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Bethlehem’s Basilica of the Nativity reopens after almost three months

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The pandemic shut down the church on March 5. Its reopening gives hope that health crisis will ease, a local official says.

Bethlehem’s Basilica of the Nativity reopened to the public Tuesday, as authorities in the Palestinian territories began easing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which reopened Sunday, the church in Bethlehem restricted entrance to 50 persons at a time, assuring that those inside can keep a safe distance from one another. The basilica had been closed since March 5.

Franciscan Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land; Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus III, and Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian said in a joint statement that “the holy place will be accessible again to the faithful for visits and prayers.”

Only persons who have no fever and no flu symptoms will be admitted to the basilica, built on the site of Jesus’s birth. Face masks must be worn inside, and it is forbidden to venerate icons and stones with a kiss or touch.

“The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ gave hope to people more than 2,000 years ago, and opening the church today will, I think, give hope to the whole world that hopefully this pandemic will end — not only in Palestine but in the whole world,” Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Ma’ayah told Reuters.

Bishop Theophylactos of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem called the reopening a day of celebration for Bethlehem since “all the people now can enter the church and pray like before,” the Associated Press reported.

The Palestinian Authority has reported over 400 cases of the coronavirus in the West Bank, with two deaths.

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said mosques, churches and businesses would reopen on Tuesday in an easing of anti-pandemic curbs, given the slow pace of infections, Reuters said.

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