On Sunday in Bethlehem, Pope Francis called for recognition of an independent Palestinian state. CNN reports that he asked for “the acknowledgment by all of the right of two states to exist and to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”
From dawn, wave upon wave of pilgrims had flooded into the buzzing square, through barriers and metal detectors set up by watchful Palestinian security forces.
In Bethlehem before the mass, as his convoy passed near the controversial separation wall erected by the Israelis, he stopped and climbed out.
Flanked by anxious Palestinian security guards, he walked over to the eight-metre high concrete barrier topped by a guard tower and machine gun.
Bowing his head in silent prayer, he paused for several minutes in front of the graffiti-daubed barrier, his right hand and forehead resting against the concrete.
“Pope we need to see someone to speak about justice. Bethlehem look like Warsaw ghetto. Free Palestine,” read one bit of graffiti in English.
Pilgrims said they hoped that Francis’s presence here could bring real change on the ground in a volatile region.
A banner hanging on a mosque read: “The detainees in the occupation’s (Israeli) prisons are pleading for freedom and dignity.”
Francis is to meet Jewish and Muslim leaders in Jerusalem on Monday in efforts to better interfaith relations.
He called the Jewish people “our older brothers”.