Posted by Register Holy Land correspondent Michele Chabin:

The papal Mass held Tuesday in the Garden of Gethsemane was tiny compared to most other papal Masses.

Only 2,000 to 3,000 worshipers gathered in the beautiful valley below the imposing golden walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, but the crowd was filled with spirit.

Indigenous Palestinian Christians, known as the Living Stones of the Church, stood alongside Israel-based caretakers from the Philippines, humanitarian aid workers from Europe, the U.S. and South America, Sudanese refugees who have found refuge in Israel, as well as some of the 15,000 pilgrims who are reportedly accompanying Pope Benedict XVI on his Holy Land pilgrimage.

The crowd cheered “Baba” and “Papa” and waved Israeli, Palestinian and Vatican flags as the Popemobile descended from the mountain above, into the Garden, where it slowly made its way among the faithful. Many were happily surprised to see the windows of the vehicle lowered, affording an opportunity to see the Pope close up, face-to-face.

The Mass was perhaps less exuberant than some, no doubt due to the knowledge that local Christians — especially in the Palestinian territories — find it difficult to lead the kind of normal lives Catholics in the U.S. take for granted (see preceding Daily Blog entry by Edward Pentin).

The Holy Father’s assurances that he recognizes their suffering made the Mass all the more poignant for these Catholics.

Marinella Dorate, a Filipina caregiver, said she had asked her employers two months ago for the day off “as soon as I learned Pope Benedict would be conducting Mass in Jerusalem.”

Her Jewish employers “gladly gave me the time off, no problem,” she said.

“This is my second time attending a papal Mass, Dorate said proudly. “I saw Pope John Paul II in 1995 at World Youth Day [in Manila].”

Tim McNamara, a seminarian from Battle Creek, Mich., who is the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, marveled at the “adrenaline and energy you feel to see the chief shepherd of the Church in the Holy Land.”

Like Dorate, McNamara called the Popes presence in the Holy Land “a once in a lifetime experience.”

Isabella Mancini, from Long Island, N.Y., said she had come on this, her first-ever visit to Israel (with the Vatican pilgrimage company Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi), specifically do accompany the Pontiff on his pilgrimage.

“The Pope gave us the final push to travel this far, “Mancini said, looking at her three-year-old son, Giacomo, sitting in a stroller, and at her Italian-born mother, who made the trip with her.

The visit, Mancini said, has been an unbelievable experience. “We’ve learned the history of Christ and the church but we’ve also had a spiritual journey by following in Christ’s footsteps, in the footsteps of Mary,” she said.

The Mancinis are staying in Bethlehem in order to give a boost to local Christians.

“We did all our shopping in Bethlehem,” Mancini said, smiling.