Bands play in the narrow streets of the Old City as the Pope

meets with families of the imprisoned
 Bethlehem / Fadi Yacoub for PNN – His Holiness the Supreme Pontiff Pope Benedict XVI held Papal Mass in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity, downtown Bethlehem on Wednesday.

He spoke to the besieged Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and of the ferocious Israeli attack a few months ago that left thousands dead, injured and homeless.

For the first sermon in Bethlehem today given by Pope Benedict XVI thousands of people gathered in Manger Square and the narrow streets of the Old City. He called for an “end to the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza” and for a “lifting of the blockade.”

The Pope called upon the audience to bring peace to the region on the basis of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the co-existence on the land of love and peace. He asked for compassion for the needy and help for medical patients. He called for “harmony and peace among human beings in this blessed land.”

As soon as he finished his sermon warm applause filled the air of the cradle of the city of Bethlehem. The Pope greeted everyone on what was referred to as a glorious day, “those from the East and the West, and for “all pilgrims to the holy land which lacks the most basic sense of stability.”

Several bands from local Catholic churches blared in the corridors of the Nativity including the Byzantine Choir, Father Ibrahim, Mariam, and a Roman Catholic, Dr. Charlie Abu Sa’ada, in addition to the Syriac Catholic Choir of Choirs and other Latin groups from the various provinces of Palestine.

The residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are allowed permission to move by the occupation authorities, and the numbers were small, took part in this commemorative Mass led by the Pope in Manger Square.

The Papal Mass concluded with President Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad and Bethlehem Mayor Dr. Victor Batarseh. A high number of ministers and Palestinian officials also participated, along with international consuls accredited to the Palestinian National Authority, a large number of faithful Christians and a considerable number of families of Palestinian prisoners and deportees, who were exiled from the Church of the Nativity during the siege in 2002. The Pope exchanged a few words with families and showed compassion for the suffering of their children forcibly detained in Israeli prisons.

The end of the Mass saw groups of foreign musicians and singers in the streets with dozens of local West Bank Palestinian Christians who left their cities early in the morning, coming from Jenin, Zababda and Ein Arik, Beit Sahour, Ramallah and Beit Jala, saying it was a great day in their lives.
His Holiness the Pope continues is visit in the city of Bethlehem which includes food, a visit to the Caritas Children’s Hospital and the historic visit to Aida Refugee Camp where he is meeting with 200 people.

The camp is a crucial part of the visit as the Wall was built inside, exacerbating the suffering of refugees from within what is now considered Israel, and with a view of Gilo Settlement, built on Beit Jala lands, looming in the not so far off distance.