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. Catholic Relief Services is a Caritas member based in the United States.
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.
Today, the Palestinians at Aida were putting the finishing touches on the stage and school areas Pope Benedict will visit on Wednesday. One middle-aged man—his actions clearly sanctioned by camp organizers—spray-painted the words “POPE You Are Welcome in Palestine” near the Separation Wall that divides Bethlehem from Jerusalem. “Palestine” is not a country that everyone recognizes. The pope prays that someday people will.