Pope Benedict in the Holy Land
Pope Benedict XVI official visit to the Holy Land in May highlighted the urgent need to break the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Pope Benedict XVI visits the Latin Patriarchate co-cathedral in Jerusalem's Old City. May 12, 2009
Arriving in Bethlehem from Jerusalem, the Pope Benedict XVI was driven into the city through a gate in the eight metre high concrete wall, part of the separation barrier Israel has constructed around the West Bank.
Banners and posters welcoming the Holy Father were hung all over Bethlehem. Some read “Our Pope, our hope we welcome you to Bethlehem”. Yellow and white flags of the Vatican filled the streets along with the Palestinian Flags.
"I have seen ... overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families," said Pope Benedict.
Waiting in the sunshine in the Manger Square outside the Church of Nativity were over 10, 000 Palestinians and pilgrims, all chanting "Viva il Papa! Viva Palestina!", "Benedetto, Benvenuto!" A large choir sang Christian songs as the people waved the Palestinian and the flag of the Vatican.
In his homily, Pope Benedict urged Palestinians to stay strong in faith and have hope for peace and a better future.
He had a special message for the people of Gaza: “I ask you to bring back to your families and your communities my warm embrace, and my sorrow for the loss, the hardship and the suffering you have had to endure.
“Please be assured of my solidarity with you in the immense work of rebuilding which now lies ahead, and my prayers that the embargo will soon be lifted.”
Pope Benedict delivered a special message of solidarity to the 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
At the end of the Mass he shook hands with representative of the Palestinians Christians from Gaza who received permits to come to Bethlehem to be with the Holy Father.
Daoud Masoud, 59, was one of the rare people who had this opportunity to meet the Pope.
“It was a blessing that we had the permit, first we attended Mass celebrated by his Holiness. his speech about Gaza gave us strength to stay strong and keep going, not giving up on our lives there and to keep hope.
The second day I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Sepulchre to pray and there I could not stop myself from crying,” he said.
From almost 3000 Christians living in Gaza only 95 Gazans were able to obtain a permit to attend the Holy Mass.
Ghada Sabbagh, a woman from Gaza said, “For 13 years I haven’t had the chance to see my brother who lives in Bethlehem. This was a double blessing to pray with the Pope and see my brother.
“I would like to take this chance to thank you all at Caritas for the assistance you have provided us during these horrible days we went through. Caritas has accompanied us and gave us hope, Caritas does not forget us”.
The Caritas Secretary Ameen Sabbagh from Gaza was not able to get a permit to come to Bethlehem. Ameen said, “I was greatly disappointed. This would have been my only chance to meet the Pope. I wanted to talk with him and try to express my feelings from a Christian living in Gaza.”
Coming on the heels of the recent Gaza conflict and following many troubled years in the Holy Land, the Pope’s trip holds a particular significance at this time. Claudette Habesch, the Secretary General of Caritas Jerusalem, says that with peace still illusive, the Pope’s visit brings a reason for hope and optimism. Read more….
Joseph Cornelius Donnelly, Caritas Internationalis’ Special Advisor for the Holy Land & Peace Building, says the Holy Father comes as a humble pilgrim, but also as Pontifex Maximus “the Greatest Bridge Builder”. Read more…
The Pope is following in the footsteps of millions of pilgrims from various faiths who have journeyed to the Holy Land throughout the years. However, the Gaza conflict meant that the journey of recent pilgrims who were lucky enough to leave the Strip to go to Bethlehem was fraught with anguish after they got stranded because of the war.
Despite the war and the political and economic difficulties of living in the occupied Palestinian territories, the Church works continuously to help keep people’s hopes up that peace will come and life will improve. Read how a local priest near Ramallah helps the poverty-hit population.
Laura Sheahen, Regional Information Officer for Catholic Relief Services/Middle East, is in the Holy Land this week for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Here she blogs about the day the pope arrived in Jerusalem, May 11.
Blog 6: Friday
Pope Benedict surprised many commentators when, just minutes after stepping off his plane in Tel Aviv, he called for a homeland for both Israelis and Palestinians. Many expected, and applauded, his strong denunciation of anti-Semitism. But few expected him to bring up the issue of Palestinian statehood so quickly. Two hours after his brief speech on Monday, I was in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. “Refugee camps” in Bethlehem aren’t tent cities in the desert—they are urban areas, usually run down, and made up of Palestinians who were displaced in the 1940s from villages in what is now Israel.
Sunday was a pretty good day for kite-flying in Jerusalem, but not perfect. Clear blue skies and a decent wind, but something contrary in it wouldn’t always cooperate. Outside the walls of the Old City, the kids would hold their kites high, test the wind, jump up, and hope for the best. About half the time the kites made it, and when they did, they soared gloriously over the walls.
Everyone here is testing the wind, too, wondering if and how Pope Benedict’s visit will change things in the Holy Land.