BETHLEHEM - A wooden fragment believed to be from the manger of Jesus arrived in His birthplace of Bethlehem on Saturday amid great ceremony after more than 1,300 years in Europe.
A Palestinian scout band playing bagpipes, drums and saxophones accompanied the relic as it arrived in Manger Square, an AFP reporter said.
Housed in Rome since the seventh century, the relic had been presented to the Franciscan custodians of the Holy Land as a gift from the Vatican.
Worshippers thronged the square as the chief custodian for the Holy Land, Francesco Patton, carried the ornate reliquary housing the relic into the Saint Catherine Church next to the Church of the Nativity, where he led Mass.
On Friday Patton told AFP that the seventh-century Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sophronius, had sent the relic to Rome in around 640 as a gift to Pope Theodore I.
Now the item, about a centimeter wide by 2.5 centimeters (an inch) long, is to be installed "forever" in Bethlehem, he said.
"We venerate the relic because (it) reminds us of the mystery of incarnation, to the fact that the son of God was born of Mary in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago," Patton said.
Bethlehem has planned celebrations stretching until Christmas for the homecoming.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas had asked Pope Francis to repatriate the crib fragment during his visit to the Vatican for Middle East peace talks in December 2018, said Palestinian envoy to the Holy See, Issa Kassissieh.