Pope Francis in his Christmas eve mass Sunday urged the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics not to ignore the plight of migrants who are “driven from their land” because of leaders willing to shed “innocent blood”.

“So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” the Argentine pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian migrants, told worshippers in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

“We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

Many engulfed in the ongoing migration crisis were forced to flee from leaders “who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood”, said the 81-year-old, who will give his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas address on Monday.

The pontiff’s plea for “hope” came as fresh tensions simmered in the West Bank following Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The announcement by US President Donald Trump on December 6 unleashed demonstrators and clashes, including in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Christians will mark the birth of Jesus at a midnight mass.

Palestinian scouts played drums and bagpipes at Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem on Sunday, but many tourists stayed away this year.

Hundreds of people gathered in the cold on Bethlehem’s Manger square to watch the annual scout parade towards the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus.

But the square was noticeably quieter following the violence between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army in the past weeks.

Twelve Palestinians have been killed since Trump’s declaration, including a 19-year-old who died of his wounds on Sunday nine days after he was shot during a Gaza protest.

In the square, Nahil Banura, a Christian woman from Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem, said Trump’s decision had made the run-up to Christmas “miserable”.
“People are only going out to vent,” she said.