The Palestinians hope to use this weekend’s papal visit to highlight their suffering and rally worldwide support for their rights and demands, Palestinian officials say.
Pope Francis will visit Bethlehem on Sunday, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, lunch with Palestinian families and visit the Dehaishe refugee camp.
During his six-hour stay in Bethlehem, Francis will participate in an open-air mass in Manger Square.
Several thousand Christians from Bethlehem, the Gaza Strip, Israel and other countries are expected to attend the service.
PA security forces have been placed on high alert to maintain law and order during the pope’s visit.
Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun said the people of her city badly need peace. Francis’s visit to Bethlehem sends an important message of “solidarity” with the Palestinians, she said.
“Francis’s visit is both timely and crucial,” she continued. “We Palestinians heard him clearly when he said: ‘We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future and spread love. Be poor among the poor. We need to include the excluded and preach peace.’” The visit will “not only restore hope to Palestinian youth, but to our excluded Palestinian nation as a whole. We are excluded from justice in multiple matters. We hope the pilgrimage to the Holy Land in general and to Palestine in particular will provide the Holy See with a unique opportunity to reaffirm the principles of peace and justice upon which the social doctrine of the Catholic Church has been built,” the mayor said.
Francis has chosen to have lunch with poor Christian families rather than Church leaders and politicians.
Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said families were chosen by a special committee in order to represent the different Christian communities.
The pope’s visit to the Dehaishe camp will last 20 minutes.