Church leaders pray in the birthplace of Jesus

 Church leaders prayed together in the Grotto at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem yesterday. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian, of the Armenian Church of Great Britain, and the Rev David Coffey, of the Free Churches had crossed through the Separation Wall in to Bethlehem on the second day of their pre-Christmas Holy Land pilgrimage. The church leaders expressed concern about the effect of the Wall on the people of Bethlehem and surrounding towns. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told the BBC: "The sheer variety of communities within the Palestinian areas has always been one of its strengths. Co-existence has been easy and often fruitful. If that were to end that would be a very sad signal for the Middle East and the rest of the world." In his Christmas homily last year at Westminster Cathedral, the Cardinal said that Bethlehem was "blocked in" by the Israeli security wall and checkpoints. Yesterday he said the international community needed to help resolve the problems of the region. The BBC's correspondent in Bethlehem, Wyre Davis, said that in the past, up to 50,000 pilgrims used to visit Bethlehem, but this year fewer than 5,000 are expected. Source:BBC/JS

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