Monday, January 19, 2004 (Bethlehem):
The head of the Armenian Orthodox Church urged on Sunday the Middle East leaders to join in a common prayer for permanent security and lasting peace in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.
Patriarch Archbishop Torkom Mannogian was presiding over the Orthodox celebrations of Christmas Eve in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In his homily, he said the crisis between Israelis and Palestinians “is devouring and unhumanizing mostly the younger generation, Jewish, Christian and Muslim alike and that is perhaps the most heartbreaking tragedy of the present generation.”
The mayor of Bethlehem Hanna Nasser attended the ceremony with other Palestinian dignitaries but the leader of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat was not present at the Orthodox celebrations.
Armenians through most of the world celebrate Christmas January 6, the Epiphany.
But the Armenian community in the Holy Land celebrates on January 19, as they use the Julian calendar – which is 13 days behind the Gregorian – to determine the date of religious feasts.
The Patriarch left Jerusalem for Bethlehem on Sunday and was welcomed by a colourful procession through Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity. He was then led into the temple, where later in the day he led the mass.
The Armenian community in the Holy Land numbers around two-thousand people. Worldwide there are about 8 million Armenians, with slightly less than half in Armenia itself. (AP)