen, 32. “When we heard that the manger is coming back we thought it would be the whole manger, but then we saw it.”

Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is usually particularly busy ahead of Christmas on Dec. 25, with tourists and pilgrims flocking to the Biblical city. Christians make up around 1 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Kuwait vows to cut migrant population to 30%

Updated 29 min 51 sec ago

Kuwait vows to cut migrant population to 30%

DUBAI: The Kuwaiti government said it wants to cut the migrant proportion of its population from 70 to 30 percent to address what it called a population discrepancy. 
State media quoted the country’s prime minister saying that the state of Kuwait was facing a “big challenge” in its population structure and that it shall start relying on its citizens to replace foreign workers. 
Out of 4.8 million inhabitants, some 3.3 million are foreign nationals and 1.45 million are Kuwaitis, said Prime Minister Sabah Al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah.
"The ideal demographic situation would be that Kuwaitis make up 70 percent of the population and non-Kuwaitis 30 percent," he said.
"So we face a big challenge in the future which is to address the discrepancy in population."
He said there were 75,000 foreign domestic helpers in the country, which equal half the population of Kuwaiti nationals. 
“We rely on our sons and daughters to work in all professions,” Al-Sabah added.

Kuwait has a large foreign population mostly made up of Middle Eastern and Asian workers.

Kuwait Airways said last week it would lay off 1,500 expatriate employees due to "significant difficulties" caused by the pandemic.