President Trump and his wife Melania arrived for Christmas Eve services just after 10:30 p.m. Sunday at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal church, the historic Palm Beach church where the two were married.
Police blocked off several blocks of South County Road, in anticipation of the arrival of the president’s motorcade. Several police cruisers and a handful of residents waited outside the church as the motorcade approached the church’s south side to a covered tent.
The Rev. James R. Harlan greeted the two and walked with them into the church, where mass had already begun.
Harlan asked the audience to look for Jesus in the poor and in nature.
“We’re here to worship,” Harlan told the congregation, which appeared to be full.
The only reference to politics came in Harlan’s mention of the late South African anti-apartheid activist and president Nelson Mandela.
“Nelson Mandela, the great champion of racial equality in South Africa, was imprisoned for almost three decades for standing up to a government that was repressing, racist and all of that,” he said. “Nelson Mandela knew the power of words. He said it is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison had done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”
Inside the church, festive with candles and Christmas trees, a choir, accompanied by brass instruments, organ and kettledrums, sang O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the First Noel and other carols. The president sat in the third row by the aisle. A crowd of people encircled the president to shake his hand when it came time for the peace-be-with-yous.
Prior to services, Trump spent Christmas Eve in Palm Beach County speaking to troops and taking phone calls from children before his anticipated visit to a local church.
The visit to the church brought law enforcement patrols from both local and county police to the barrier island by the afternoon.
Metal detectors were set up at the church’s entrance and by 9 p.m., about 150 people were waiting in line for the 10:30 p.m. service. Security details and canine units made rounds at the church in preparation.
The church service ended around 12:15 a.m. and was the last stop on Trump’s pre-Christmas schedule.
Earlier in the day, speaking via video and telephone from his Mar-a-Lago home, the president complimented military members before talking with children about their Christmas wish lists and helping them track Santa’s location with the NORAD Tracks Santa program.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command launched the program 62 years ago and has since taken calls from thousands of children curious about where Santa was on Christmas eve. Last year, the hot-line drew 154,200 calls.
The president and first lady Melania Trump each talked to children on separate phones in the living room of their Mar-a-Lago home.
“Santa is going to treat you very well.” the president told one caller from Mississippi.
Earlier in the day, Trump kicked off his first Christmas eve in office with a video call to active miliary members overseas. He complimented members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard stationed in Qatar, Kuwait and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and patrolling the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East.
He also commended the Coast Guard for their rescue operations in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico during this year’s hurricane season.
“You’ve done such an incredible job in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico,” Trump said. “Many Republicans are very happy but, I have to tell you, the people of Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and lots of other states are even more happy. What a job you’ve done … saved thousands and thousands of lives.”
Sunday was Trump’s second full day of his Christmas holiday in the Winter White House after he arrived Friday evening.
On Saturday, Trump golfed with professional golfers Daniel Berger, Jim Herman and Justin Thomas before going on a Twitter rant against FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and former director James Comey.
The Christmas visit is Trump’s 10th visit to Mar-a-Lago since he took office in January. He is expected to return to Washington D.C. on Jan. 1, according to guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
© 2017 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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