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Bethlehem Awaits Pope

05/24/2014 Comment

On Friday, Israelis and Palestinians were finalizing their preparations for the arrival of Pope Francis, who will spend Saturday in Jordan before spending parts of Sunday and Monday in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, respectively.

A visit to Bethlehem from adjoining Jerusalem via the 300 Checkpoint revealed that Israeli authorities had put a fresh coat of paint on the processing terminal, and removed anti-Israel graffiti from a segment of the security wall Israel erected a few years ago to prevent further terror attacks. There was even a fresh coat of paint on the ground, which a worker was sanding.

The terminal was nearly deserted, and I was surprised to see only a handful of taxis waiting on the Palestinian side of the terminal.  The reason, I learned, was because Israel has prohibited the vast majority of Palestinians, such as workers, from using the terminal during the duration of the Pope’s visit, as well as a couple of days before. People who must leave the West Bank for humanitarian reasons, such as for cancer treatments, are still being allowed in and out, I was told. There are other ways to enter and exit Jerusalem, but the closing is causing inconvenience.

In Bethlehem, Palestinian workers could be seen filling up potholes on the route pilgrims will be taking to Manger Square. They, and presumably Pope Francis, will be able to see the wall, which is filled with graffiti and paintings of Palestinians “martyrs” who died attacking Israelis.

In Manger Square, plastic chairs were stacked high in readiness for the VIPs expected to attend the Holy Mass on Sunday. Posters with the Pope’s likeness graced shop windows. 

At 11:35 a.m. on Friday – the Muslim day of rest – the muezzin called the faithful to prayer via loudspeakers mounted on minarets all over the city. He also gave a loud, lengthy sermon.

When I inquired, someone in the Palestinian municipality told me that the Islamic authorities have agreed to spend just a minute or two reciting prayers on Sunday morning, without a sermon, and that the Mass will pause for just the time needed to enable Muslims to pray.  

The muezzin’s prayer reminded me that Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, is more Muslim than Christian these days.  

Filed under #holyland, #popefrancis, #popeholyland, bethlehem, holy land, michele chabin, pope francis

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Pope Francis visits the Holy Land May 24 to May 26. The motto of the pilgrimage is “So that they may be one.” At the center of the pope’s pilgrimage will be the meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. The ecumenical gathering marks the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople in 1964 to express their commitment to unity.

These writers are covering the Pope’s Holy Land Pilgrimage:

Michele Chabin is the Register’s longtime Middle East correspondent. She has lived in Israel for two decades and has covered religious news in that region for USA Today and Religious News Service among other publications. Follow Michele on twitter at: @michelechabin

Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. She is a frequent contributor to a number of Catholic media outlets. Marge has written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013). Follow Marge at

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer. His writings have also appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and on Peter is a 2011 graduate of the National Journalism Center. Contact Peter at And follow him at