Pope Francis has returned a small fragment of Jesus' crib to Catholics in the Holy Land.
At the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, experts from the Vatican Museums extracted a small fragment from the relic of what has been venerated as Jesus' manger. The relic, given to the Vatican in the seventh century, has been kept in a chapel under the basilica's main altar.
Pope Francis gave the relic fragment to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees the main churches and shrines associated with the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Describing the fragment as "a small piece of the precious relic of the Holy Crib of the Child Jesus", the Franciscans said it arrived in Jerusalem and was present during a Mass celebrated by the nuncio, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, in the chapel of Our Lady of Peace at the Notre Dame centre.
After the Mass and in time for people to venerate the relic, the Franciscan friars carried it in procession to the Church of St Saviour, where they recited vespers.
The relic was transferred to Bethlehem to be in place for beginning of Advent yesterday. The Franciscans said it would be placed in the Franciscan Church of St Catherine, which is adjacent to the Basilica of the Nativity, "so that the faithful and pilgrims can worship the crib which received the beginnings of our redemption".