Christmas Eve Mass in Rockford

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- After the stores closed, parking lots at many churches across the Stateline were packed.

We stopped by The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rockford for Christmas Eve Mass. Parishioners light candles and sang along to holiday classics.

Pope carries baby Jesus statue on Christmas Eve

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has begun celebrating his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff by placing a baby Jesus statue in a replica of a manger in St. Peter's Basilica.

Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica, which was packed with faithful and tourists at the start of Mass, which began Tuesday 2 1/2 hours before midnight. Keeping with the theme of humility he has set for his new papacy, Francis carried the statue instead of an aide, and kissed a knee of the figure of the newly born Jesus.

The ceremony is the pope's only public Mass for Christmas. On Wednesday, Christmas Day, Francis will deliver his Christmas message, meant for the world, from the basilica's central balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square.

Crowds gather in Bethlehem for Christmas
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- The turnout of Christian pilgrims in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on this Christmas Eve has been the highest in years.

Thousands from around the world gathered for Christmas Eve celebrations, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.

The turnout helped lift spirits in Bethlehem -- as leaders expressed hope that the coming year will bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.

Tourists milled around Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and admiring a large, illuminated Christmas Tree. Marching bands and scout troops performed for visitors in the streets, and on a stage next to the tree.

Will Green of New York City says being in Bethlehem for Christmas is a dream come true. He's there with his wife and their two-year-old daughter, and says, "All the stories that we grew up with. It's here. It's part of our life."
His family followed a crowd toward the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.

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