Nov. 30 (UPI) -- A relic believed to be of Jesus' manger was returned to Bethlehem on Saturday, more than 1,000 years after it was sent to Rome as a gift to the pope.
Pope Francis ordered the thumb-sized relic to be gifted to the Custody of the Holy Land similarly to how the artifact was gifted approximately 1,400 years ago by Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem to Pope Theodore I in Rome.
"In receiving this gift from Pope Francis, with ardent faith, our joy cannot be superficial but must be profound," Monsignor Leopoldo Girelli said during the homily in Jerusalem, a Custodia Terra Sanctae statement shows.
The relic has remained in Rome's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore from the 7th century until the present.
The relic was unveiled to Notre Dame church worshippers in Jerusalem earlier this weekend before arriving Saturday in Bethlehem amid celebrations in the four-week period leading up to Christmas.
Many Christians believe the relic is tied to the crib where Jesus was laid after being born.
"It touches me so deeply, so deeply because I really can find the little child Jesus inside, I really can find his presence and it's like the cradle is moving into my heart," Barbara Boterberg, a Christian living in Israel, told CNN at a service to commemorate the relic's arrival at the Notre Dame Jerusalem center. "Since it's here my heart is jumping all the time with joy, that God became a man humble enough to sleep in a manger."
The Rev. Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, which brings together all of the services of the Custody of the Holy Land, told CNN the relic will be permanently enshrined inside St. Catherine's Church, near the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem.