Church renovation lifts Christmas spirit in Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — A historic renovation of the Church of the Nativity is lifting spirits in the biblical town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas, offering visitors a look at ancient mosaics and columns that have been restored to their original glory for the first time in 600 years.

City officials hope the renovation at the traditional birthplace of Jesus will boost tourism and a weak economy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and perhaps slow a decades-long drain of the Christian population from the lands where the faith was born.

The renovation started in 2013, a year after UNESCO declared the church a world heritage site, and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

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