HOLY FATHER ARRIVES IN BETHLEHEM

March 22nd (EWTNews) Today the Holy Father continued his tour of the Holy Land with a private visit to Kassar El Yahoud, the traditional site of Jesusí baptism on the west banks of the Jordan River in Israel. During the Holy Fatherís private visit to Kassar El Yahoud this morning, he blessed the water from the River Jordan and sprinkled all those gathered with a hyssop branch. He then read a brief prayer, blessed the river and area, and had a private moment for prayer as he viewed the area where Christ was baptized on the west bank of the Jordan.

Afterwards, the Pope then proceeded by helicopter to Bethlehem, the hilltop town where Jesus was born. Chairman Yasar Arafat greeted the Pope after he kissed a bowl of Bethlehem soil. The Holy Father then rode the popemobile through the winding roads of Bethlehem, as he proceeded to the Presidential Palace.

Later the Pope will travel to the Basilica of the Nativity in Manger Square where the Pope will celebrate Mass. Later in the day, the Pope is scheduled to visit the Deheisha Refugee Camp and meet with Yasar Arafat.

Bethlehem is located in Palestinian territory and the population is made up of Christians and Moslems. Among the Christians there are many rites of Catholics -- Latin, Syrian, Melchite, Armenian and Maronite rites and Orthodox of Greek, Syrian and Armenian. Protestants are also present in the Judean town.